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All answers do not reside in washington

By Oscar Ray,2014-06-26 22:25
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All answers do not reside in washington ...

    Chairman Tom Davis Opening Statement

    Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the

    Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina

    Hearing on Preparedness and Response by the State of Mississippi

    December 7, 2005

Good morning, and welcome to this morning’s hearing on the State of Mississippi’s preparation

    for and response to Hurricane Katrina.

We have spent the last three months examining this catastrophic disaster. Yesterday, we heard

    from several citizens of New Orleans. Today, we will hear from government officials from the

    State of Mississippi.

Three months into our inquiry, we have assembled and reviewed hundreds of thousands of

    documents, interviewed evacuees, government officials, and representatives from relief agencies,

    and traveled to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

We have learned much. We continue to discover more about what worked and plenty that didn’t

    work. As we demystify the process of emergency management, lessons learned by those who

    lived them are becoming more transparent and more significant, as everyone wants to make sure

    we are all better prepared for this country’s next disaster, whether natural or man-made.

Today we turn our attention to Mississippi in what is our second of three hearings focused on

    state and local preparation and response, and state and local coordination with the federal

    government. We will ask how the Governor, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency

    (MEMA) personnel, and local officials conducted response operations during Hurricane Katrina,

    as well as how well the federal government did or did not provide adequate support.

As we will explore Mississippi’s laws, policies, procedures, and its interface with the

    Department of Homeland Security and FEMA when confronting the prospect or reality of a

    catastrophic disaster, we will look at the respective roles and responsibilities of the Governor, the

    Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the State Health Officer, FEMA’s Federal

    Coordinating Officer, and county and local governments.

We are well prepared for today’s hearing, in large part due to the cooperation we have received

    from Governor Barbour and his staff. Select Committee staff twice traveled to Mississippi

    during October and November to see first hand the devastation left in Katrina’s wake, interview

    state and local officials, National Guard officers, and visit the Emergency Operations Centers

    along the Mississippi Coast.

Pictures, they say, are worth a thousand words. On the monitors are just a few photographs our

    staff took during their visits. Unlike the devastation in New Orleans, where water seeping

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through broken levees flooded the city, residents of the coast of Mississippi experienced a storm

    surge of 30 feet that reached 10 miles inland in mere minutes.

In examining preparation and response in Mississippi, it is clear that with his early declaration of

    a state of emergency, Governor Barbour quickly established a solid federal-state relationship pre-

    landfall, where he took command and established clear goals. The Mississippi Emergency

    Management Agency issued its first Katrina situation report on August 23. State and local

    government officials in the State of Mississippi took their leadership responsibilities seriously.

    They worked together and with a unified voice to warn their residents of the coming danger, and

    to help them evacuate the coast in an orderly manner. Clearly, teamwork is a word that the

    people of Mississippi understand.

During the Katrina Response, the National Incident Management System, the National Response

    Plan and the Incident Command System were used for the first time in Mississippi, and well will

    hear about that.

We will hear that the Governor found that the Mississippi National Guard, supplemented through

    Emergency Mutual Assistance Compacts (EMAC), did an effective job without active-duty,

    federal military supplement.

We will hear of the vital role of the immediate presence of experienced Florida personnel in

    helping with response at all levels of Mississippi government. Mississippi learned well from

    Florida’s experience.

We will hear that Mississippi relied heavily on faith-based organizations, which were some of

    the first responders, arriving well-trained and self-sustaining, and covering the coast with their

    personnel and their gifts of faith, food, water, clothes and shelter and continue to do so to this

    day.

We will hear that the Mississippi Department of Health’s relationship with the U.S. Department

    of Health and Human Services and that their reliance on the National Disaster Medical System

    served them well. Planning and training worked to everyone’s benefit.

Unfortunately, we will also hear that Mississippi’s reliance on FEMA for commodities was

    problematic, as commodities asked for and commodities received bear no resemblance to each

    other.

As one of our witnesses today, Bill Carwile, wrote in his emails during the response to Katrina,

    FEMA’s centralized commodity distribution system was “broken” to the point where he had to

    work around it. There is something very wrong when Michael Brown, the head of FEMA and

    the Principal Federal Officer on the scene, has to authorize his Federal Coordinating Officer to

    work outside FEMA’s own system in order to deliver basic supplies, including life-sustaining

    food and water.

We will hear that FEMA lacked adequate numbers of qualified staff to assist Mississippi at all

    levels of government.

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We will hear that there is a lack of FEMA operational doctrine so that state and local personnel

    are not able to know who does what and how FEMA operates in the field. It is clear that the

    Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA need to adopt a formal planning process.

    Months ago, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale recommended

    that DHS consider adopting the Marine Corps’ expeditionary forces planning process. It was a

    good idea then, and it remains a good idea, today.

And as we heard last month from Alabama officials, Mississippi’s emergency managers are

    concerned that in the post-9/11 environment, undue emphasis primarily in the form of federal

    funding is placed on terrorism-based hazards, when natural disasters pose a much more likely, perhaps inevitable, risk. We need to consider an “all hazards” approach when we plan for the future. Mississippi had a robust training process in place prior to Katrina, but like Alabama and

    Louisiana, the state and local officials were simply overwhelmed.

This does not mean state and local authorities should give up on preparation, planning, and

    training. If Katrina has demonstrated anything, it is that local communities must be prepared to

    take care of themselves for at least one, two, or three days before they can expect help from the

    federal government.

Hurricane Katrina careened upwards through the entire state of Mississippi with hurricane force

    winds, reaching Jackson, the state capital, and its northern most counties. We will hear today

    that lack of communications hampered all immediate response efforts, as neither adequate

    backup systems, nor any progress in communications interoperability have been effectively

    implemented in Mississippi.

Before we begin today, I want to acknowledge that 230 citizens of Mississippi lost their lives due

    to Hurricane Katrina and we respectfully remember them and their families. Governor Barbour,

    our thoughts and prayers go out to you and all of the good people of Mississippi.

I also want to acknowledge that that the people of Mississippi, although not as well covered in

    the press as New Orleans, suffered much during this devastating storm and still endure great

    hardship. Together, we will recover from the devastation of Katrina. Today we will take another

    step towards comprehending the need of our citizens of governments during disaster.

I look forward to having Mississippi officials share their stories with us today.

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