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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.