This is the accessible text file for GAO report number GAO-06-365R 
entitled 'Statement by Comptroller General David M. Walker on GAO's 
Preliminary Observations Regarding Preparedness and Response to 
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita' which was released on February 1, 2006. 

This text file was formatted by the U.S. Government Accountability 
Office (GAO) to be accessible to users with visual impairments, as part 
of a longer term project to improve GAO products' accessibility. Every 
attempt has been made to maintain the structural and data integrity of 
the original printed product. Accessibility features, such as text 
descriptions of tables, consecutively numbered footnotes placed at the 
end of the file, and the text of agency comment letters, are provided 
but may not exactly duplicate the presentation or format of the printed 
version. The portable document format (PDF) file is an exact electronic 
replica of the printed version. We welcome your feedback. Please E-mail 
your comments regarding the contents or accessibility features of this 
document to 

This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright 
protection in the United States. It may be reproduced and distributed 
in its entirety without further permission from GAO. Because this work 
may contain copyrighted images or other material, permission from the 
copyright holder may be necessary if you wish to reproduce this 
material separately. 

February 1, 2006: 

The Honorable Thomas Davis: 


Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and 
Response to Hurricane Katrina: 

House of Representatives: 

Subject: Statement by Comptroller General David M. Walker on GAO's 
Preliminary Observations Regarding Preparedness and Response to 
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: 

Dear Mr. Chairman: 

As you know, GAO has undertaken a body of work to address federal, 
state, and local preparations for, response to, and recovery from 
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Enclosed is a statement for the record of 
GAO's preliminary findings. 

GAO will continue work on a wide range of issues relating to the 
preparation, response, recovery, and rebuilding efforts related to the 
hurricanes. We expect to provide Congress with more detailed findings, 
with a comprehensive summary of what went well and why, what did not go 
well and why, and what specific changes, if any, are called for in the 
National Response Plan. If you or your staff has any questions about 
this statement, please contact Norman J. Rabkin, Managing Director for 
Homeland Security and Justice Issues, at (202) 512-8777 or 

Sincerely yours, 

Signed by: 

David M. Walker Comptroller General of the United States: 

[End of section] 


Enclosure I: Statement by Comptroller General David M. Walker on GAO's 
Preliminary Observations Regarding Preparedness and Response to 
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: 

In recent months, GAO has undertaken a body of work to address federal, 
state, and local preparations for, response to, and recovery from 
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I am here today to provide some 
preliminary observations based on our work to date. GAO is supporting 
Congress through a range of strategic and integrated audit and 
evaluation engagements to determine what went well, what did not, and 
what lessons learned are critical to improving government's abilities 
to do better in the future. The Inspectors General of the various 
federal departments are conducting detailed Hurricane Katrina-related 
work on fraud, waste, and abuse in individual federal programs. 

GAO staff has visited the affected areas. They have interviewed 
officials and analyzed information from the various involved federal 
agencies such as FEMA and the Department of Defense (DOD); state and 
local organizations, including state emergency management agencies; 
state adjutant generals; local officials; and representatives from 
nongovernmental agencies. I have also personally toured southern 
Mississippi, southern Louisiana, and the city of New Orleans. I have 
also had discussions with many governmental and other officials, 
including the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas; 
the mayor of New Orleans; the primary federal official on the scene; 
and the joint task force commander of active duty forces. In addition, 
GAO has done a great deal of work on prior disasters, including 
Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the terrorist attacks in 2001. 

Hurricane Katrina was one of the largest natural disasters in our 
nation's history and because of its size and strength, will have long 
standing effects for years to come. It exacted terrible human costs 
with the loss of significant numbers of lives and resulted in billions 
of dollars in property damage. At present, the Department of Homeland 
Security (DHS) reports that FEMA has distributed nearly $4.4 billion in 
federal aid to more than 1.4 million households. Forty-four states and 
the District of Columbia have been given emergency declarations to 
cover expenses related to sheltering millions of evacuees forced from 
their homes by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Furthermore, many who 
survived now face the disruption of being dislocated and separated from 
their normal way of life, the prospect of rebuilding their lives in 
other locations, and, for those who desire to return home, the 
continuing uncertainties regarding what kind of life the future may 

