Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Hurricane countdown: Is FEMA ready?
Start the clock. The next hurricane season is less than 100 days away, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is promising to be new, improved and ready to respond by then.

I am sitting in my office right now reading over a list of reforms the agency is working on -- better communication, streamlined supply chains, faster debris removal, a doubling of its capacity to register victims after any disaster, less red tape.

It all sounds promising. And, at first blush, it looks like many of the significant problems that arose during Hurricane Katrina are addressed in these plans and that, if they are implemented properly, FEMA officials could make some progress toward rebuilding public confidence in their agency.

Still, I'm going to sit down with FEMA Acting Director David Paulison today to discuss these matters, and I'm wondering how confident he is that all of this will go as planned. Reforms are never easy. They are even harder when a great many skeptical voters are watching. So, I'm wondering -- with the next hurricane season around the corner, what would you ask the head of FEMA?
Posted By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent: 5:27 PM ET
  58 Comments
I have only one question. Why in the world don't the Bush guys bite their lip and bring back James Lee Witt? He was the last and best FEMA chief but of course he as a Clinton appointee. Is it a matter of ego or incompetance that keeps them from hiring a pro?
Posted By Anonymous Andy, Atlanta, Georgia : 5:41 PM ET
Many things come to mind. However, how hard would it have been to use a simple legal pad to list the names and home addresses of the evacuees? Then enter them into a single data base? Other data could also have been collected, such as next of kin or contacts, family members to track, etc. They had long bus (etc.) trips to accomplish this simple (minded)task.
Posted By Anonymous Fran, Lake Alfred, Florida : 5:43 PM ET
Nothing FEMA tells us will matter until we can see it in action. Anything looks good laid out on paper.
I would like to know, however, where the money for all this will be coming from? FEMA has been crying poverty for months now. People are still homeless, still looking for bodies, still clearing the rubble and still trying to get their lives back together.
How can we believe people who proclaim that we are ready for the next disaster when the current disaster has not yet been fully taken care of?
Posted By Anonymous Theresa Costello, Immaculata, PA : 5:44 PM ET
Ask him to imagine he is a lower middle class father of four in one of the gulf states. Ask him to imagine a category 4 storm hitting his area and destroying his house. Ask him, then, to make a list of what he would like to have at hand. That should give him a place to begin. If we can store ordinance, we can store survival supplies.
Posted By Anonymous Sherryll Mleynek, Hilo, Hawaii : 5:45 PM ET
Let me start by saying I love CNN and your BLOG! I went over to Fox news - Just Curious - and found nothing but fluf. It was quite sad.

Anyway, where do you start? I think that interview could go on for months, unless the other guys did it. :)

The one question I would ask is. . .

If your home, and family were at groud zero of a disaster, would you be confident in your actions? Confident that you have not only done EVERYTHING you possibly could, but that they would be OK through it, and would be Whole and Restored when you were done.
Posted By Anonymous Robin T. - Bloomington, IN : 5:49 PM ET
Dear Mr. Foreman,
All the reforms look good on paper but I would ask Mr. Paulison directly - how is he going about making sure that all agencies and city,local and federal are on the same page? What specifically is he doing to ensure proper communication and most important, ACTION? Next, the destruction from Katrina and Rita still exists in the Gulf States today -- what is being done IF ANYTHING to protect what is left of New Orleans, and the devastated parts of MS, AL, and TX? I fear another category 4 or 5 storm this summer will complete the job that Katrina started last year.
Thanks very much.
Posted By Anonymous Stephanie H., Brooklyn NY : 5:51 PM ET
What is the plan for handling a major earthquake along the San Andreas fault and when will FEMA take the time to let us in on the plan? Before or after the "Big One?"
Posted By Anonymous Kevin Dale, Homeland, CA : 5:51 PM ET
I would like to know, what are the plans? Future disasters will undoubtedly occur. Who has the plans, who makes the plans? How can citizens contribute ideas?
Posted By Anonymous missy, baton rouge, LA : 5:52 PM ET
How about asking him to list the five biggest mistakes made during the Katrina response and then list the changes made that will address those issues.
Posted By Anonymous Mark, Denver, Colorado : 5:54 PM ET
That's all find and dandy, but what about the Katrina survivors who are still dealing with the old FEMA. There doesn't seem to be any light at the end of my tunnel.
Posted By Anonymous Sonja, Metairie, LA : 5:54 PM ET
My issue of concern is effective leadership from the FEMA Director and field commanders. What's being done to improve effective leadership in disaster management? Is David Paulison qualified to direct disaster relief on the ground - and what of his field commanders?

