Report Slams Homeland Response to Katrina A focus on terrorism left the Department of Homeland Security unable to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, according to the agency's Inspector General. His sharply critical report makes 38 recommendations for improving disaster response missions.

Report Slams Homeland Response to Katrina

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

A new report identifies more failures in the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. It's from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, and in addition to the criticism it includes over three dozen recommendations. Homeland Security officials say they've already started to make many of the proposed changes to get ready for the next hurricane season.

NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

The litany of problems is familiar. Poor communications, lack of coordination among government agencies, a failure to get emergency supplies where and when they were needed most. Inspector General Richard Skinner's report reinforces many of the findings of earlier investigations by a House Select Committee and by the White House. But it also offers some new details in what all parties agree was a sorry chapter in disaster response. It found a lack of coordination between the Defense Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and said FEMA officials didn't even know a joint military task force was operating in the Gulf region until federal troops started to arrive.

The report also said FEMA officials complained about the unreliability of some contractors who delivered emergency supplies. It said a tracking device located one truck driver who claimed to be en route sound asleep in a parking lot. The inspector general also found that public communications were uncoordinated. It cited a verbal altercation two days after the storm between then FEMA director Michael Brown and a member of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco's communications staff. And it said the state decided after that to hold its own separate media briefings.

Overall, the report found that much of the criticism the federal government received for its response to Hurricane Katrina was warranted. The Homeland Security Department, which oversees FEMA, says it recognizes many of the problems and is already moving to address them. Russ Knocke is the agency spokesman.

Mr. RUSS KNOCKE (Federal Emergency Management Agency): We're taking steps as we prepare for the storm season to make significant and substantial improvements to logistics, to claims processing for disaster victims, to debris removal, procurement steps, emergency communications and several other areas.

FESSLER: He said, for example, that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is naming federal disaster coordinators for 13 hurricane-prone states in advance of the next hurricane season. It begins on June 1.

Mr. KNOCKE: That allows these pre-designated officials to start working now, start training now, start coordinating now, with state and local emergency managers.

FESSLER: In Hurricane Katrina, federal coordinators were assigned after the fact, and there was confusion over what they were supposed to do and who was in charge. Chertoff has also announced that in the coming weeks, his agency will conduct exercises with state and local officials in the Gulf region to make sure officials are prepared to work together in another disaster. Among its findings, the inspector general's report agreed with the conclusion of many emergency managers, that FEMA was weakened when it became part of the Homeland Security Department in 2003. It said the agency must do a much better job integrating FEMA.

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins of Maine said in a written response that the new report highlights what she called the unacceptable failures of FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina. Her committee is expected to issue its own report later this month.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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