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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.

Michael Chertoff
Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security

September 1, 2005

Michael Chertoff

Good afternoon. At this time, the federal government is leading one of the largest response mobilizations in United States history to aid those who have had their homes and lives devastated by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones and continue to suffer in the aftermath of this storm. We will continue to work vigilantly to ensure that our fellow citizens have the sustained support and necessary aid to recover and reclaim their homes and communities.

President Bush has declared major disasters for impacted areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Along with those declarations, the full range of federal resources and capabilities is being directed to assist and protect those citizens who have born the brunt of this catastrophe. At this time we are working closely with state and local authorities to assess damage, identify critical needs, and ensure immediate delivery of supplies, equipment, medical assistance and emergency response personnel to meet those needs. We know people are still suffering, and we are trying to overcome the enormous logistical challenges posed by the hurricane and the extensive flooding.

The situation in these areas is still very dangerous and we urge people to heed the advice from local officials. The full range of federal resources and capabilities is being directed to assist and protect those citizens and communities that have been affected as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

Reagan, from Raleigh, NC writes:
What can we, as civilians, do to help with the destruction Katrina left behind? Is there anything we can be collecting, donating, doing to help the reconstruction process?

Michael Chertoff
A number of organizations are currently seeking cash donations to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast States. Cash donations are especially helpful because they provide quick assistance that can be used to help meet a variety of needs, including clean up, housing repair, crisis counseling, shelter and food, while also allowing agencies to avoid the need to store, sort, pack and distribute donated goods. For a list of voluntary organizations accepting cash donations, visit , or

Stephanie, from Maplewood, NJ writes:
The scramble to assist those in the wake of hurricane Katrina with basic needs is concerning. How will the Office of Homeland Security evaluate the logistical challenges caused by the devastation and move forward in creating plans that address the gaps? For example, local law enforcement running out of gas and batteries for communications. The need to address multiple challenges simultaneously (body collection, rescue, evacuation). As the country faces an active hurricane season and the ongoing need to be vigilant against terrorism, the difficulties witnessed in the response to Katrina are not reassuring. Also, in urban areas, how can the OHS continue to reinforce the need for family preparedness such as that in (water, first aid and food storage).

Michael Chertoff
Through the Department’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, we immediately deployed Rapid Needs Assessment teams to begin identifying damaged areas and priority needs. While our number one priority remains focused on life saving and life-sustaining efforts, the Department of Homeland Security will work with state and local officials and the private sector to execute a full recovery effort to restore critical infrastructure, rebuild transportation networks and repair damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast.

Obviously, the challenge we face here is extensive. We have done extensive preparation, but there is no way a catastrophic natural event can be minimized. Our people are battling the elements of nature with great courage and determination.

As you mentioned, it is important that individuals, families and businesses take action to prepare for emergency situations. Steps such as (1) creating an emergency supply kit or “go bag,” (2) establishing a family communications plan, and (3) staying informed about potential threats that could impact your community can help individuals be better prepared to respond to a crisis or emergency situation.

September is National Preparedness Month and states across the country are hosting events to encourage citizens and communities to become better prepared. The web site is an excellent resource for additional information about emergency supplies, creating a family plan, learning about natural disasters and other potential threats as well as steps businesses can take to ensure continuity for their operations should disaster strike.

Lis, from Melrose, MA writes:
In cases of national emergency, how is Homeland Security coordinating with preexisting agencies like FEMA and the CDC?

Michael Chertoff
The federal government established for the first time last year a National Response Plan, which provides a unified, comprehensive approach to enhance the ability of the United States to manage domestic incidents. This plan also establishes specific protocols to help save lives, restore critical infrastructure and facilitate assistance. While the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for the overall management of the incident, we work closely and in partnership with our federal agency partners to coordinate response and recovery activities.

FEMA is on the ground closely coordinating with federal, state and local officials, emergency management personnel, and voluntary organizations to maximize response and recovery efforts. Already, more than 50 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams have been deployed to the affected states to support and assist hospitals and medical facilities not fully operational as a result of the hurricane. Urban Search & Rescue Teams are dispatched across the Gulf Coast region and truckloads of supplies including water, ice, meals, medical supplies, generators, tents and tarps are being distributed on the ground and further mobilized to the region.

Over the days and months ahead, DHS will continue to coordinate with our federal partners to ensure necessary assistance is being delivered to assist those recovering from this disaster.

Ken, from Arlington, VA writes:
What's the mood of the President and the Cabinet after your meeting yesterday?

Michael Chertoff
The clear message from President Bush to members of his Cabinet was “all hands on deck.” The President has sent clear direction that he expects the federal government to mobilize the full extent of our resources to help those in need throughout the Gulf Coast Region. The Department of Homeland Security has had full participation from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, Transportation, Energy, EPA, and all of the additional agencies working with us to support this effort. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that state and local authorities receive every needed assistance.

Susan, from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina writes:
The country knew that Katrina was going to make landfall again. There was time to prepare, to get people out who had no means of their own to leave the targeted area. Why didn't the government act at that time and mobilize buses, trains and planes then? Why didn't we as a country do anything POSSIBLE to decrease the number of people left in harm's way?

Michael Chertoff
Federal, state and local governments took extraordinary steps to warn citizens and prepare local communities prior to Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. Advance response and recovery equipment was pre-staged and ready for deployment to immediately respond to state and local requests for help. Prior to Hurricane Katrina’s landfall earlier this week, FEMA Director Mike Brown arrived to coordinate advance support and work with state and local officials to advise citizens and prepare local communities.

FEMA mobilized resources, pre-positioned equipment, and staged personnel and supplies prior to the impact of the storm to ensure needed assistance and supplies would be quickly available to respond to requests for aid. Emergency supplies including water, ice, MREs (meals-ready-to-eat), tarps and plastic sheeting were pre-staged throughout the Gulf Coast region to ensure immediate deployment to damaged areas. At the end of the day, even though we pre-positioned a massive amount of resources, we have still struggled to deploy these resources due to the incredibly difficult operating environment posed by the hurricane and the massive flooding.

This remains one of the largest search and rescue operations in United States history. The U.S. Coast Guard pre-positioned helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft prior to Hurricane Katrina’s landfall to support response activities. Since then, the U.S. Coast Guard has rescued nearly 3,000 individuals.

We recognize the need to move fast and we are working tirelessly to get to those in need.

Daniel, from Great Barrington, MA writes:
Hi. I am a 15 years old and I was wondering how I could help with the relief effort. Should I give money and if yes, where to? Thanks.

Michael Chertoff
At this time, one of the most valuable ways to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina is to support a voluntary organization with a cash donation. Web sites including and provide a list of organizations assisting recovery efforts throughout the Gulf Coast region.

Wayne, from Arizona writes:
Will the President release oilpetroleum reserves because og Hurricane Katrina?Gasoline is expected to rise above 3 dollars a gallon.

Michael Chertoff
Yesterday, Secretary Bodman announced that the Department of Energy did approve a loan from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to limit disruptions in crude supplies for refineries. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Johnson has also granted a nationwide waiver to make more gasoline available throughout the country.

Michael Chertoff

Thank you for the numerous e-mails asking about ways to support those individuals and families impacted by Hurricane Katrina. There is no way a catastrophe can be minimized, and we will continue to work 24/7 to overcome this tremendous challenge and get aid to those who need it. Our thoughts and prayers go out to these citizens and we promise to provide the necessary assistance to help them recovery throughout these coming days and months.

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