Louisiana/New Orleans Officials
Kathleen Babineaux Blanco
A former schoolteacher and two-term Lt. Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco was elected governor in January 2004 and was in charge of Louisiana's response when Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. Here, she discusses the situation she confronted, her dealings with the president, Mayor Nagin and other officials, and the frustrations she encountered in getting help from FEMA. She also addresses criticism that her state appeared to be unprepared for Katrina and she herself was unprepared and made vague and confusing requests to Washington for help. "You know, I asked for help, whatever help you can give me. If somebody asks me for help, and -- I'll say, 'Okay, well, I can do this, this, this and this. What do you need?' But nobody ever told me the kinds of things that they could give me."
Dr. Walter Maestri is the emergency manager and homeland security coordinator for Jefferson Parish, an upscale New Orleans suburb. He oversaw the planning and response to Hurricane Katrina and served as a local connection between state and federal officials. In this interview, he talks about how they were forewarned about Katrina by the recovery exercise called Hurricane Pam that FEMA had gamed out with local and state emergency planners months earlier. Pam, says Maestri, was a "perfect model" of what happened with Katrina. After Pam, he tells FRONTLINE, FEMA made the commitment that federal help would arrive to local communties within 48 to 60 hours following such a disaster. With some anger at times, Maestri details FEMA's inadequate response during Katrina and what his community had to resort to when FEMA failed to show up.
Ray Nagin [Text & Video]
A former vice president of Cox Communications, Ray Nagin was elected mayor of New Orleans in May 2002. In this interview, he details the chaos and devastation he confronted in the days following Katrina's landfall and answers questions about why the city appeared to be unprepared for the Category 4 hurricane, despite days of warning. He also talks about his frustrations in dealing with Gov. Blanco, the bureaucratic rules he encountered in getting help from FEMA and whether race might have been a factor in the government's slow response to New Orleans' plight. In discussing the efforts to coordinate and find leadership for the response effort, he talks about a meeting that took place on Air Force One on day five of the catastrophe. There, Nagin tells FRONTLINE, a "dance" was going on between the president and the governor over who had ultimate authority. "And finally I just stopped and said: '… With all due respect, Mr. President, if you and the governor don't get on the same page, this event is going to continue to spiral down. …'"
National Security Experts
A member of the White House National Security Council in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations (1992-2003), Clarke's career has long focused on issues of security and infrastructure protection. Here, he discusses some of the context for understanding what went wrong in government's response to Katrina. In particular, he talks about the ramificiations of bringing FEMA into the huge super agency of the Dept. of Homeland Security, and the political and technological problems that still, four years after 9/11, have prevented cities and municipal government from having reliable communication systems and ones in which first responders can talk to each other. In summing up the Katrina disaster, Clarke calls it a "failure of leadership at every level" and a wake-up call on how ill-prepared the country is for another disaster in waiting.
A former U.S. senator (R-N.H.), Warren Rudman has studied homeland security issues for more than a decade. He co-chaired the Hart/Rudman Commission, created in 1998 to evaluate and reassess U.S. national security policies. In its report, released in January 2001, the commission proposed the creation of a department of homeland security. After 9/11, he headed a Council of Foreign Relations task force that identified enormous gaps in communications and protection equipment for first responders in the event of a catastrophic attack on the U.S. In this interview, Rudman outlines his commission's proposal for a homeland security department and his dissatisfaction with the department as it currently exists. He also discusses what went wrong with FEMA, the lessons federal and local governments should take from Katrina and why he's a "realist" about how many Americans can be saved in a catastrophe.
Homeland Security & FEMA Officials
A veteran FEMA employee, Bosner is a watch officer in the National Response Coordination Center. Part of his job is to monitor potential disasters and write FEMA's National Situation Updates, which are sent daily to the director and other top officials and posted on FEMA's Web site. In this interview, Bosner praises former FEMA Director James Lee Witt and how both preparedness and morale improved under his leadership in the 1990s. He is very critical of former FEMA Director Michael Brown, whom he describes as "out of his depth," and of FEMA's merger into the Department of Homeland Security which he says added layers of bureaucracy. He describes how, as Katrina approached, FEMA went through its usual hurricane preparations, but he and his colleagues were panicking as they were standing by. "We're saying: 'Oh my God, Why aren't we doing more? Why aren't we getting the orders? Why isn't this being treated like a real emergency?' People were just lost."
The former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director (2003-2005), he was in charge when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. In this wide-ranging interview about his experience during that catastrophe and his own performance, he talks about his concerns when FEMA was merged into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, how it performed during Katrina, and the failures in preparedness, coordination and leadership that he observed at the state and local level during Katrina. He also explains why he misspoke three times during the crisis in New Orleans, and his one big regret: "I really believe the most serious mistake that I made was not just saying: Look, we just can't get this done by ourselves. … And let's don't get 500 troops to come in here and help with distribution; let's get 10,000 troops in here and do something."
Richard Falkenrath was homeland security policy adviser to the president (2001-2003) and deputy homeland security adviser with the Department of Homeland Security (2003-2004). In this interview, he offers an overview of the Bush administration's thinking on FEMA and its place in the homeland security response, including why, after 9/11, despite hopes that FEMA would become "the genuine response arm for the domestic security operation of the U.S," it never happened. He also discusses FEMA's performance in the 1990s under James Lee Witt and the federal government's reluctance to impose standards on state and local agencies so as to ensure interoperable and resilient communication systems. As for the lessons of disasters like Katrina, he says there is a need to rethink the current federal compact with states and local communities. With calamities such as Katrina, where agencies are completely overwhelmed, Falkenrath says the federal government should have an enhanced capacity to "take over entirely."
A former governor of Pennsylvania, Ridge was director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from 2002 to 2005 and previously headed the White House Office of Homeland Security that was created one month after 9/11. Here, he rebuts arguments that FEMA was hurt when it was moved into DHS in 2003, discusses the lessons that have been learned from Katrina and candidly responds to the question, "In a major disaster, can we really evacuate America's cities?" He also explains why, four years after 9/11, the overwhelming majority of American cities and metropolitan areas still don't have robust communications systems in which emergency first responders can talk to each other.
James Lee Witt
A former Arkansas state emergency manager, in 1993 Witt became the first FEMA director in its history who had prior experience in disaster management. Witt is credited with turning FEMA around following its inadequate response to a series of disasters, most notably Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In this interview, Witt discusses FEMA's reputation as a "turkey farm" for political patronage, the reforms that he implemented at FEMA, the way he handled disasters on his watch, and how he would have prepared for Hurricane Katrina. And he discusses two events that had a major impact on support for FEMA within the government: the 9/11 terrorist attack and the subsequent intensive focus on terrorism and the decision to move FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. "They took the heart out of FEMA," says Witt.