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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 1, 2008

Press Gaggle by Dana Perino and FEMA Administrator Dave Paulison
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Austin, Texas

9:34 A.M. EDT

MS. PERINO: Okay, we're on our way to Austin, Texas. I'm going to just give you a little bit about the schedule, and then turn it over to Dave Paulison, the Director of FEMA, to give you a little bit more about the day and answer your questions on that. And then I can follow up on other topics or other questions that you might have.

The President, when we arrive at 10:45 a.m., he'll participate in a briefing at what's called the Texas Emergency Operations Center. It's in Austin. Pool at the top. The center has federal, state and local government officials that work together to coordinate interagency operations at the state level to support preparation and response activities. Those of you following the storm know that the path of the storm will track right through Texas.

Then at 11:20 a.m., he will greet Texas Emergency Operations Center employees. And at 12:45 p.m., we will then move on to San Antonio, Texas, where he'll be at the Alamo Regional Command Reception Center. This is an evacuation center. It's also a staging area for the distribution of commodities and supplies to areas affected by the storm. So they stage there, get everything ready, and then be able to swoop in once the winds die down and it's safe to be there. The President will be visiting with first responders and volunteers at a Salvation Army mobile hospital unit, and it's also called Building 1537, Dining Hall, where commodities and supplies are being staged. And then he will return to the White House tonight at 5:45 p.m.

I'll turn it over to Dave.

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: We had an opportunity to brief the President yesterday in our operations center that we built since Hurricane Katrina. And it's really become the hub of the whole focus of these disasters. We have several video conferences every day, bringing people on, that everyone who is going to have a piece inside of a disaster. It's unprecedented cooperation among all the federal agencies -- the Department of Defense, all the private sector, people like the Red Cross who are going to play. And what it allows us to do is share information with what's going on so we don't end up with what happened in Katrina, with different agencies doing things and others not knowing what's happening.

The second piece we did was change the philosophy of how we're going to respond to disaster. During Katrina you noticed that buses didn't come in until after the storm hit landfall; urban search and rescue teams didn't come until after landfall; ambulances didn't come until after landfall. All of these things are put in place ahead of the storm this time. Hundreds of buses, hundreds of ambulances, dozens of urban search and rescue teams -- all of the supplies are prepositioned, all the personnel were already down there waiting for the storm to hit.

That made a difference in the evacuation process. This was one of the most successful and most well coordinated evacuations that I've seen. The state is reporting over 2 million people evacuated out of southern Louisiana, and it went very well. Just last night, we transported over 7,000 people by air. We had 337 critical care patients transported by military aircraft; 247 by Texas Air National Guard -- helped us transport all these critical care people out of Louisiana to safe harbor.

And we also transported almost 4,000 people by train directly from New Orleans into Memphis. We have about 45,000 people in shelters, as opposed to 140,000 we had after Katrina. So a lot of people understood what they had to do. They got in their cars, they got out of town, and we only had to shelter about 45,000 people. We were prepared to shelter the 100,000 we thought we were going to have. So when you go into some of these shelters, they won't be packed out. As we go into Texas, we didn't have to transport as many people as we thought. These are all good things.

So right now we've got people in shelters, people have evacuated the city. We're waiting for the storm to pass. The National Guard, Coast Guard, Urban Search and Rescue teams are surrounding the city, ready to move back in as soon as the winds die down. So we're poised and ready to respond. And hopefully -- hopefully -- not too many people failed to evacuate. We sure gave everybody an opportunity to do that. There was no reason to stay in the city, and no excuses not to evacuate. There was plenty of transportation, and in fact, the last train we sent out was, out of a capacity of 1,000 people, only had 140 people on board because there was nobody else left to get on. So that was a good thing.

That's kind of where we are. We have the supplies there, and as soon as the winds die down we'll move into the city, see if there's anybody to rescue. If things are stable, we'll start moving people back in.

MS. PERINO: I forgot to mention that the President, upon takeoff, received about an hour's long briefing by Director Paulison, and then two other people who are on board with him today: Ken Wainstein, who's the President's Director of the Homeland Security Council. And also on board with us is Gail McGovern. She's the President and CEO of the American Red Cross. And she'll be touring these sites with the President today.

Q They're on board?

MS. PERINO: Yes, on board here. And in addition, one of the things that we were going to do is to see if we can meet with some evacuees today in San Antonio. As I -- maybe you can flesh this out for me a little bit, but one of the things that this operations center does is have capacity to have overflow for evacuees. The good news is that people were able to get up north from Louisiana in an orderly fashion and in quick enough time that they don't need to have the overflow center. So we'll let you know if there's additional updates on that when we get on the ground.

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Let me make a comment about the Red Cross, too. They've been tremendous partners in this storm. We had no issues with shelter staffing like we did in Katrina. When we sent people there, the Red Cross was there to take them in. They had cots, blankets, food, water, all the necessities to take care of people.

We also opened pet shelters this time. Remember during Katrina, people wouldn't leave their homes because they didn't want to leave their pets, and shelters wouldn't take pets. So we opened pet shelters so people have a place for their pets to be housed safely.

So a lot of good things happened. Right now we're hoping for the best, we're hoping there's no major damage to the city. And we'll see after the storm passes and move back in very quickly.

MS. PERINO: You might talk about just a little bit how there could be flooding regardless of the --

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: We have a storm surge coming in. There also could be a lot of rain, so even if the levees hold there still could be possible flooding. The city pumps will pump an inch an hour for the first hour, and a half-inch an hour of water after that. So if we get a lot of rain, there still could be some localized flooding in the city; so that's to be expected. But there's large, large pumps that the Corps put in, and if it does get flooding, we should be able to de-water the city much faster than we saw in Katrina.

