tv FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on New Orleans Ten Years After Hurricane... CSPAN August 29, 2015 4:00pm-4:26pm EDT
around. you have people living in your shadow that should be working in that building. there is no better example than the university medical center. so my vision and my hope and my dream is that in a couple of years in new orleans, people will actually live in the neighborhoods and actually run those institutions. that is what new orleans will look like in a couple of years. >> mr. mayor, thank you very
much. [laughter] -- [applause] announcer: more now in the examination of new orleans 10 years after katrina. "the atlantic" talks to steve clemons and preparedness for today. >> good morning, so far. i am steve clemons, the editor of "the atlantic." as we discussed -- "the atlantic." as we discussed, we will speak with craig fu gate -- fugate, and fema has become probably the most misaligned federal bureaucracy in history. but if you look back as i did
and you look at the press coverage of fema and the administrators at that time, the first thing that we have when we have a historical look at this is what went wrong and what went wrong? craig: there is a lot of focus on individuals. i have been in this business for a long time and we have seen this pattern over and over again. we are prepared for what is going to happen and it does not just happened with katrina, it goes back to hurricane andrew, it goes back to hurricane hugo. it is about a being capable of doing this and not about what happens. there is no real mystery as to what happened here in new orleans. fema had participated in an exercise with the state that simulated this situation. the challenge is if you cannot execute and plan for what happened -- steve: let me in truck, we had a
discussion about this, so there was a plan for when this could happen before katrina hit? craig: yes, and we were prepared for worse things and what an overflow of the levee system would look like. we knew that new orleans is a foldable area. but if you looked at a lot of the plans, they would plan for what had happened in the past. people plan for what they thought was reasonable to plan for. mother nature is not reasonable. what you had was is that everybody would just scale up, and we didn't. it was also a very disjointed response in that you have what i call each level of government having dominoes failing before the next level kicked in. steve: let's play with that, the domino of how action was triggered, say in the case of katrina.
what were the failures that triggered the dominoes before you guys came in? when it came to your agency, why did you guys mobilize so late? craig: it goes back to how weird structured -- we are structured. the typical responses the national guard. occasionally, it will get the level where the governor will request from the president that they need assistance and then fema will act on the direction of the president. that day to day situation works for small government but it doesn't look -- does not work on these larger disasters. i am not saying fema wasn't doing things ahead of time, but the way that we set up our structure was that each level of government has to make a formal request to make the assistance happen.
congress actually recognized this in the post-katrina reform act. if we need help, why do we have to wait for them to ask for help before we start moving? the thing we lose when we move in disasters and that we never get back is time. the decision is made that you're going to commit to resources and you have to commit to those quickly. you might not have assessments, you might not have formal requests, but if you wait until it gets bad, you will lose time. and you can never get time back. we see hurricanes coming. so what we have learned and what we have done in this administration is that we will not wait for the storms to get close or to make landfall. we start to plan for how bad it could be, we start assembling resources, and then we try to get them there in time. the government might not ultimately need them -- governor might not ultimately need them. you have to be prepared for what
you need to do and then move quickly. you cannot wait for requests. the levees broke. at that point, you need a search and rescue. if that is when requests are coming up, you are 24-72 hours before resources across the nation can move. so it is the understanding that you go by what could happen in that what you are prepared to do. when you see something developing, you plan upon those worst-case scenarios. we are not in the business of hope. i just want to plan for the worst-case scenario. steve: i just talked to the general here are just a few minutes ago and while this sounds like the most gloom and doom situation, he is the most pleasant man that you can have sitting at your dinner table. [laughter] craig: i read -- steve: i read in 2007, you were overseeing hurricanes charley, frances, and others, so this is part of your dna.
and president bush and president obama both wanted you to comment. so you are seen as the disaster guy by just about everyone. what did you think was wrong with fema when you came in? what were the big things that you set out to change in the way that we responded? what is the difference today in the dna of fema under you than what we had under michael brown? craig: think big, go big, go fast, be smart about it. steve: by indication, none of those were the case before? craig: there was so many things wrong. having to have information. in big disasters, they want to look at how we reduce costs. there is always the budget considerations. this is going to cost all this money to have these capabilities. do we really need all these challenges russian mark what do we cut -- challenges?
