FEMA Was Unprepared for Katrina Relief Effort, Insiders Say

ByABC News
September 8, 2005, 3:29 PM

Sept. 8, 2005 -- -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency has received much of the blame for the government's slow response to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

In a post-9/11 era, some say, the government let preparedness for natural disasters take a back seat to terrorism.

FEMA was an independent agency, answering directly to the president, until it was folded into the Department of Homeland Security two years ago.

However, the latest government figures show that 75 cents out of every $1 spent on emergency preparedness goes to anti-terrorism programs. Well before Katrina, FEMA insiders were sounding the alarm.

A timeline of events leading up to the hurricane illustrates what went wrong.

On Saturday, Aug. 27 at 8:30 p.m. -- about 35 hours before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast -- Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, was so concerned about the storm, he personally called the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana as well as the mayor of New Orleans to make sure they understood the severity of the situation.

"The thing I remember telling all three of them," Mayfield said, "is that when I walked out of the hurricane center that night, I wanted to be able to, you know, sleep at night, knowing that I'd done everything I could do."

The next day, President Bush listened in on a FEMA conference call during which Mayfield warned of a storm surge of more than 20 feet of water rolling over levees.

FEMA had 1,300 disaster assistance workers pre-positioned, and FEMA Director Michael Brown assured Bush they were ready for the storm.

"FEMA is not going to hesitate at all in this storm," Brown said. "We are not going to sit back and make this a bureaucratic process. We are going to move fast, we are going to move quickly and we are going to do whatever it takes to help disaster victims."