Report: Terror Eclipsed Disaster Prep

fema, brown, bush CBS

As the wounds of Katrina fester from Biloxi to Baton Rouge, the Department of Homeland Security is taking body blows for a botched federal response. The latest punch is from its own Inspector General, Richard L. Skinner, in a report released Friday, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.

The report charges the government's heavy focus on terrorism has left it unprepared to deal with a natural disaster, and says urgent improvements are required in terms of training, communications, and coordination with state and local emergency responders, reports Orr.

"After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, (Homeland Security's) prevention and preparedness for terrorism have overshadowed that for natural hazards, both in perception and in application," the report reads.

The study includes 38 recommendations to improve disaster response missions by the department and its Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But the report comes a day after flood advisories detailed how high the water might rise in certain sections of the city during a once-in-a-100-year storm, and how well the levees would protect residents. The government protection recommends that thousands of homes and businesses in areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina be raised at least 3 feet, a requirement that clears the way for residents to decide how, or whether, to rebuild.

"This will enable people to get on with their lives," said Donald Powell, the chief federal coordinator for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery. But the New York Times reports that in New Orleans, the federal advice was received with confusion by some.

"What we're having a problem with is, where was the three-foot figure derived from?" John Luther, an executive at the New Orleans Home Builders Association, told the Times.

The Homeland Security Department was founded after the attacks of 9/11, and FEMA, previously an autonomous agency, was folded into it. Some say downgrading FEMA was a major factor in its lackluster performance in the recovery effort the widespread destruction wreaked by Katrina and a second major hurricane, Rita, which followed three weeks later.

Read the Department of Homeland Security report.
The federal government, and FEMA in particular, "received widespread criticism for a slow and ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina," the Homeland Security report concludes. "Much of the criticism is warranted."

Responding, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said many of the recommendations already are being installed at FEMA — including revamped federal response plans and the assurance that state and local authorities are ready for the next storm season, which begins June 1.

  • Amy Clark

Comments