? what do we need here? what do we cut their? -- there?' -- there? so the lesson that i have learned and actually i went through this -- we used to wait until disaster happened and then tried to assess how bad it was before we responded. and that is why we used to say that the first 72 hours, it is going to take that long to know how bad it is. i was like, how, we are waiting 72 hours to wait until he gets bad? with hurricane charley, why do we assume that it is bad? that is not how the system is set up, and we need to change
it. speed is key. you need to change this based on the population at risk. you have a population that has impacts, and a hurricane, unlike an earthquake, we see it coming. it doesn't mean there is not good be tragedy, it doesn't mean there is not going to be damages, and unfortunately, it doesn't mean that there is going to be loss of life. so the lessons that i learned in '04, speed is key, and the longer you take to learn how much time there will be, the worse it is going to be. you can always go down and reduce. you don't have to scale up. the thing that i hammer at fema over and over again is that we never get time back. if the governor even make a formal request to the president,
if it is a response, we need to be moving. a lot of the disasters are about helping financial recovery. since we do that most of the time, our systems tend to graduate around that. but this is about financial reimbursement and rebuilding after disaster. that model doesn't work in a response. but if you build her response most of the time, that is what you're going to do when you have katrina. see you have to change that and build it for what the mission is, which is meaning to move quickly with as little information as you have with the model of probability and impacts and you can't -- and you can always scale back. but one thing you will not get is time back. steve: there are people talking here today and there is a sense that the kind of resources that you direct help out the rich, white communities and leave
behind those that are disadvantage, and there is not a fair distribution or an effective distribution. would you agree with that? craig: yeah. is anyone here where of the maximum amount of distribution of fema funds after a natural disaster? it is about $32,000. to get that $32,000, you have to have uninsured losses, which means that you would not have been covered under a homeowners insurance policy. you also have to go through a means test, and if you don't qualify for the ability to pay it back, then you may be eligible for fema grants. fema grants were not designed to make people whole. fema was really designed to do the initial response and start the process. that's why it is so important
when the mayor was in tort -- was talking about all of the people coming into the city. that is not a fema dollars that he was talking about. i know that no community that did not have a housing issue before the disaster that got better just because you had a hurricane or an earthquake. we don't deal with the job situation, we don't deal with the unemployment situation, and the education and the high school dropout rate. our programs were never designed to solve that on the backend. ours is like the initial response to get somebody help, get somebody a place to live, get somebody some initial assistance. but congress never built fema to make people whole. so your analogy about going to the rich and white and not the poor and the black, and actually, the poor get the most help from fema because they don't qualify for a loss and they don't qualify for insurance.
the other thing we have was a middle-class that were middle-class because of homeownership. when they lost their homes, they were no longer middle-class. safe you've got the wealth, you can weather the disasters better than her. that is just a fact of life. it is the way that our program is designed in fema, we don't have a pre-existing condition and we are not going to make people whole. we are designed as a bridge. one of the things that congress directed us to do another president obama we have looked at if you only look at fema programs in a time of response, communities will not recover, because you have to look at the community's needs as a whole. fema has got a small piece in that. of all the programs we have put together, is a great be a formal housing? -- affordable housing?
is there going to be jobs? people left because there were no places to come back and there was no place to stay and if you want people back, you've got to have a place to afford and you've got to have a job, right? you have to have a school system you're willing to put your kids in so these are things you have to establish. but we did not is a federal government's it together in the aftermath of katrina and get a blueprint to work with the state and local governments to figure this out. it feels kind of ad hoc. we are at 10 years and we are still working on resolving issues with the city over water and sewage. steve: and you still say that katrina is not a closed operation? it is still going? craig: it is so going. -- it is still going. steve: you are telling me in the
back how you long thought fema made a mistake with competing with private sector responses. you had something called the waffle house index. give me a 45 second or one minute waffle house in get -- index per craig fugate. craig: i live in florida and i drive back and forth between here and everything you would see was a waffle house. and one thing that we observed if there was anything open at the interchange of the power was out was a waffle house. i wasn't speaking from the company that we just came -- but we just came up with an index that if the waffle house was open, i would tell the search and rescue teams, keep going, it is not that bad. but if the waffle house is close, start looking around. it is pretty bad.
they idea goes back that we try to solve problems. it is called a government approach to problem-solving. we tend to look at the private sector and somebody we contract with and we actually get competition with them. we would be putting out food and water and supplies and we found that perhaps the better way was to sit down with the private sector and go, why don't we look at this as a team and if you can get opened and you serve in area, let's go where you are not. what tends to happen is -- is there any place in the city that is underserved by grocery stores? so if i am planning to put out food and water, shouldn't i plan for those areas first? steve: absolutely. craig: instead of where the stores are? and instead of working with the storms about asking what it would take to get them open, --
working against them, work with the stores and ask about what it would take to get them open, get a generator rolling so they can open their doors. steve: so you would turn that on its head? craig: yes, it you can look at the private sector's part of the team and if you we -- if we work together, why are we competing with you? we need to get areas running where you cannot get and what you cannot get open. a goes to the big-box stores and to the small drugstores and the local businesses. this is the other horror story is how many small stores get locked out and never come back? they cannot go along periods of time with destruction -- without disruption. and we supported the response to haiti and the need was to have the federal government to buy local and hire local.
