In this Friday, Feb. 10, 2006 file photo, former FEMA Director Michael Brown arranges reference documents prior to testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, about the response to Hurricane Katrina. Head of FEMA when Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, Brown resigned the following month, widely criticized for his handling of the disaster. He defended himself in his 2011 book, "Deadly Indifference: The Perfect (Political) Storm: Hurricane Katrina, The Bush White House, and Beyond." He now hosts a talk show on Denver's KHOW-FM. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
Photo: Dennis Cook
Photo: Dennis Cook

Former FEMA chief Michael Brown: Stop blaming me for Katrina

Michael Brown is tired of being blamed for the slow and inefficient response to Hurricane Katrina.

Ten years after the costliest and most memorable hurricane in America’s history, the former chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is speaking out again about the responsibilities that he and many other government officials were supposed to have shared.

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In a four-page testament, Brown tells Politico Magazine his side of the story, setting the record straight and explaining how other entities messed up, failed to help or didn’t hold their weight.

Here are the main points Brown would like you to know: 

1. He feels as if his positive work hasn’t been acknowledged enough.

During the 2004 hurricane season, FEMA’s response efforts to hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in Florida were “excellent” and “widely praised.”

2. He claims he didn’t evacuate New Orleans because FEMA had no authority to do so under the Constitution.

He says state and local governments, which are outlined in the Constitution as autonomous governmental entities, have first responders that are expected to respond to crises before federal government gets involved. Plus, he says, even if the federal had had the power to order citizens to leave New Orleans, it didn’t have enough planes, helicopters and other modes of transportation to execute an effective evacuation of so many people.

3. He told people to get out.

Brown says that as the storm neared New Orleans, he took advantage of media opportunities to tell people “get your butts out of New Orleans before the storm hits.”

4. He asked the former National Hurricane Center director to explain the potential dangers of failure to evacuate to Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin.

Brown also had President George W. Bush call Nagin and encourage him to evacuate his city. Nagin didn’t act until hours before Katrina made landfall. Brown says, “The mayor’s incompetence cost lives.”

5. He did not authorize the New Orleans Superdome as a shelter of last resort.

This act was encouraged by Nagin even though it was known that the Superdome could not withstand a hurricane much weaker than a Category 5. 

6. He didn’t have enough time to inform Bush about the chaos going on in Louisiana.

Brown was embarrassed when the president publicly praised him for his work in the city before knowing the details of the mess that was really going on.

7. He ordered a hospital ship to be moved from Mississippi to New Orleans.

Former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi and Secretary Michael Chertoff of the Department of Homeland Security overrode that order and kept the ship in Mississippi for what Brown claims were “purely political reasons.” The lack of this ship meant lack of aid given to many stranded survivors.

8. He made a mistake when he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the TV newsman couldn’t accompany a rescue team on a mission.

In an effort to maximize space for victims, Brown denied Cooper’s request. Cooper’s public rescue of a family that had yet to be found later called attention to a potentially inefficient and unproductive rescue plan devised by officials. Brown says there was an organized grid system used to “eliminate duplicative efforts” and to “prioritize hardest hit areas.”

9. He didn’t lie on his resume.

Brown says Time took quotes out of context and didn’t do effective research. He did serve as an adjunct professor of law, and he was experienced enough for the FEMA job.

10. His emails don’t tell all.

Brown has been criticized for short and futile email responses to serious inquiries. He claims he dealt with questions and other discussions in person and over the phone, or he decided not to answer emails after issues outlined in them had already been addressed or resolved.

11. Washington wouldn’t have had enough time to prepare for Katrina— even with a heads up.

In the early 2000s, Brown asked Congress for funding to study response options in different potential disastrous events. One such study conducted in July 2005, the month before Katrina hit, tested what would happen in the event that a Category 5 hurricane struck landfall. The results showed that Louisiana would not be well prepared. Brown says that the exercise was revealing but too short notice to allow time to request funding, distribute grants, and exercise and train personnel.

Brown ends the statement to Politico by stating:

“The American public needs to learn not to rely on the government to save them when a crisis hits. The larger the disaster, the less likely the government will be capable of helping any given individual. We simply do not have the manpower to help everyone. Firefighters and rescue workers would all agree the true first responders are individual citizens who take care of themselves. The federal government should be involved only in those disasters that are beyond the capacity of state and local governments to handle. Centralized disaster response at the national level would destroy the inherent close relationship between citizens and those who save their lives and protect their property in times of everyday disasters.”

Read the full article here.

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