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President George W. Bush
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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Frances Fragos Townsend
Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

February 24, 2006
Frances Fragos Townsend
Good morning. It's great to be here on Ask the White House. I look forward to answering your questions about the report I submitted to President Bush yesterday morning - The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned. President Bush and his Administration are committed to rebuilding the Gulf Coast and ensuring that we are better prepared for future catastrophes. With that, I am happy to take your questions.

Gerry, from NA writes:
I have recently submitted my Candidacy Paper for a PhD in Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA. My paper spoke directly toward the issue of graduate level university training for future leaders who may be dedicated to disaster recovery. How real do you see this and through what mechanism or methodologies do you see this occurring?Sincerely, Gerry

Frances Fragos Townsend
In my report to the President, The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned, which I delivered yesterday, I made 125 specific recommendations for change. One of those recommendations was that "DHS should establish a National Homeland Security University (NHSU) for senior officials that will serve as a capstone to other educational and training opportunities. An NHSU should be established to provide a strategic perspective of homeland security and counterterrorism that transcends organizations, levels of government, response disciplines, and the private sector. This requires that the NHSU faculty and student body include interagency, intergovernmental, and private sector representatives. NHSU programs should prepare officials for senior homeland security and counterterrorism assignments in Federal, State, and local governments. To achieve this, the NHSU curriculum should focus on all hazards and all phases of emergency preparedness and response. It should expand students' understanding of the strategic aspects of homeland security and counterterrorism planning, policy development, incident management, and support functions, among other topics. NHSU educational programs must be scalable and portable in order to reach the widest audiences. NHSU should offer traditional in-residence courses in Washington, DC. It should also offer regional and virtual educational programs, and utilize innovative educational methodologies, such as simulation centers, for use by faculty, students, and government officials. The NHSU should serve as a center of homeland security and counterterrorism strategic thought and expertise for the nation. DHS should consider leveraging the infrastructure and expertise at the National Defense University by partnering with DOD to have the NHSU be a joint DHS/DOD initiative that focuses on both Homeland Security and Homeland Defense."

Marty, from St. Peters MO writes:
How prepared is the United States for a terrorist attack on American soil.

Frances Fragos Townsend
Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we have made significant strides towards increasing our national preparedness and prevention capabilities, through over $30 billion in preparedness grants to states, local governments, and critical infrastructure to guard against terrorism and natural hazards. But Hurricane Katrina revealed weaknesses in our ability to respond to large scale truly catastrophic disasters. In his Jackson Square speech on September 15, 2005, President Bush ordered a review of the Federal response to hurricane Katrina so we as a Nation could make the necessary changes to be "better prepared for any challenge of nature or act of evil men that cold threaten our people." That is why the Federal government is currently conducting a nationwide review of the planning to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from natural or terrorist events in every state and 75 at-risk urban areas. The recommendations set forth in the Report I gave to the President yesterday, together with results of the nationwide planning review, we are going to make the necessary changes to keep the President's charge.

Doug, from Lowry writes:
In the aftermath of Katrina, the military had a slow response, had to be asked by various officials, in the future when should the military take a leading role. Generally, before Iraq, reserverist while trying their best are not trained to do the job, nor do they have access to the correct machinery. In your opinion should the military be automatically engaged as soon as the President declares a national disaster?

Frances Fragos Townsend
The Departments of Homeland Security and Defense should jointly plan for the Department of Defense's support of Federal response activities as well as those extraordinary circumstances when it is appropriate for the Department of Defense to lead the Federal response. In addition, the Department of Defense should ensure the transformation of the National Guard is focused on increased integration with active duty forces for homeland security plans and activities.

Kharis, from Boston, MA writes:
Good Morning What is the Department of Homeland Security doing to assure such lack of immediate response to Katrina will not happen again? In your words, why was there so much confusion between State and Federal government especially since government agencies have a contingency plan for every emergency scenario? Why did DOH not disseminate more information immediately to public?

I appreciate all DOH efforts and thank you for your response.

God Bless

Frances Fragos Townsend
State and local governments--who know the unique requirements of their citizens and geography and are best positioned to respond to incidents in their own jurisdictions--will always play a large role in disaster response. The Federal government's supporting role respects these practical points and the sovereignty of the States as well as the power of governors to direct activities and coordinate efforts within their States. While we remain faithful to basic constitutional doctrine and time tested principles, we must likewise accept that events such as Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, require us to tailor the application of these principles to the threats we confront in the 21st Century. Yesterday, I delivered to the President my report on The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned. In the Report I make it clear that we need to plan for a flexible and larger Federal role in catastrophic contingency planning and response to catastrophic events. I made 125 specific recommendations that I thought would better prepare our nation an assure a better integrated and coordinated future response between all levels of government, Federal, State, and local, as well as the private sector, charities, and faith based organizations.

