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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 3, 2008

Press Gaggle by Dana Perino and FEMA Administrator Dave Paulison
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Baton Rouge, Louisiana

10:24 A.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Good morning, everybody. We're on our way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Just two quick phone calls to update you on, and I think that on the other end, they already mentioned this to the press so you won't necessarily need to do a wire call if you don't want to.

President Bush, after takeoff, spoke to Governor Barbour and Mayor Nagin, and then he had a briefing by Dave Paulison, the Director of FEMA, and Gail McGovern is also on board again, and she is the President of the Red Cross.

So I'll turn it over to Dave and he'll give you a little synopsis, and then I'll answer other questions.

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Thanks. Seems like we just did this. (Laughter.) I think the response site went very well, the evacuations went well, very well organized; very pleased with what I saw, all the communication back and forth between the federal, the state and the local going on.

So now we're in the life protection and life-sustaining mode, making sure we have the tarps down there for the homes, we have water, food, cots, blankets, all those types of things we're going to need. People are starting to move back into some of the parishes. We would caution people not to move back in until their parish president says it's safe to move back in. A lot of the areas -- most of the areas don't have electricity; some of them don't have water, and there's no infrastructure in place. There's no grocery stores, gas stations, those types of things.

So what we would tell people, if they're in a safe place, to stay right there until this stuff starts coming back online, because otherwise, they're going to come back in and be a burden on the community, because there is no place to buy groceries or get fuel, or anything like that.

If they do come back in and their parish president says it's time to move back, I would recommend bringing food with your, bring water with you, to make sure you have enough to take care of yourself and your family for a few days until the whole system gets back up and running again.

Most of the hospitals have generators; they're up and running, taking care of the patients. Mid-City Hospital, we had to evacuate this morning because their generator went down. But those patients are already being taken care of.

So, pleased so far with everything. We're going to have to stay on top of it. Obviously with people coming back in and the lack of power -- it's going to be quite a while before power comes back up and running. Now, you guys have been through the drill before. You know what hurricanes do to the power lines. So we caution people not to come back in until they're sure that their parish has power, has water, sewer, and all those types of things it takes to survive.

Q Sir, about the shelters --

MS. PERINO: I forgot to mention something. I'm sorry, I forgot to mention -- Secretary Chertoff has been in Baton Rouge; he will join us today. And Secretary Leavitt was planning to be in the region today; we've asked him to join us for the Emergency Operation Center briefing, as well. So you'll see him.

Q There have been numerous complaints from people at the shelters in northern Louisiana about inadequate food, inadequate showers, inadequate health care. Are those isolated incidents, or did something break along the way?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I don't think there's anything broken. It was one particular shelter we had problems with that was not a Red Cross-run shelter. That was a city-run shelter. I did ask the Red Cross to put a team in there today, to look at it and give me an assessment of what it's like.

We don't do sheltering, but at the same time, when we see something like that, we want to make sure that people are in a safe place. So I did ask the Red Cross to put a team to go in and look at the shelter, give us an assessment, and hopefully I'll get that when I'm on the ground. But I haven't got a report back yet.

Q Do you remember the name of that shelter offhand?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: It was in Shreveport and it was one -- it was located at an abandoned Sam's Club building. I don't remember the name of it. But I heard there were some issues with it, so the Red Cross is going to go in -- although it is not their shelter -- just to go in to give them some advice on how do we get it back up and running.

Q Do you expect any more disaster declarations today? You did one yesterday for Louisiana; any others coming out?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Well, we're looking -- we have Mississippi's, we're looking at that now. We're going to evaluate it and see what kind of damage they had. Obviously Louisiana got the brunt of the storm this time, so that was an easy one to do. And we've got Mississippi's. Florida submitted one, and I'm sure Alabama and Texas will be doing the same thing pretty soon.

Q Could you describe the damage in Baton Rouge and put it in perspective for the rest of the state -- with the rest of the state?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: What it looks like now is Baton Rouge got hit pretty hard. They got hit worse than New Orleans did. So there's obviously no power, lot of trees are down, windows blown out in buildings, roofs gone -- so that type of damage. So we get down, I'll be able to see better, but just based on what my staff is telling me of what type of damage is there.

Q You say it's one of the worst areas in the state?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Well, it looks like it's pretty bad. Of course, now, you've got Houma down south that's got a lot of damage, too. So I wouldn't put one any worse than the other. But Baton Rouge did get a lot of damage that I don't think they were anticipating.

Q And what will we see?