Q I'm sorry, it was an inch an hour, the first hour?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: For the first hour they can handle an inch, and a half-inch an hour after that -- for the city pumps.

Q To that end, what are the Army Corps telling you about these levees and their ability to hold back at this stage?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: The Corps is saying the levees are much stronger. They've raised them a lot, much higher than they were during Katrina. However, there's still weaknesses in that levee system. It's not where it needs to be. There's a -- it won't be till 2011 until they're up to the 100-year flood thing. So they, along with us, were supporting us in telling the people to evacuate the city for this storm.

Q Have you gotten any initial reports as the weather has moved in now?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: We got tropical storm force winds last night. The hurricane force winds should be moving in very shortly now. So now the brunt of the storm is going to be hitting the city very soon, and we'll see what they do.

Q Sir, are you -- is it, to the best of your knowledge, the fact that everybody who wanted to get out of New Orleans was able to get out?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: That's correct. There should not be any excuses for people who -- if people stayed in New Orleans, it was their choice.

Q Do you remember the confusion on the day that Katrina struck, as to whether the levees have broken or not -- it wasn't really until the evening that we got a clear picture. Do you have a better -- is there a better way to monitor what's happening on the levees this time? Or when do you think you'll be able to know with confidence whether the levees held or not?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: The Corps has several things. They've got video cameras set up. They also put in place safe houses for the operators of the pumps. They have concrete bunkers. They have it rated at 250 mile an hour. They have windows that are rated at 250 mile an hour. They also have measuring things out there to see what the water flow is. So there are several things that should give us a better idea of how the levees are doing, and not be second-guessing like we were last time.

Anything else, guys?

Q Just on the cooperation with city officials, with the Mayor Nagin, with the Governor Bobby Jindal, just give us a sense of how the cooperation has been this time.

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: I was down there personally, met with the Mayor, met with the Governor. The cooperation is the best I've seen. It was -- all the parish presidents, the Mayor, the Governor, were all on the same page about the evacuations. They all agreed on the same time line. They're working together hand in hand. And also, the Governors, all four Governors, from Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are all working together also, sharing equipment back and forth. So it was -- I was very pleased, I'd have to tell you, with what I saw with the cooperation between -- that we didn't see last time.

Q One quick question about the path of the storm. If it continues to head into Texas and takes a track that way, are you as prepared for that type of hurricane as you are for Louisiana proper?

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: We are, and Texas is also. More than likely, Texas is going to get a lot of water and a lot of flooding. The Governor and the state emergency manager are well aware of that. They have a tremendous system there and they're ready to move people if they have to evacuate them again.

Q Thank you.

MS. PERINO: Thanks, Dave.

ADMINISTRATOR PAULISON: Thanks, guys. Thank you.

MS. PERINO: Anything else for me?

Q I had a question.

Q Is he going to give a speech to the convention this week?

MS. PERINO: At the convention -- as Rick Davis said yesterday from the McCain campaign when he gave the update from the convention, they were taking things day by day, and I haven't heard anything today. They said that they were going to give noon updates every day, so let's wait and see for that. But there will be nothing today.

Q But it's within the realm of possibility he would go to St. Paul?

MS. PERINO: I think we have to wait and see what the convention and the campaign say, and determine from there.

Q But you said nothing today?

MS. PERINO: No, sir.

Q You mean, no speech by the President today, not necessarily no news on it?

MS. PERINO: There will not be a speech by the President today about the convention -- or John McCain.

Q Well, there was some rumor last night, a report, of the President giving an address tonight. Is that --

MS. PERINO: I knocked it down early in the day, and it persisted all day long. It is not the case. We were making some plans to see if the President could address the convention from the White House or another location -- but we were planning for the White House -- but then the convention and the campaign I think made the right decision in cancelling tonight's events. And so we were going to address the convention; I wouldn't describe that as an address to the nation.

Q Saw one report that addressed it, so --

MS. PERINO: I know, but they were pushed back on and told that that wasn't the case, and then they corrected it. But for some reason, just maybe because it was a Sunday, it didn't get corrected across the board.

Q Any reaction to the EU meeting on Georgia?

MS. PERINO: It was still ongoing while I was -- while we got on board, so I don't have an update for you. But I'll check back and find out.

Q One follow-up on the storms. So far, based on the briefings he's received, is the President satisfied with the government's response at all levels?

MS. PERINO: Yes, so far.

Q Dana, has the President talked about -- with the Vice President about the Vice President's upcoming trip to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Italy?

MS. PERINO: I know that he and the Vice President saw each other this morning. The Vice President was in the Oval Office as we were leaving, and the Vice President said his trip is going ahead as planned. But I don't know, beyond that, the discussions that they had. But let me check on that EU meeting.

Q That would be great. That would be great.

MS. PERINO: You guys saw the Anbar statement, right? A significant moment in this war, and a lot of people should be commended -- the Iraqis, especially the Sunni sheikhs, and all of their people that worked with them, and especially our troops. It was a really, really important day.

Obviously, still a lot of concerns about security there in Anbar and elsewhere throughout Iraq. But as conditions improve, we're able to turn these provinces over. And I think it's fair to see that no one a year ago would have thought we would be at this point where we could turn over Anbar back to the Iraqis, but they did it this morning. And you have the statement by the President, right?

Q Any reaction to the apparent resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister?

MS. PERINO: That is the first I've heard of that, so I'll check.

Q I think that's right.

MS. PERINO: I will check.

Q Thanks.

MS. PERINO: If his name isn't Gustav, I haven't heard about it in the past 24 hours, so I'll check. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you.

END 9:48 A.M. EDT