Thank you.
Posted By Anonymous Forrest Glenn Spencer Falls Church, VA : 5:55 PM ET
What is the planning to prevent a terrorist attack via car bomb et al. against the levy system after it is repaired? I question whether it is wise to "completely" rebuild all the areas if New Orleans and instead to have the government buy out the land for the deepest areas and closest areas to the levies and build a secondary levy on current dry land for added protection/security and turn some of the unused deeply below sea level land for a non high density population use [i.e. parks or something else], so that if there is a successful terrorist attack against the levy system, there would not be a significant loss of life [i.e if there was no prior evacuation order like there was for Katrina, how many people, cars and assets would be stranded/flooded in New Orleans.
Posted By Anonymous Martin Kovalsky, Long Beach CA : 5:55 PM ET
Wouldn't it be smarter for FEMA to help local agencies and municipalities to stock up on provisions needed for each season rather than take a 'wait and see attitude'? Storm prone areas should always be prepared pre-season with supplies such as water, generators, fuel, etc. It would also be smart to help low income families in advance by giving them the supplies they need for the season now rather than wait until a storm passes by.
Posted By Anonymous robert buckley, delray beach fl : 5:56 PM ET
If they can't cut the red tape to help *existing* Katrina victims get access to temporary housing, what are the chances they'll be able to help future victims?

It's one thing to plan ahead. But not at the expense of those left stranded now for six months.

First things first.
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 5:57 PM ET
I would ask him, honestly, how much of the blame can be put on the individual citizens. I am not here to be a cheerleader for Mike Brown but very few people could manage a well run lemonade stand let alone an organization that must deal with the unpredicable.
Is David Paulison planning on giving a handout to those who don't 'help themselves?" And by that I mean when our tax dollars go to a satilite system that warns us, WELL AHEAD of time, that a huricanne is headed our way and people remain, smack dab in the middle of the firing line - how can they heap ALL of the blame on the goverment without taking a little for themselves.
(Its the weather folks! Take action to save yourselves, don't wait for the government!)
Posted By Anonymous Steve Junor, Santa Ana, CA : 5:58 PM ET
Obviously, FEMA needs to plan ahead for the next Hurricane season but, I would ask them only one thing : have we done everything possible in helping the ones left from last season !!!
Posted By Anonymous Manon, Longueuil, Quebec : 5:58 PM ET
FEMA has plenty of warning on hurricanes, if they aren't ready for that, what would they do if another terrorist attack happened. I assume FEMA would look like a chicken whos head is cut off.
Posted By Anonymous Mike Dacono Co : 5:59 PM ET
I would like to know the qualifications of all the top managers in FEMA, how they compare with past managers and how they compare with that of the most qualified people available.

It is clear that Brown was a totally unqualified political appointee, a horrible misuse of political power.
Posted By Anonymous John Wawrzonek, Northborough, MA : 5:59 PM ET
Here's one: How will the federal government hold state and local leaders to their responsibilities? And if state and local leaders decide not to cooperate, how will the federal government counteract or replace their efforts?
Posted By Anonymous Steve, Odenton, Maryland : 5:59 PM ET
Please ask him if the American people should HONESTLY feel safe if we all knew what he does about the complete mess FEMA is.
Posted By Anonymous Marie, St. Petersburg, FL : 5:59 PM ET
Blessed be...
We all can only but hope that FEMA will be ready this time around...however...I am sure that with all the help that the Katrina victims received from people all over the world...there will be more people to help out when and where they can...My Coveners and I are standing by to give help when and where it may be needed as well...
Love and light to all...
Posted By Anonymous Samantha L. Deveraux Memphis,TN C.E.O. Sisters of the Triple Goddess Coven : 6:00 PM ET
I just don't understand how FEMA is going to be able to handle the upcoming hurricane season if they are still so far from "handling" the one just past. From the recent reports that Anderson and Oprah have done, FEMA is way behind the eight ball. All the new reforms in the world are not going to un-do the logistical nightmare their carelessness has created.