Q What will the President see?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: The President will see the damage in Baton Rouge, and we're going to go meet with the Emergency Management people, get an assessment of where they are and what's going on. He wants to thank people for the hard work they've been doing, and to find out exactly what the big issues are and see if we're missing anything.

Q Are you assessing it for the first time, as well? You haven't been down there -- I mean, you've been in Washington, as well, this week?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I've been in Washington all week. I was down there in Texas the day before yesterday; I'm going back down to Louisiana today. I was in Louisiana about four days ago, so I'm going back and forth.

MS. PERINO: And Secretary Chertoff has been there the whole time.

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: And Secretary Chertoff has been there every day with the Governor, and flying around, giving us regular reports. They've been very helpful for us, by the way, the information he's been feeding back to us, and we've been able to get on top of issues very quickly.

Q What's your assessment of how things worked at a federal level?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Extremely well. I have to tell you, based on what I saw in Katrina, where there was a lot of uncoordinated activity through the whole emergency management system, what I saw this time was a tremendous amount of coordination. Things are going to go wrong; there's no question about it, when you have a storm like this, things are going to go wrong. But when things happen, the whole federal team pulled together to make it happen.

You know, when we had the hospitals we had to evacuate, that we were going to shelter in place -- NorthCom stepped up to the plate, gave us airplanes, and we got all of those people out of there. So it -- today when we had evacuated the hospital, we had the ambulances there, we were able to move people very quickly.

So that's what you have to do. It's not the fact that you're not going to have problems, it's how you deal with them. And the whole family is pulling together -- HHS, Department of HUD, VA -- everybody is playing a role in this and we're all working together as a team.

Q What are you guys doing for Hanna?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I've already -- we've already got our supplies ready to move in. We're already -- we've got a lot of prestaged stuff in Atlanta, in Florida, and up in North Carolina. I've moved teams into all of those states already -- now, we already had a team in Florida. I moved a team into Georgia, into South Carolina and North Carolina at the state EOC, making sure we got our preparations and we're working together and we're -- so we see where this storm goes and what it's going to do.

Q Are you confident that you can handle the cleanup of Gustav and still do the correct preparation for Hanna?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Oh, I am. We're well aware -- we have 10 regions around the country; we have not tapped all of them, and we'll move our resources wherever we have a disaster. We have Ike out there, and what's the other one?

Q Josephine.

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Josephine out there, too. So we will be watching those very closely.

Q Is this a worse hurricane season than any other? It seems that way. Or are they just coming one right after the other?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Well, you don't remember -- remember in 2004, we had four hurricanes go through Florida, and when I took over emergency management in Miami-Dade County we had five hurricanes in a row lined up out there. So I don't think the worst -- they're just coming pretty fast right now. This is the peak of hurricane season. For the next four weeks we're in the peak of hurricane season. We're going to have to expect these storms are going to keep coming off Africa.

Q In addition to the preparedness you've mentioned, were you guys helped by the fact that Gustav wasn't as bad as some had predicted?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Well, we -- I'm tickled to death it wasn't as bad as predicted. It was still a tough storm. But the levees held, we had -- didn't have a lot of flooding like we had obviously in Katrina. You know, the smaller these storms are, the happier I am.



Q Thank you very much.

MS. PERINO: Thanks, Dave. Anything else?

Q Does the President plan to go to New Orleans at some point, or is it because it wasn't as hard hit as Baton Rouge he's going to focus on Baton Rouge?

MS. PERINO: There are a couple of reasons. One, they are still evacuation orders in place in New Orleans, okay. The businesses are just being invited back in today and there's -- the Emergency Operations Center overseeing the operations for the whole state is in Baton Rouge, so it's the right place to go to be able to do what he wants to do, which is get some business taken care of to make sure that they have what they need from the federal side.

Q Can you add anything to news reports about North Korea reassembling its main facility?

MS. PERINO: We've obviously seen the statements that they've given out over the past little bit of time. A reminder to you that it was the United States, along with the other parties in the six-party talks, the other four -- so the five of the six, united in saying that -- I was going to say a different country -- that North Korea had to comply with the protocol and that one of those agreements was a verification mechanism. We don't have that yet. Our whole premise has been action for action. We have fulfilled our obligations when the North Koreans have fulfilled theirs.

And so we will be taking a assessment along with our international partners. This is not going to be a decision that the United States makes alone. And we're obviously troubled by it and it's very unfortunate for the North Korean people, who could be greatly helped by the action-for-action mechanism. And once North Korea simply agrees to a verification protocol, then the United States would take them off of our state sponsor of terrorism list. But we're not going to do it without it.