Significant local, state, and federal resources were mobilized to 
respond to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, along with significant 
participation from charitable and private sector organizations. 
However, the capabilities of several federal, state, and local agencies 
were clearly overwhelmed in response to Hurricane Katrina, especially 
in Louisiana. Therefore, there was widespread dissatisfaction with the 
level of preparedness and the collective response. As events unfolded 
in the immediate aftermath and ensuing days after Hurricane Katrina's 
final landfall, responders at all levels of government--many victims 
themselves--encountered significant breakdowns in vital areas such as 
emergency communications as well as obtaining essential supplies and 

The causes of these breakdowns must be well understood and addressed in 
order to strengthen the nation's ability to prepare for, respond to, 
and recover from major catastrophic events in the future--whether 
natural or man-made. Unfortunately, many of the lessons emerging from 
the most recent hurricanes in the Gulf are similar to those GAO 
identified more than a decade ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane 
Andrew, which leveled much of South Florida in the early 1990s. For 
example, in 1993, we recommended that the President designate a senior 
official in the White House to oversee federal preparedness for, and 
response to, major catastrophic disasters. 

There are several key themes that, based on our current preliminary 
work, underpin many of the challenges encountered in the response to 
Hurricane Katrina and reflect certain lessons learned from past 
disasters. The following three key themes seem to be emerging. 

Clear and Decisive Leadership: 

First, prior to a catastrophic event, the leadership roles, 
responsibilities, and lines of authority for the response at all levels 
must be clearly defined and effectively communicated in order to 
facilitate rapid and effective decision making, especially in preparing 
for and in the early hours and days after the event. As we recommended 
in 1993, we continue to believe that a single individual directly 
responsible and accountable to the President must be designated to act 
as the central focal point to lead and coordinate the overall federal 
response in the event of a major catastrophe. This person would work on 
behalf of the President to ensure that federal agencies treat the 
catastrophe as a top priority and that the federal government's 
response is both timely and effective. In cases where there is warning, 
such as the high probability of a major hurricane (e.g., a category 4 
or 5), the senior official should be designated prior to the event, be 
deployed appropriately, and be ready to step forward as events unfold. 
Neither the DHS Secretary nor any of his designees, such as the 
Principal Federal Official (PFO), filled this leadership role during 
Hurricane Katrina, which serves to underscore the immaturity of and 
weaknesses relating to the current national response framework. More 
specifically with regard to the lessons to be learned from Hurricane 

* No one was designated in advance to lead the overall federal response 
in anticipation of the event despite clear warnings from the National 
Hurricane Center. Furthermore, events unfolded both before and 
immediately after the landfall of Hurricane Katrina that made it clear 
that governmental entities did not act decisively or quickly enough to 
determine the catastrophic nature of the incident. For example, the DHS 
Secretary designated Hurricane Katrina as an incident of national 
significance on August 30th--the day after final landfall. However, he 
did not designate the storm as a catastrophic event, which would have 
triggered additional provisions of the National Response Plan (NRP), 
calling for a more proactive response.[Footnote 1] As a result, the 
federal posture generally was to wait for the affected states to 
request assistance. At the same time, some federal responders such the 
Coast Guard and DOD did "lean forward" in proactive efforts 
anticipating a major disaster. Furthermore, other federal agencies took 
proactive steps to prepare for and respond to the disaster, such as the 
U.S. Postal Service and the National Finance Center. 

* Although the DHS Secretary designated a PFO to be the federal 
government's representative under the NRP structure and to coordinate 
the federal response, the efforts of all federal agencies involved in 
the response remained disjointed because the PFO's leadership role was 
unclear. In the absence of timely and decisive action and clear 
leadership responsibility and accountability, there were multiple 
chains of command, a myriad of approaches and processes for requesting 
and providing assistance, and confusion about who should be advised of 
requests and what resources would be provided within specific time 

Strong Advance Planning, Training, and Exercise Programs: 

Second, to best position the nation to prepare for, respond to, and 
recover from major catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina, there must be 
strong advance planning, both within and among responder organizations, 
as well as robust training and exercise programs to test these plans in 
advance of a real disaster. Although the NRP framework envisions a 
proactive national response in the event of a catastrophe, the nation 
does not yet have the types of detailed plans needed to better 
delineate capabilities that might be required and how such assistance 
will be provided and coordinated. In addition, we observed that the 
training and exercises necessary to carry out these plans were not 
always developed or completed among the first responder community. The 
leadership to ensure these plans and exercises are in place must come 
from DHS in conjunction with other federal agencies, state and local 
authorities, and involved nongovernmental organizations. More 