Mary, from Pa. writes:
How can homeland security effectively do their job, when United Arab Emeritis, is allowed full access to our cities and ports. I urge the President not to go ahead with this deal and sell our ports to terrorists who have already invaded and killed our people on 911.I am outraged that the leader of our nation, would give these people free access to our country after all the pain and suffering they have caused

Frances Fragos Townsend
The transaction is not about port security or even port ownership, but only about operations in ports. DP World will not manage port security, nor will it own any ports. DP World would take on the functions now performed by the British firm P&O -- basically the off- and on-loading of cargo. No private company currently manages any U.S. port. Rather, private companies such as P&O and DP World simply manage and operate individual terminals within ports.

The Department of Homeland Security is in charge of the nation's port security, not the private companies that operate the port facilities. Nothing will change with this transaction. DHS, along with the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and other Federal agencies, sets the standards for port security and ensures that all port facility owners and operators comply with these standards.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been a solid partner in the War on Terror. The UAE has been extremely cooperative on counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation and has provided considerable support to U.S. force in the Gulf and to the governments and people of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, has said: "The military-to-military relationship with the United Arab Emirates is superb ... they've got airfields that they allow us to use, and their airspace, their logistics support. They've got a world-class air-to-air training facility that they let us use and cooperate with them in the training of our pilots. In everything that we have asked and work with them on, they have proven to be very, very solid partners."

Fabiola, from Texas writes:
What exactly is the Homeland Security Dept.Bill?

Frances Fragos Townsend
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 is the law that established the Department of Homeland Security and set forth its general structure, authorities, and responsibilities. For more information, please visit the Department of Homeland Security website at

Joel, from Superior, WI writes:
Dear Ms. Townsend, What do you think is the most important thing the Bush administration will take away from the Katrina response, or lack thereof.

Frances Fragos Townsend
Yesterday, I gave to the President my report on The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned. I made 125 specific recommendations for change that fell into 17 broad categories. The most important lesson we take away is that although we rescued and evacuated 100,000 people by land and air in the five days after Hurricane Katrina, we must do better. We must truly transform our preparedness system and foster a culture of preparedness throughout the nation.

Leann, from Oklahoma writes:
It does not appear that there has been very much accoumplished in the clean-up and construction after Katrina. Why?

Frances Fragos Townsend
There has been significant progress in the clean up and recovery process. Remember that the disaster area is almost 93,000 square miles -- approximately the size of the country of Great Britain. This storm destroyed so many homes, forests and green spaces that an extraordinary amount of debris was left behind. If stacked onto the space of a football field, it would reach over 10.5 miles high. In just five months 71 million cubic yards of debris have been removed from LA, MS, and AL. In comparison, it took 6 months to remove 20 million cubic yards of debris created by Hurricane Andrew.

Pam, from Park Forest IL writes:
Why is homeland secuirty addressing itself to what appears to be the sane cooridination as FEMA? If our anti terrorist personnel are busy handling natural disasters.. then the people wont be available for anti terrorism monitoring which may be needed more after a disaster.Are Fema and homeland security merging?

Frances Fragos Townsend
FEMA was one of the 22 former Federal agencies and offices that were merged together to form the Department of Homeland Security under the Homeland Security Act of 2002. To make us as safe and secure as possible, it is very important that we, along with our State and local partners prepare for threats that are all-hazards, both man-made and natural. The planning, training, and preparation for disaster response is very much the same whether the disaster is intentionally inflicted, happens accidentally, or occurs naturally. Nevertheless, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and other departments and agencies, continue to maintain strong programs that are committed to the prevention of terrorism through monitoring sensitive materials, intelligence, reducing vulnerabilities, and improving detection capabilities.

Richard, from Baton Rouge, LA writes:
Ms. Townsend, What steps can private citizens take to strengthen our nation's ability to prepare for and respond to major hurricanes?