So I guess my biggest question is - how much are these new "reforms" going to cost me, the average American taxpayer...and, how are they going to ensure that my tax dollars are not misused and wasted (like those trailers that are sinking in the mud!)?
Posted By Anonymous Claudine, Saint James, NY : 6:00 PM ET
I live right in the middle of the gulf coast and have to face hurricanes each season. I also live less than five miles from a field with acres of empty trailers and RV's that have been there so long that they have mold and mildew growing on them while people here still do not have a place to stay in.

FEMA's incompetence and the pitiful role that Homeland Security played in Katrina make me leary of this coming hurricane season and even more so of the possibility of incompetence if we have a terrorist attack.

We simply are an unprepare nation for either of these problems although we have had years and spent millions getting ready for these events.
Posted By Anonymous Bill, Gulf Shores, AL : 6:00 PM ET
There is one key ingredient that seems to be missing from FEMA and all other government agencies that have to deal with natural disasters....common sense. This is a quality that seems to escape most of the government appointed positions in Washington. I would like you to ask Acting Director David Paulison if he has the "common sense" approach to organize and execute a plan in a timely manner that doesn't leave behind poor individuals who don't have any means to communicate the devisation his department's lack of planning is responsible for.

What has happened in the Gulf states is an outrage. Why don't the FEMA and Homeland Security hierarche move their offices closer to the devistation and live the nightmare for a fresh perpective on what this disaster means in human terms.

Everyone is so quick to place blame, why can't people move quicker to take action. By the time the M&P's or SOP's are written, reviewed and approved lives will be lost, hope will be lost and spirits will be lost forever.

Stop talking and take action. Why don't we pretend their is a WAR in the Gulf and mobilize as quickly as we did for Iraq?

We certainly found a way to moblize when is came to oil...how about mobilze for lives?
Posted By Anonymous Niel, Dunellen, NJ : 6:02 PM ET
What is the chain of command?

Who is in charge? At what point does the person in charge change?

Does the local person in charge of efforts need to ask for state help and then federal help? Or is the federal level authorized to jump in immediately and take charge?

Do states' rights trump federal authority?

Are mistakes allowed by individuals working in disaster relief? Or are they held to 100% accuracy in planning and decision making before and after the disaster occurs?

What is the role of Congress? Do they help in the planning process .... or do they just get to point out the flaws discovered afterward?
Posted By Anonymous Britt, Honolulu, HI : 6:04 PM ET
1) What would the responce be if San Franicsco had a major earthquake of the 1906 Level? Not two to 10 years from today but now. Have you looked into such things as pulling ferries down from Washington State?

2)Phyical and Electronic supply chain is extemily important, have you hired real industy experts in EDI-XML and physical logistics. (As an example the way Walmart was able to redirect supplies).
Posted By Anonymous Larry Larson, San Franicisco, CA : 6:05 PM ET
The quality of communication between all parties was a major issue in the Gulf states; what new policies, procedures, or technologies have been established or acquired for future FEMA activities.
Posted By Anonymous Ted K, Woodbridge, VA : 6:06 PM ET
It was so hard after the storm. We couldn't get food or water or ice. While I am sure that there are more important things to consider, these are basic necessities of life. I think that people would not have been as angry about all of the other problems had these necessities been taken care of. There has to be somewhere that these things can be stockpiled and in the case of emergency, be brought by some means, if need be, to the affected areas. I know that once the storm was gone and we went outside it looked like what I perceive the end of the world will look like. Those simple creature comforts would have meant so much to us and given us hope in the first few days when we thought there was no hope.
Posted By Anonymous Shelley Gulfport, MS : 6:07 PM ET
Perhaps what we need is a change in the mind-set of the America public. There was a time in much of our history that the Federal Government did not respond to local disasters and the public took responsibility for their own safety. Only those incapable of helping themselves expected help or were offered help. In a large disaster, there simply is not enough manpower to come to the aid of everyone. We need to learn to take care of ourselves and our families and be far less dependent on others to come to our rescue. Being a self-sufficient citizen was once a source of pride. Now it seems to be a relic of the past.
Posted By Anonymous Diana, Cincinnati, OH : 6:07 PM ET
I would ask why the leadership of FEMA is no longer comprised of emergency management experts (such as James Lee Witt) that have a proven track record in this kind of work?
Posted By Anonymous Arie Denbreeijen, Albuquerque, NM : 6:08 PM ET
I would ask the FEMA people