* By their very nature, major catastrophic events involve extraordinary 
levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption that likely will 
immediately overwhelm state and local responders, circumstances that 
make sound planning for catastrophic events all the more crucial. Our 
previous work on Hurricane Andrew also highlighted the importance of 
such plans focused specifically on major catastrophic events. Our 
initial review of the NRP base plan and its supporting catastrophic 
provisions as well as lessons based on Hurricane Katrina suggest the 
need for these documents to be supported and supplemented by more 
detailed and robust implementation plans. Our previous work has also 
underscored the need to prepare for both natural disasters and man-made 
disasters such as terrorist events. 

* Planning should also include further defining and leveraging any 
military capabilities as might be needed in a major catastrophe. Prior 
disasters and the actual experience of Hurricane Katrina show that DOD 
is likely to contribute substantial support to state and local 
authorities, including search and rescue assets, evacuation assistance, 
provision of supplies, damage assessment assets, and possibly helping 
to ensure public safety. In fact, military support to Hurricane Katrina-
affected areas reflected an unprecedented domestic response of 70,000 
personnel--far greater than in any other domestic disaster, including 
Hurricane Andrew. This response involved about 20,000 active duty 
troops and about 50,000 National Guard troops. More detailed planning 
would provide greater visibility and understanding of the types of 
support DOD will be expected to provide following a catastrophic 
incident, including the types of assistance and capabilities that might 
be provided, what might be done proactively and in response to specific 
requests, and how the efforts of the active duty and National Guard 
would be integrated. It would also avoid the type of confusion that 
occurred in Louisiana regarding the types of military support needed 
and requested, and the respective contributions of active duty and 
National Guard forces. 

* Planning also must explicitly consider the need for and management of 
the contractor community. In this regard, we found that agencies did 
not always have adequate plans for contracting in a major contingency 
situation. We also noted the competing tension between the selection of 
national contractors and the requirement under the Stafford Act for a 
preference for contractors from the affected area. Better planning 
could ameliorate those tensions. 

* Regular training and periodic exercises provide a valuable way to 
test emergency management plans. In our previous work on Hurricanes 
Andrew and Hugo, we identified the need for the federal government to 
upgrade training and exercises for state and local governments 
specifically geared towards catastrophic disaster response. Hurricane 
Katrina demonstrated the benefits of applying lessons learned from 
training exercises and experiences with actual hurricanes as well as 
the dangers of ignoring them. FEMA's "Hurricane Pam" exercise-- 
conducted between 2004 and 2005 to simulate the impacts of a category 3 
hurricane--identified the impacts such as widespread flooding, 
extensive evacuations, sheltering thousands of individuals left 
homeless after a storm, and disposing of tons of debris similar to 
Hurricane Katrina's results. Not all capabilities-related issues 
identified in the Hurricane Pam exercise were addressed before 
Hurricane Katrina hit. In addition, we observed that an incomplete 
understanding of roles and responsibilities under the NRP lead to 
misunderstandings, problems, and delays, an area that training might be 
able to correct. One overall challenge is ensuring that key officials 
participate in training and exercises so that they are better prepared 
to deal with real life situations. 

Capabilities for a Catastrophic Event: 

Response and recovery capabilities needed during a major catastrophic 
event differ significantly from those required to respond to and 
recover from a "normal disaster." Key capabilities such as emergency 
communications, continuity of essential government services, and 
logistics and distribution systems underpin citizen safety and 
security. In addition, as these capabilities are brought to bear, 
streamlining, simplifying, and expediting decision making must quickly 
replace "business as usual" approaches to doing business. The following 
provides examples of capabilities we have identified in our preliminary 
work. All of these areas require better contingency plans and the 
resources to carry them out. 

* Hurricane Katrina exposed difficulties in continuing or rapidly 
restoring essential government operations, particularly at the local 
level. Local government infrastructure was destroyed and essential 
government employees, including many first responders, were evacuated 
or victimized themselves by the storms, resulting in limited continuity 
of operations for essential public safety and key service agencies. 
Also, because of storm damage, emergency communications to meet 
everyday internal and emergency communication requirements and 
interoperability needs were severely compromised and backup systems 
were often limited or nonexistent. 