Frances Fragos Townsend
Richard, some of the things you can do to prepare include making an emergency supply kit and developing a family communications plan. I recommend that you go to This webpage created by the Department of Homeland Security provides valuable information on planning for and responding to all types of events including Hurricanes. The American Red Cross also has a website,, which has information on their "Be Prepared" campaign, which you may also find helpful.

Tom, from Salt Lake City writes:
As a former FEMA offical in the 1st Bush Whitehouse, I am extremely interested on your thoughts on how we can intergrate the resources and capabilities of the Private Sector into a first response role?

Thanks You.

Frances Fragos Townsend
One recommendation is that DHS should revise the National Response Plan to strengthen the role and responsibility of an Infrastructure Liaison. The liaison should: (1) Gather and fuse relevant data about private infrastructure operational status; (2) Coordinate overall Federal response efforts for infrastructure restoration and recovery; and (3) Strengthen direct communications with private infrastructure owners and operators. This expanded Infrastructure Liaison role will augment current efforts to work with the Private Sector.

DHS should also revise the National Preparedness Goal to require the collaborative development of regional disaster plans (such as those required by the DHS Urban Area Security Initiative) with the private sector. This activity will not only prepare the Federal government to respond, but will set private sector expectations of specific actions the government will take in response to a disaster.

In addition, we should set basic criteria for private sector preparedness against which these regional plans can be measured. There is a lack of a clear and agreed upon prioritized implementation plan to address the coordinated restoration and protection of critical infrastructure during times of limited resources and competing demands. Basic levels of private sector preparation similar to those outlined in the National Preparedness Goal should be set and used to measure progress in restoration planning.

Patrick, from Washington, DC writes:
Fantastic report, very insightful In regards to the exercises, do you feel we should continue to fund exercises such as TOPOFF, even though we have yet to see an after-action report or learn any lessons from them? I would have to believe we have spent millions of dollars on this, yet have had nothing come out of it.

Frances Fragos Townsend
If this nation is to remain prepared to respond to the variety of threats we face, we must hone our skills and identify areas for improvement through exercises both within each Federal department, State, and local government. To test and assess the nation's capabilities to prevent, protect against, and respond to a variety of emergency events, the Department of Homeland Security's National Exercise Program facilitates a great number of exercises, as well as provide technical assistance for the design, performance, and lessons learned process at the Federal, State, and local levels of government.

One component of the National Exercise Program is the bi-annual Top Officials (TOPOFF) exercise that consists of a series of comprehensive seminars, tabletop exercises, and a full-scale exercise involving the entire Federal government, as well as foreign, state, and local governments. The TOPOFF exercise endeavors to meet the need to test events that cut across jurisdictional and departmental boundaries.

In recognition of the importance of exercises to test our capabilities and improve government response, my report on The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned recommends that improvements be made in the corrective action process within the White House and each Federal department and agency to ensure that problems are fixed and not repeated. The report also encourages greater state and local participation in regional exercise activities.

Recommendation 108 specifically recommends that the TOPOFF exercise be restructured to execute a series of exercises every year, identify lessons learned from these exercises in a timelier manner and issue an after action report that identifies the remedial actions to be taken with a deadline for implementation.

Jack, from Pennsylvania writes:
Did you actually travel to New Orleans or any of the affected areas? If so, how did what you saw influence your report and if not, why not?

Frances Fragos Townsend
Yes, as part of my review I visited the Hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast during November 2005. I met with Government officials, business and community leaders, and volunteers amidst the ruble. I was struck by the decency and compassion of those we met and I was moved by their continuing emotion and pain. My discussions and observations are incorporated into this report. Though we can never replace their unfathomable losses, we have committed over $100 billion to reconstruction and as the President has said, we have an obligation to continue helping those still suffering to recover and rebuild their lives.

Eleanor, from Whitestone, NY writes:
It seems all we hear about is the Federal responsibilty failure, is there any question as to the seemingly total failure of the Local and State officials. I don't recall Gulliani and Pataki sitting on their hands waiting for the Federal Government to step in and take charge. What, if any, disaster plans did they have in place?

Frances Fragos Townsend
Clearly there were failures at all levels of government during the response to Hurricane Katrina. For the future we must focus on improving the preparedness for all types of emergencies, both man-made and natural disasters. A significant part of improving preparedness is ensuring that State and local governments have adequate plans. This is why the Department of Homeland Security has undertaken a review of emergency plans for every State and 75 major metropolitan areas.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Assistant Fragos: I know there is a lot of finger pointing going on. The Federal pointing at the State the State Pointing at the Local and so on and so on. BUT is there one to three areas that appears to have broken down in the response or is it a combination of a lot of little things? Thank You

Frances Fragos Townsend
Certainly there were the issues related to evacuation, logistics, and communications that were obvious to all, but we uncovered additional problems that contributed to the failures we experienced during the response. Thus, rather than just having a handful of general conclusions, we have 125 specific recommendations to address all of the shortfalls experienced during Katrina. I am confident that by implementing these recommendations we will be far better prepared for the next disaster.

