Michael Brown and FEMA
Michael Brown, the much-maligned ex-FEMA director who resigned after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, didn't pull many punches at the Dole Institute on Wednesday night.
On Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, Brown said, "I think Michael Chertoff was clueless and didn't know what was going on."
On President Bush's response to his concerns about FEMA's preparedness in handling disasters, Brown said, "When he turned that deaf ear, I should have left the administration and gone public."
On New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin not dispatching buses to assist with the evacuation of residents before Katrina struck, Brown said: "Shame on you, mayor. He should have not gotten a pass."
On the media, Brown said, "According to the media, I didn't do anything right."
Brown at times spoke loudly, at times sarcastically, at times angrily and at times humorously during a 90-minute lecture called "Hurricane Katrina: An Insider Tells His Side of the Story."
Among his main points was his assertion that the United States, after Katrina, is still not ready to handle a massive disaster.
"We still don't get it in this country about what we need to do to respond to catastrophic events," Brown told a crowd of about 150.
Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast region on August 29, 2005, and claimed more than 1,800 lives.
In his lecture, Brown said he believed the Federal Emergency Management Agency was the Bush administration's "problem child" that suffered from staffing shortages and an unresponsive federal government in the wake of suggestions that the country had been unable to handle a disaster like Katrina.
He said his main regret was not speaking up about the administration's inaction earlier.
"Had I gone public with that early in the game," Brown said, "it would have sent shockwaves through the system."
In order to better handle such an event, Brown said emergency response by state and local governments must be strengthened because those units of government can more quickly respond to disasters than the federal government.
Brown spoke to a mostly peaceful crowd at the Dole Institute of Politics.
Among them was Bill Woods, a disaster housing inspector under contract by FEMA, who defended Brown.
He said FEMA was unable to act in situations like Katrina until the state government extended an invitation.
"The governor tries to dictate to FEMA," he said after the lecture. "I've seen it in other places besides Louisiana."
Matt Lehrman, a Lawrence resident, was less impressed with Brown's lecture.
"I thought a lot of his answers were scripted and didn't represent the reality of what happened," he said.