put people to work, use local businesses. we tend to bring everybody from the outside, and that may be necessary from the beginning, but at some point, if the stores are opening locally, why aren't you buying their? why aren't -- buying there? why are you hiring locally? if ua for the stores to open or their jobs to come back, it is income. but it means you got to turn around and stop thinking about being a big federal government and we know everything and we have all the resources. no. we worked -- we weren't doing it the day before the disaster, what makes you think we will do that during the disaster? this is going back to 101, it was what we were teaching only back for the disaster. steve: if you had been rolling into town and the region and
there was a disastrous hurricane on skill with katrina, how do you think the contours would look that in terms of emergency response? what would we not be talking about today after that given the changes you have made in the agency? craig: i would hope that we would not see the loss of life rid the truth is, we will lose people. but i think what you will see differently is less of this sense of we don't know how bout it is, we don't know what we are doing. it may legitimately be that with their -- be that there is not enough stuff to get there. there are finite resources. it is not because we are waiting to see how bad it is or that we assumed it was not going to be that bad, but because we don't have enough for our everyday business model. again, you will never be able to answer the question until you have another katrina-sized storm . but our experiences during
sandy, during irene, her member isaac -- remember isaac? remember the parishes had no idea how badly they could get hit and then they got flooded? we saw that here in orleans parish. the levee helped. but the surge on lake potter chain -- on the blake was a worse on the river parishes. it was not an issue with fema. the thing we try to re-of the size time and time again is that you have to collapse the dominoes. the locals, the states, and the feds have to work as one team. you cannot wait for us to show up. you have to respond as if it is going to be bad and you hope that it isn't. but hope in my world is not an effective strategy. steve: you really remind me of herman con thinking the of thinkable who was always
thinking about nuclear holocaust. if you look at the arena of the national -- natural disasters, you said that katrina was fully predictable and everything was on the table. everything was hit and it was stupid to say that we couldn't have been better prepared for that. one of the top two or three horrible disasters out there waiting to happen that you worry about? craig: the cascadia conduct -- subduction zone off of the coast of oregon and washington state. we know there is going to be a large scale event. if it occurs. steve: an earthquake and a soon army? -- soon army -- tsunami? craig: yes, and another reason -- region that we are concerned about is norfolk, virginia. they are very susceptible to a
storm surge. traffic is terrible to evacuate in that area. miami, houston, the central u.s.. the thing is, in most cases, we know where the hazards are and we know the where the vulnerabilities -- we know where the vulnerabilities are, why are we not planning? why are we not doing catastrophic disaster planning? as a nation, what could happen? what is it going to take? and are we getting ready? steve: we are right at the end of our time but i have a question appear because we knew we were going to be short on time. there is an adage that you achieve what you measure. according to this person, fema spends a considerable amount of time on progress and in measuring success against fidelity to that process. would fema ever consider at least, in part, outcomes as impacts and how many families
move and when and when they are coming back and what cost? do you need a different measure to get deeply into hell fema is helping the community manage some of these disasters? craig: i do like process, i like outcomes. it is not touchy feeling, but it is probably the single best indicator and that is your tax base. the local municipal tax base is probably your best indicator of where you are going to be remotely successful in recovering. it will show if it is great be sustainable once those federal dollars are over. can you get houses back? can you get jobs back? can you get your schools back? it is not a perfect measure,
but it is a good indicator. we need to make sure there are safe communities, in tact infrastructure, good schools to read these are all things that you want to make sure when you advertise your community to attract new businesses, right? but if you don't plan on a, it is just process, and i hate process. steve: ladies and john, please give a hand to craig -- gentlemen, please give a hand to craig fugate. [applause] announcer: later today, special speakers and advocates who over the last 10 years take part in a public commemoration and celebration of the city's resilience. posted by journalist so without
o'brien, it will be at the smoothie king center. watch it at 6:00 p.m. eastern today here on c-span. all this week, c-span marks the 10 year anniversary of hurricane katrina. next, a look at the city of new orleans one year after the storm. a city -- a crew of c-span tours the city in flooded areas. this is about an hour and a half. >> ♪ i am going down to louisiana i am going down to louisiana and get me a mojo hand