Mike, from Virginia writes:
I think you have produced a very transparent, useful document, so thank you for doing this for our country. I had a question in regards to how you produced the report, in particular, what type of team did you build to help you construct this report? Was it done within the White House itself, or with assistance from other government agencies? What type of people wrote this, were they firefighters, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, what? It reads very much like there was a heavy Army feel to it.

Frances Fragos Townsend
The report was authored by White House staff, with support from an interagency team of experts from the major Federal agencies involved in the Katrina response. As you noted, physicians, lawyers and members of the U.S. Armed Forces were among those who contributed to the report. In addition, we did many interviews with officials at the local, State and Federal levels, including speaking with those on the front lines in the Gulf response, such as firefighters and police officers.

Boris, from Chicago, Illinois writes:
How will Hurricane Katrina affect diaster planning and how the public is warned before the impending disaster?

Frances Fragos Townsend
Hurricane Katrina compels us to review and revise our planning at the local, State and Federal levels. In fact, Recommendation #1 is for an interagency team to review the plan that guides our federal efforts, the National Response Plan. It is absolutely imperative that all of the plans address the challenges we face when responding to catastrophic incidents such as Hurricane Katrina. A key aspect of planning is ensuring that emergency alerts are provided to the population in an effective, timely manner.

The 2006 hurricane season is just over three months away. Even while the homeland security policy community undertakes the deliberative process to implement the lessons we have learned from Katrina, there are specific actions we can and should undertake now -- in parallel with the policy process -- to be better prepared for future emergencies. In my Report to the President, I proposed to undertake 11 activities before June 1. One of those recommendations was that we employ all available 21st Century technologies both to update and utilize the national Emergency Alert System in order to provide the general public with advanced notification of and instruction for disasters and emergencies

Before Katrina made landfall, the National Weather Service office in Slidell, Louisiana, issued a detailed, urgent warning of Hurricane Katrina.s impending devastating impact on the Gulf Coast. The warning stated, "The majority of industrial buildings will become non-functional...High-rise office and apartment buildings will sway dangerously -- a few to the point of total collapse. All windows will blow out. Airborne debris will be widespread -- and may include heavy items such as household appliances and even light vehicles...Persons -- pets -- and livestock exposed to the winds will face certain death if struck." The national hurricane center issued advisories that warned the levees in New Orleans could be overtopped by Lake Pontchartrain and that significant destruction would likely be experienced far away from the hurricane's center. The warning continued, "[m]ost of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks...Perhaps longer...Power outages will last for weeks...Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards."

Prior to Hurricane Katrina's landfall, State and local officials did not use the Emergency Alert System (EAS) in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama. However, the National Hurricane Center disseminated warnings and forecasts via NOAA Radio and the internet, operating in conjunction with the EAS. Initially, these reports were issued every six hours; however, as the storm neared landfall they were updated with increasing frequency. In accordance with NOAA policy, local weather offices took over responsibility for these broadcasts shortly after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. At this time, Weather Service offices like the one in Slidell, Louisiana, began to transmit real-time hazard information using both NOAA Radio and the EAS. These reports were distributed to all area media outlets as well as local emergency management personnel. When the severity of the storm finally forced the Slidell weather office offline, operations were successfully transferred to weather centers in Mobile and Baton Rouge.

lynn, from norristown writes:
how much money did the government give to Katrina relief?

Frances Fragos Townsend
To date, the President and Congress have provided over $100 billion for Hurricane Katrina and Rita relief efforts. On February 16, President Bush asked Congress for an additional $19.8 billion in emergency funding to support ongoing hurricane recovery efforts.

Frances Fragos Townsend
Thank you for all the great questions. We look forward to working with our State and local partners to implement the recommendations as outlined in the Report. In fact, on Monday, I will be meeting with our Nation's Governors here at the White House to discuss the next steps. We are ever mindful of the President's charge to protect and defend the American people. Thanks again for your interest in Homeland Security.

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