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Memo Tells Story Of FEMA Delays

Internal documents which came to light on Tuesday reveal that Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown waited until about five hours after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast before he asked his boss to dispatch 1,000 Homeland Security workers to support rescuers in the region.

Brown, in asking Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff to have workers sent to the hurricane zone, is also said to have given the workers two days to arrive.

With debate over the slow pace of rescue in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Gulf states growing ever angrier and louder, House leaders met Tuesday night with the Bush cabinet to discuss the situation.

There's been plenty of fingerpointing - much of it aimed at the FEMA and Brown - who some critics want fired.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski says that Brown should step down.

Others are more critical of actions by state and local governments.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says the House and Senate should conduct a bipartisan investigation of how local, state and federal governments prepared for and responded to the hurricane.

From early on in the hurricane aftermath, to the current effort to "de-water" New Orleans, evacuate the thousands who are left, and begin collecting the bodies, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has made it clear that he believes the federal government could have done a lot more, a lot faster.

"My big question to anybody who's trying to shift the blame is: 'Where were you? Where in the hell were you?'" says Nagin.

The airline industry says the government's request for help evacuating storm victims didn't come until late Thursday afternoon. The president of the Air Transport Association, James May, said the Homeland Security Department called then to ask if the group could participate in an airlift for refugees.

CBS National Security Correspondent David Martin reports that while Coast Guard helicopters were positioned nearby before Katrina hit, and were making rescues two hours after the storm moved on, the military response was much slower.

"We weren't able to go for 34 hours!" says Col. Tim Tarchick of the Air Force Reserve Command, who told CBS News that his unit was crippled by red tape. "We could have been airborne in six hours and overhead plucking out people... but between all the agencies that have a part in the approval process it took 34 hours to get three of my helicopters airborne."

Fire and rescue departments outside Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi were urged by FEMA not to send trucks or emergency workers into the disaster areas without an explicit request for help from state or local governments. Brown said it was vital to coordinate fire and rescue efforts.

FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged Tuesday the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged.

Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as "this near catastrophic event" but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, "Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities."

President Bush and Congress on Tuesday pledged separate investigations into the federal response to Katrina.

"If the president says we need an investigation, he needs only to look in the mirror," says California Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader.

Criticism of the Bush administration is not limited to the Democrats.

"Governments at all levels failed," said Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins. "If our system did such a poor job when there was no enemy, how would the federal, state and local governments have coped with a terrorist attack?"

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke says as FEMA director, Brown had positioned frontline rescue teams and Coast Guard helicopters before the storm. Brown's memo on Aug. 29, according to Knocke, was aimed at assembling a federal work force to support the rescues, establish communications and coordinate with victims and community groups.

According to Knocke, instead of rescuing people or recovering bodies, these employees were to focus on helping victims find the help they needed.

"There will be plenty of time to assess what worked and what didn't work," says Knocke. "Clearly there will be time for blame to be assigned and to learn from some of the successful efforts."

Brown's memo told employees that among their duties, they would be expected to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public."

"FEMA response and recovery operations are a top priority of the department and as we know, one of yours," Brown wrote Chertoff. He proposed sending 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days.

Knocke says the 48-hour period suggested for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. "They were training to help the lifesavers," Knocke explains.

Employees required a supervisor's approval and at least 24 hours of disaster training in Maryland, Florida or Georgia.

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