Q Do you have confirmation that these reports are true?

MS. PERINO: I've seen the reports and I don't know. I'd have to refer you to State Department on that.

Q Dana, can you talk about the $1 billion aid package to Georgia?

MS. PERINO: I can't yet, but I believe that you'll be hearing something later on today from the State Department, and then I'll try to provide for you something. It might be on our way back home on the plane.

Q Okay. I mean, just looking for details, like is it military --

MS. PERINO: I know you're looking for details and I'll see that -- what I can provide you later.

Q Did the President hear from Senator McCain after his speech?

MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q Was he happy with his -- with the way it went?

MS. PERINO: Sure, sure. I thought that -- yes, I personally thought it was a very strong speech. And the First Lady could not have looked more beautiful and sounded more positive and set such a great example for Americans in this country. And she's a great person to have been able to step in last night and to be able to be there in the hall. The President obviously couldn't be, but he was pleased with his speech and I think that it accomplished what he set out to do, which is to make the case why John -- for John McCain to be President of the United States.

Q Is Bush really going to be down for two days at Camp David now?

MS. PERINO: Well, we were planning to be down for the entire week --

Q I know -- that changed. So is this going to change, too?

MS. PERINO: I think that the plan is that he would go to Camp David tomorrow morning and be there through the weekend.

Q Through the weekend?

MS. PERINO: Yes. I think so -- until Sunday.

Q Back on Saturday.

Q I think he comes back on Saturday, yes.

MS. PERINO: Carlton just says, back on Saturday, so something to look forward to, Deb.

Q Tee ball.

MS. PERINO: Oh, the last tee ball game --

Q Will you brief on Thursday and Friday?

MS. PERINO: Actually, I'm going to give a little bit of update here on that situation. Yes, I will brief on Thursday and Friday -- actually, I think Tony Fratto will brief you on Friday. I have made a decision in working with the White House Correspondents Association President, to let her know -- I'm going to try and experiment, to collapse the gaggle and the briefing, which the -- which someone affectionately called the "griefing." (Laughter.)

And for several reasons -- but try to -- to see if we can try doing a briefing sometime between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. every morning. I think we've proved to you over the past seven days that we respond to all questions at all hours of the day, all hours of the night. And I think the original intent of the gaggle was a great one and worked for many years, but the model is just not necessarily the best in a modern era.

And we also have large international audiences that we are trying to reach that are several hours ahead of us. I think the State Department has recently made this same move. I'm going to try it out and we'll see how it works. And I appreciate anybody's feedback on it. And then if it doesn't work, we'll readjust.

But so I think we'll start that -- we already did that this week, but that was sort of unintentional because of the hurricane. I was going to plan to start it next week. So I'll try it and we'll see how it goes.

Q So the mode is a 10:30 a.m. on camera-style briefing?

MS. PERINO: Correct.

Q That's it?

MS. PERINO: Correct.

Q -- have to be 10:30 a.m. or sometime between 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.?

MS. PERINO: I think I'm going to target 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. I'm a little bit of a creature of habit. If I say I'm briefing at 12:30 p.m., it's usually 12:30 p.m. every day, maybe 12:40 p.m. But I think 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. I do think that because of the amount of questions that come in in the morning, I hope that the press will be better served by this because I'll have more time to track down and get answers that have come in overnight and in the early morning. So that's my hope and we'll give a shot.

Q You're going to do it generally the same time every day?

MS. PERINO: Yes, that's what I hope -- sometime between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Maybe I'll try 11:00 a.m. I don't know. I'm just going to see how it goes. But, you know, Europe is between six and seven hours ahead; Asia obviously much farther ahead.

Q -- because like 11:30 a.m. gets more time -- you know, more stuff to roll in if we've got one shot --

MS. PERINO: I don't know if there's too much different between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., and there's a big difference, especially for the press office staff that starts at 6:30 a.m. in the morning. We are in back-in-back meetings until 9:00 a.m. -- and then to gaggle at 9:30 a.m., which has really become a briefing, and then turn around two-and-a-half hours later and do it again is just -- it's not working as well for everybody. So I'm going to give a shot. And again I really welcome the feedback from the press. And we'll see how it works.

Q Can you just stand at the podium all day long?

MS. PERINO: I always say that if there's anything about news reporters, the thing they hate the most is anything that affects -- that's new to them and that affects them, and change is very hard for the media. It's like one of the most interesting things. So we'll gently glide into this and we'll adjust if we need to. Okay?

Q Can we just put a camera in your office and leave it on? (Laughter.)

END 10:39 A.M. EDT