(1) How it is that after so much time has passed since Katrina, there is still so much basic work in the disaster area, like clearing up debris and wreckage, that remains undone.

(2) If FEMA is going to work to change policy with regards to mandatory evacuation of people who are in the path of a hurricane, to enforce evacuation if necessary;

(3) How FEMA is going to change the distribution of post-disaster relief resources to limit the amount of fraud that takes place.
Posted By Anonymous Karin Cozzolino, Lomita, CA : 6:08 PM ET
Ask why the politics and blame game between FEMA, Louisiana and local officials continue 6 months after this debacle began. Somehow FEMA claims that local regulations are getting in the way of finding homes for New Orleans' first responders. Funny how no local regulations were allowed to get in the way of the no-bid contracts for rebuilding and the temporary suspension of paying the prevailing wage in the Gulf Coast region. Funny how no regulations of any kind are preventing construction and clean up companies from hiring illegal aliens. The entire Bush administration is a disgrace and a black mark on American history.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin Quail- Schaumburg, IL : 6:12 PM ET
Specifically, I would like to know what changes have been made with communications. Are all the different agencies and first responders capable of communicating now?
Posted By Anonymous Linda, Boulder, Colorado : 6:13 PM ET
I would suggest asking him "What specifically have YOU done TODAY that is helping the victims of hurricane Katrina, if nothing, specifically what did YOU do TODAY that is helping prepare our citizens for the natural disasters we will likely be facing over the next 12 months?"

