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Investigations :: October 20, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Failure in Federal Emergency Response

View of Katrina from the GOES-12 spacecraft on August 28, 2005 (NOAA) View of Katrina eyewall clouds from Hurricane Hunter P-3 aircraft on August 28, 2005 (NOAA)
Katrina From Above - and Inside
At left, imagery from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 12 on August 28, 2005, processed to give a three-dimensional view looking north from the Yucatan Peninsula as Katrina approaches landfall. At right, a look at the eyewall clouds from a P-3 Hurricane Hunter aircraft inside Katrina's eye. Click on each image to see the original picture at NOAA's website.

Staff Report Updated

The Committee staff updated the report Failure to Protect and Defend on October 20, 2005. An expanded discussion of the National Weather Service briefing on August 28, describing Hurricane Katrina's likely landfall and damage predictions, is now included. The information is taken from testimony by Max Mayfield, the Director of the National Hurricane Center, at the Committee hearing on October 7 (see the next section).

Read the updated report in PDF format Read the updated report

Hurricane Forecasting Hearing

Photo of Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA)On October 7, the Science Committee was finally able to hold its hearing with David Johnson, Director of the National Weather Service, and Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center. Scheduled and postponed in September, the hearing gave Members the opportunity to praise the accuracy of the Hurricane Center's predictions about the behavior of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA), who represents parts of Louisiana overwhelmed by Katrina's floodwaters, thanked the Weather Service and the Hurricane Center for their work, noting that, "Without these forecasts and warnings, and the lead time they provided, we would not have been able to evacuate as many people as we did and the loss of life would have been much greater." Melancon assured Johnson and Mayfield he would continue to seek adequate resources for the Weather Service.

Photo of National Weather Service Director Johnson and Hurricane Center Director MayfieldCommittee Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) summarized in his opening statement the warning messages from the National Hurricane Center as Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast on August 28. He also showed the reporting chain for the Hurricane Center's warning messages, and a picture of President Bush watching Mr. Mayfield's August 28 briefing via videoconference.  To make clear what Mr. Mayfield told our nation's top leaders, Mr. Gordon invited Mayfield to give the Committee and the country the same briefing he presented on August 28 to the President, Secretary Chertoff, then-FEMA Director Brown and emergency preparedness officials - using the same materials. Mr. Mayfield recounted that he told briefing participants to prepare for a Category 5 hurricane - the most severe on the hurricane measurement scale.

Photo of Rep. Bart Gordon, Ranking Democrat"This is a story about the power of science and the failure of government - plain and simple," said Mr. Gordon. "The Federal Government has worked tirelessly to advance the science of hurricane prediction, and they've succeeded. Federal dollars spent at the National Weather service yielded an excellent means of hurricane tracking and prediction. But somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten how to use that information and respond to real people in need. Billions of taxpayer dollars spent at the Department of Homeland Security to respond to natural disasters evidently has yielded bureaucracy rather than action."

"When it comes to Katrina, it is important to know who in the Administration knew what, when. This isn't about finger pointing - it's about accountability and alleviating an obvious problem honestly and expeditiously. I simply want to know how it is that the guy sitting next to you in class - that "guy" being FEMA and the Administration - studied your notes, listened to the same lectures and still failed the class?" Rep. Gordon wondered.

"If this Congress is serious about getting to the bottom of events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, there's only one way to do that - an open and honest analysis by an independent commission. We need transparency - that's how we effect needed policy changes and assure Americans safety," concluded Rep. Gordon.

"We tell our kids to buckle down and work harder if they bring home a failing grade. This Administration gets an F on response to Katrina, but I've yet to see subsequent efforts to buckle down and candidly face the task of securing America's citizens and infrastructure for the next disaster," said ETS Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. David Wu (D-OR).

Letters from Rep. Gordon

Seeking more detailed information about the warning information provided by the National Hurricane Center to Federal Emergency managers as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast, Rep. Bart Gordon wrote to President George Bush on September 14 and to the acting Director of the Federal Energency Management Agency (FEMA) on September 30. You can read those letters here:

Rep. Gordon's letter to President Bush Rep. Gordon's letter to President Bush

Rep. Gordon's letter to the Director of FEMA Rep. Gordon's letter to the Director of FEMA


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