updated 2/15/2006 10:33:37 AM ET 2006-02-15T15:33:37

The House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina issued its 520-page report on its investigation of the Aug. 29 storm and its aftermath.  Here are some highlights:

Levees:
The levees were designed to resist a standard hurricane, roughly Level 3, but not the most severe hurricanes. There is no actual "standard hurricane," however, because of the unique factors that contribute to a particular storm, including its exact path.

"The reasons for the levee failures appear to be some combination of nature's wrath (the storm was just too large) and man's folly (an assumption that the design, construction, and maintenance of the levees would be flawless). ... There was a failure of initiative to get beyond design and organizational compromises to improve the level of protection afforded."

"No one is in charge," one scientist told investigators. "You have got multiple agencies, multiple organizations, some of whom aren't on speaking terms with each other, sharing responsibilities for public safety."

Evacuations:
Mandatory evacuations ordered in Alabama and Mississippi and for the general population in Louisiana -- excluding New Orleans and Jefferson Parish -- went relatively well. "Those individuals in all states who had the means to evacuate, but did not do so, must also share the blame for the incomplete evacuation and the difficulties that followed."

Despite adequate warning 56 hours before landfall, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin delayed ordering a mandatory evacuation in New Orleans until 19 hours before landfall. Evacuations in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish were either declared late or not at all, a failure that "led to preventable deaths, great suffering and further delays in relief."

In New Orleans, city officials failed to evacuate or assist in the evacuation of more than 70,000 people who were in the city when the storm hit. The Superdome was inadequately prepared for the large number of evacuees housed there.

"The incomplete evacuation and floodwaters also required a post-hurricane evacuation, for which federal, state and city officials had not prepared. Because of a lack of preparations, planning had to be accomplished in emergency circumstances, where communications and situational awareness were in short supply."

At least 35 of the 215 nursing home and hospital deaths in New Orleans were due to bad decisions not to evacuate, and faulted chaos and lack of access to medical records for delayed care to countless others.

Rumors and false media reports:
Rampant false media reports contributed to unnecessary disorder and delay that hindered the recovery. There were repeated broadcast reports on Sept. 1 that evacuations at the Superdome had been suspended because of shots fired at a helicopter, and unsubstantiated reports of two babies with throats slit. No bullet holes were ever found in the choppers and the shooting reports most likely involved trapped individuals firing in the air to attract the attention of rescuers.

The reports contributed to unnecessary anxiety at the Superdome and scared away truck drivers and others who could have otherwise provided relief efforts and supplies.

At least 1,000 FEMA workers set to arrive in New Orleans on Aug. 31 also were turned away due to security concerns.

"First the levees were breached and then law and order. As Katrina left people scrambling for food, for water, for supplies for survival lawlessness and violence, both real and imagined, spread, creating yet another problem for authorities who were burdened enough already."

Red Cross:
The Red Cross was dependent on Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Defense Department for supplies and was unable to fill the void with supplies and staffing as those agencies scrambled to respond.

The lead relief agency in the disaster, the Red Cross was aware of crowding at the Superdome but was unable to staff that and other locally operated shelters because its workers were denied access.

When the Red Cross placed orders for food such as Meals-Ready-to-Eat through the government, many of the requests got lost in an overburdened FEMA computer system.

Contractors:
Poor planning for emergency supplies such as food and ice contributed to waste and abuse in federal contracts.

In one case, Mississippi officials requested from FEMA 450 trucks of water and ice, as well as 50 trucks of Meals-Ready-to-Eat in the days after the storm. "FEMA tried, but Katrina's magnitude exposed significant weakness and inefficiencies in the process." As a result state officials were forced to buy from the commercial market at an untold cost.

A heavily criticized $236 million contract with Carnival Cruise Lines for temporary housing was reasonable, and similar "unfounded negative publicity" could hurt relief efforts in the future.

Federal response:
President Bush's remarks, shortly after Katrina hit, that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" showed he was not being briefed by a disaster specialist as the crisis unfolded.

Fifty-six hours before it hit, federal officials knew Katrina had the potential to flood 75 percent of New Orleans, killing tens of thousands of residents and trapping hundreds of thousands in up to 20 feet of water. The threat also posed the high possibility that a million people would need to be evacuated from homes that would destroyed, and that the metropolitan area would be uninhabitable for several months or even years.

Federal delays in assigning the Pentagon relief missions "may have been avoided if the President had been advised of the need for early presidential involvement."

Homeland Security Department chief Michael Chertoff should have activated plans "to shift the federal response posture from a reactive to proactive mode" to save lives and speed relief.

Despite reports from FEMA and the Coast Guard the night Katrina hit, the Homeland Security Operations Center failed to conclude that New Orleans levees were breached. "Perhaps the single most important piece of information during Katrina was confirmation of the levee breaches in New Orleans."

FEMA sent unprecedented amounts of supplies to the region, including 11 million liters of water, 19 million pounds of ice, 6 million ready-made meals and 17 truckloads of tarps. But they initially went untouched because of confusion by state and federal officials.

FEMA failed to prepare adequately for emergency disaster supplies and had poor accounting of what was needed and what resources it had on the ground.

FEMA's failure to negotiate contracts in advance led to chaos and the potential for waste and fraud due to last-minute agreements for emergency assistance.

The agency's contract staffing was inadequate given the size of the disaster.

Communications:
Damage to communications in the region was extraordinary, but officials failed to adequately plan for alternatives. Multiple levels of government failed to prepare for the loss of power and its impact on communications, which hindered the response effort, particularly in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf coast. "Despite the devastation left by Katrina, this needn't have been the case. Catastrophic disasters may have some unpredictable consequences, but losing power and the dependent communications systems after a hurricane should not be one of them."

Government failed at all levels to deal with long-standing problems of "interoperability," the ability of different public safety units to communicate with each other effectively. Although hundreds of millions of federal dollars had been spent over time, communications systems still were not always working effectively. For example, first responders in helicopters were unable to talk to crews patrolling in boats, and National Guard commanders in Louisiana and Mississippi used runners to relay orders.

Miscellaneous:
Visits to emergency operation centers by politicians and celebrities, including talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and actor Sean Penn, distracted personnel from their more urgent tasks.

Medical care was poorly planned and reactive rather than proactive.

Shortages of supplies and delays in care abounded.

New Orleans failed to provide evacuations and help for special-needs and dialysis patients.

New Orleans police were ill-prepared and completely overwhelmed and lost "almost all effectiveness."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments