Video: 'Unified effort'

updated 9/9/2005 5:01:41 PM ET 2005-09-09T21:01:41

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, tapped on Friday to head the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina in the stricken Gulf Coast region, has taken on big challenges before.

Unlike Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown, a lawyer, Allen has direct experience saving people from hurricanes.

Early in his Coast Guard career, Allen was involved in search and rescue missions and later directed them in the Caribbean. He headed Coast Guard operations in the Southeast United States and the Caribbean, where he was responsible for 15,000 search and rescue missions.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Allen was commander of all Coast Guard operations east of the Rocky Mountains. In the days after the terrorist attacks, he made sure the ports and waterways were secure and that local responders in the New York area had the vessels, aircraft and personnel they needed.

Four months later, Allen was asked about the Coast Guard's all-hands-on-deck response to the hijackings as part of an oral history project.

"When we decide we're going to do something, we'll do it," he said.

The Coast Guard's third in command
Allen, 56, is credited with leading the Coast Guard's smooth transition from the Transportation Department to the Homeland Security Department in 2003. He is the Coast Guard's third in command.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff elevated Allen from a job he'd only been appointed to on Monday — special deputy for hurricane recovery efforts. Chertoff described Allen's position on Friday as the principal federal official overseeing the federal response and recovery effort.

"Vice Admiral Allen is doing an exceptional job, and he has my full support in the important work ahead," Chertoff said.

Chertoff noted that containing and cleaning up the oil spills created by Katrina on both land and sea will be an enormous challenge. Protecting the environment is one of the Coast Guard's main missions, along with search and rescue.

Allen will work with Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who heads the military's Joint Task Force Katrina, to manage the military and civilian recovery efforts.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine and chairman of the committee that oversees Homeland Security, said it became clear to her on Thursday that the Coast Guard was the most organized and best prepared entity to deal with the initial response.

‘A highly respected leader’
"Vice Admiral Thad Allen is a strong choice," Collins said in a statement. "He is a highly respected leader who should be very effective in improving the coordination of assistance for the hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families who were affected by the hurricane."

Allen, the Coast Guard's chief of staff since 2002, has spent his entire career in the Coast Guard since graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1971. He was director of resources under Adm. James Loy, who later became Homeland Security's deputy secretary.

A graduate of MIT's Sloan School of Management, Allen is described as sharp and incisive, an avid reader who provides clear direction.

"We don't know when he sleeps," said Coast Guard spokeswoman Jolie Shifflet.

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