Over my years as a software developer (both at a team leadership level, as well as in management positions), I've learned that asking the simple question of "What did you do TODAY" will reveal a lot about whether a person is being effective in their role. It would also give us a better view of the day to day role of the senior people in our government. I personally have an image of them having lots of meaningless meetings, long lunches, and patting each other on the back of the "momentum" that their various projects are gaining while virtually no real work is happing. Please prove me wrong.
Posted By Anonymous Adam, Scottsdale, Arizona : 6:15 PM ET
Who will have the strength to throw out all the plans when it becomes evident that they don't meet the needs of the event? Will the FEMA or DHS Secretaries have the inner fortitude to do what it takes to get the job done and deal with the consequences later, rather than search for a plan that fits the situation while people wait for help?
Posted By Anonymous Lisa, Dumfries, VA : 6:16 PM ET
The question that has been bugging me lately is if NOLA/lower 9th ward/St. Bernard Parish is not yet taken care of (clean up, identifing bodies, etc, etc) what plan do they have when hurrican season starts again and all these people are still in trailers, tents or damaged homes. What happens then? Is FEMA hoping for the next storm to "clean up" what they haven't yet?
Posted By Anonymous Rachel-Albuquerque, NM : 6:19 PM ET
Ask him what they are going to do for homeless people living in the hurricain zone? After Katrina, homeless persons from the affected areas were refused when they tried to get help from FEMA. They were told that if they could not provide a home address within the affected zones, then no one at FEMA would help them. This included folks living in cars, living in shelters before the storm, or people sleeping in parks, etc. In other words, the MOST vulnerable were denied services by FEMA because they couldn't get a "FEMA number". Ask him what will be done for those who are CURRENTLY homeless due to last year's storms if ANOTHER storm hits? This is a living nightmare for people who are already way too vulnerable. Thank you!!!
Posted By Anonymous Jean, Baton Rouge, LA : 6:29 PM ET
Mr. Foreman: Thanks for the opportunity to possibly be a part of your interview with Chief Paulison (which he will always be to those of us who have worked with him in Florida). My particular interest is in the National Disaster Medical System response. FEMA has taken quite a beating in many areas, and probably rightfully so. But I know from my experience that the DMAT's, DMORT's, VMORT's and other components of the NDMS system did fantastic work as individuals and as units, sometimes with less than reasonable support from higher up. Perhaps Chief Paulison can highlight some of these success stories so that we don't forget those truly heroic efforts that DID take place? Thanks and please give my regards to the Chief.
Posted By Anonymous Laurie Romig, MD, St. Petersburg, FL : 6:29 PM ET
I would like to know how FEMA is going to approach military training (national guard, reserves, etc) in its preparation for any future events. Specifically, will there be additional training required for the national guard or army reserves in the areas most likely to be affected by a weather catastrophe?
Posted By Anonymous Shelly Collins, Silver Spring, MD : 6:32 PM ET
Air rescues and supply drops appeared the most effective way to help in devastated areas since access by roads are shut down. Does FEMA have a proper air plan for all areas that will be hit by a disaster, earthquake or flood, etc.?
Posted By Anonymous PAM, 1000 Oaks, CA : 6:33 PM ET
Many experienced FEMA staff left in despair as political appointees with no experience (i.e. Brownie & Chertoff) were put in charge. Has FEMA taken any steps to bring these experienced staff back into FEMA? What are the qualifications of the acting director. Is he an experienced emergency manager?
Posted By Anonymous Michael Gorodezky, Santa Barbara, California : 6:33 PM ET
Great comments. I would put him on the spot and ask if he is willing to put his job on the line if not all of the recommended changes are not implemented in time for hurricane season. Like previously mentioned, I do wonder how FEMA can say we'll have all of this ready for the next one when they still haven't finished fixing the current problems of Katrina.

Personally I think everyone who was in charge at the time of Katrina should loose their jobs come election time, from Nagin to Blanco to Chertoff (I know he's not elected) and above.
Posted By Anonymous Tony Cancel, Dallas, TX : 6:41 PM ET
Should FEMA become privatized to ensure the safety of all Americans?
Posted By Anonymous bruce, toronto ontario : 6:42 PM ET
Please ask him what he plans to do with all of those trailers?! Are people ever going to use them, if they are not, because they're not sturdy enought to withstand another hit, who authorized their purchase,and why? What will happen to the trailers now? Isn't any shelter better than the blanket tents in which I've seen folks forced to live? Does FEMA consider their job over in that area, now that time has passed? What has been done to improve the communication problems among city, state and FEMA officials, that proved so problematic during this crisis?
Posted By Anonymous Paulette, Ithaca, NY : 6:43 PM ET
One question:

Would you hire James Lee Witt as a consultant AND do what he says? That would be a better use of 8 million dollars than pouring gravel under the mobile homes in Hope, Arkansas.
Posted By Anonymous Kim, Little Rock, Arkansas : 6:45 PM ET
Please ask what will become of all the FEMA trailers currently installed on the coast......if we get another storm in the northern Gulf of Mexico. How much wind will these trailers withstand? Can we just unhook one and move it further inland in the event of another catastrophic storm?
Posted By Anonymous Ron Dionne south Mississippi : 6:46 PM ET
So FEMA says it has a plan for faster debris removal. My question is, why do I have to wait for the next hurricane season to see how much better that plan will be? They can try to make a believer out of me now by clearing the debris still littering the Gulf region from the season that ended months ago.
Posted By Anonymous Julie, Davison, Michigan : 6:47 PM ET
Let's say a cat 4 hurricane is forcasted to make landfall in a heavily populated area. Have him set the time line for what FEMA needs to do and have in place prior to landfall: 24 hours out, 12 hrs, 3hrs to landfall. Then have him estimate a response timeline: first hours after landfall, 12 hrs, 24 hrs, 48 hrs, etc. The more concrete, the better: what supplies need to be staged and moved in at particular points. If he is clear on this, then I may relax during this next hurricane season.
Posted By Anonymous Helen, Morehead City, NC : 6:51 PM ET
The first question you have to ask is how do you justify firing the head of FEMA without having a permanent successor lined up? What kind of message does that send when you have an "Acting" head of a government agency who is basically a glorified Fire Chief who only has a degree from a Community College? Well, at least it's a step up from a horse show director. This interview is a waste of time when you are posing questions to an "Acting Director" who the government obviously has no confidence in to administrate the position for any extended period of time.
Interim leaders are for pro sports franchises.... not for a protection agency within the Federal Government. The fact they haven't even un-designated him as "Acting Director" or appointed anyone as permanent Director this close to the hurricane season is a little scary.
Posted By Anonymous Frank, Port Perry, ON : 6:53 PM ET
If there are LOCAL regulations that delay FEMA while instituting assistance to disaster victims, can't they be overridden? You guys are FEDERAL, right? Somebody needs to make an executive decision here. It's like rock, paper, scissors! Federal trumps local. Period. Help those people already!!!!!
Posted By Anonymous Jen, Raleigh NC : 6:54 PM ET
I would ask him if FEMA is prepared to divide services to respond to multiple hurricanes near the same time while still staffing the Katrina Relief. If catagory 5 storms hit the gulf and the upper eastern seaboard within weeks of each other (i.e. Katrina/Rita) then logistics are sure to be stretched thin.
Posted By Anonymous Ben, New Orleans LA : 6:54 PM ET
I would ask, "Do you really believe the American people are under the mass delusion that the fedral government can actually respond in a better capacity than local authorities can if given the funding the federal government has wasted over the last six months?" Funding should be placed into the coffers of state and local governments to prepare for natural emergencies.
Posted By Anonymous Troy Banther, Portales NM : 6:56 PM ET
Forget asking him about plans for next year. Ask him when the FEMA trailers sitting empty will get to the people who need them here along the Gulf Coast.

Too many planning meetings going on and not enough action RIGHT NOW!!!
Posted By Anonymous Susan, Biloxi, MS : 7:02 PM ET
I expect FEMA to be better prepared, but the hurricanes to be worse than 2005's record breaking season.
Posted By Anonymous Casey Callanan Morgantown, WV : 7:04 PM ET
Ask Mr. Paulison if he & Mr. Chertoff are confident enough in their reforms to stay in New Orleans through the next Cat 4 hurricane. Also, how about the Corps of Engineers honchos.
Posted By Anonymous Don Regan, New Orleans, La : 11:57 AM ET
I do not feel safer from the Actions/misactions of the Bush Administration. If National Security is to be the Republicans strong suit in how they appeal/scare the voters, it is pretty sad. This could have been a terrorist attack and it is apparent that the appropriate powers that be are not prepared to meet the lessons learned after Sept 11. We are reminded consistently that we need to be proactive in other countries, but when it comes to our own security in our own country, we sacrifice. Accountability needs to happen and when this administration accepts responsibility instead of blaming, then and only then will change occur.
Posted By Anonymous Rich, Chicago, IL : 12:19 PM ET
Talk all you want,the only folks who can change the system are in the White House. It doesn't matter if we're talking about supplies,evauation,hospital care,housing (empty trailers are still sitting),computer system and so on.
It's only a shell game and we are all
being pawns, either as victims or contributors. We need to wake up and speak with our votes; make those in charge totally accountable.
Posted By Anonymous George Blasiak , SanDiego,CA : 12:23 PM ET
I would like to know why after 6 months are there still people living like animals instead of in housing of some kind. I just read the story about never ending camping. This is ridiculous for this to be happening in our own country. As far as I am concerned it's worse than what happend on 9/11. At least that mess got cleaned up and rebuilt right away. Why hasn't this happend in the Katrina region?
Posted By Anonymous Suzy Braaksma, Montezuma, IA : 2:15 PM ET
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