* The scope of the devastation, including the flooding in the New 
Orleans area, made a comprehensive damage assessment and an estimate of 
services victims might need very difficult. After Hurricane Andrew, 
similar to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it was several days 
before local authorities had a full picture of the situation to 
determine how much and what types of assistance were needed. A 
catastrophic event will overwhelm the capacity of state and local 
officials to assess damage, and our preliminary work indicates that the 
military's significant capabilities in assessing damage--a capability 
used for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and other past disasters--should 
be an explicit part of future major catastrophic disaster plans. 

* While there were aspects that worked well, it appeared that logistics 
systems for critical resources were often totally overwhelmed by 
Hurricane Katrina, with critical resources apparently not available, 
properly distributed, or provided in a timely manner. In addition, our 
preliminary work assessing agency acquisition practices for responding 
to the hurricanes indicates that those agencies needed additional 
capabilities to be able to: (1) adequately plan for and anticipate 
requirements for needed goods and services, (2) clearly communicate 
responsibilities across agencies and jurisdictions, and (3) deploy 
sufficient numbers of personnel to provide contractor oversight. These 
capabilities are critical to ensuring that agencies receive the goods 
and services needed to accomplish their missions in a timely manner and 
at fair and reasonable prices. 

* The magnitude of the affected population in a major catastrophe also 
calls for greater capabilities in several areas. For example, 
evacuation capabilities must include evacuating special needs 
populations such as those in hospitals and nursing homes, coordinating 
transportation assets, and ensuring that receiving shelters are not 
overwhelmed. Search and rescue and mass care should work together in a 
seamless transition so that victims are not just rescued, but can be 
taken to a place of shelter. 

* Mass care--sheltering, feeding, and related services--following 
Hurricane Katrina required the integrated efforts of many 
organizations, including volunteer groups, charities and other 
nongovernmental groups, organizations providing mutual aid, and the 
military. Although many of these efforts were successful, it appeared 
that Hurricane Katrina seriously challenged the capacity of 
organizations such as the American Red Cross and FEMA to provide 
expected services to certain populations and in certain areas and at 
certain times. Housing beyond short-term shelters also became--and 
remains--a major problem, especially for victims who either cannot 
return to their community or require housing options in their community 
if they do return. 

* Additional capability will be needed to effectively manage and deploy 
volunteers and unsolicited donations. Our early work indicates that 
because of the magnitude of the storms, volunteers and donations, 
including from the international community were not generally well 
integrated into the overall response and recovery activities. For 
example, there were challenges in integrating the efforts of the 
Salvation Army and smaller organizations, often local churches and 
other "faith-based" organizations. In addition, federal agencies 
involved in managing the international assistance were not prepared to 
coordinate, receive, distribute, or account for the assistance. Agency 
officials involved in the cash and in-kind international assistance 
told us the agencies had not planned for the acceptance of 
international assistance for use in the United States and, therefore, 
had not developed processes and procedures to address this scenario. 

* Lastly, beginning and sustaining community and economic recovery, 
including restoring a viable tax base for essential services, calls for 
immediate steps so residents can restore their homes and businesses. 
Removing debris and restoring essential gas, electric, oil, 
communications, water, sewer, transportation and transportation 
infrastructure, other utilities, and services such as public health and 
medical support are vital to recovery and rebuilding. In less severe 
disasters, restoring these lifelines is easier. However, the magnitude 
and scope of Hurricane Katrina painfully makes visible the many 
challenges in effectively addressing these issues. 

GAO will continue our work on a wide range of issues relating to the 
preparation, response, recovery, and reconstruction efforts related to 
the hurricanes that I have discussed today. We have over 30 engagements 
underway and look forward to reporting on them throughout 2006. We will 
provide Congress and the American people with a comprehensive summary 
of what went well and why, what did not go well and why, and what, if 
any, specific changes are called for in the National Response Plan. 


[1] As defined by the National Response Plan, an incident of national 
significance is an actual or potential high-impact event that requires 
a response by a combination of federal, state, and local governments 
and/or private sector entities in order to save lives and minimize 
damage, and provides the basis for long-term community recovery and 
mitigation activities. A catastrophic incident is one that results in 
extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely 
affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, 
national morale, and/or government functions.