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New Orleans: Five years after Katrina

Craig Fugate
Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Thursday, August 26, 2010; 2:30 PM

As the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina nears the Obama administration is doling out millions in new reconstruction grants and deploying top officials to the Gulf area.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate on Tuesday announced about $28.4 million in federal funds for reconstruction projects in Louisiana and Mississippi. The funding is part of more than $2.5 billion in aid distributed by the Obama administration for Gulf Coast reconstruction efforts.

Fugate, who will be in New Orleans for a five-day visit that will include testimony at a Senate field hearing on Thursday and visits to schools and hospital rebuilding, was online Thursday, Aug. 26, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss reconstruction efforts and how the region is faring five years after the deadliest hurricane since 1928.

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Craig Fugate: Hi, It's Craig Fugate, administrator of FEMA. I'm in New Orleans for the fifth anniversary of Katrina taking your questions on hurricanes and other disasters.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: What is the situation in the New Orleans today? Have there been enough repairs that more flooding could not occur, or if there is another strong hurricane, could this flooding happen all over again?

Craig Fugate: The Army Corps of Engineers has been working to repair and upgrade the levee system. Work is still ongoing but improvements have been made in the aftermath of Katrina.

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Austin, Tex.: It seems one of the major failures during Katrina was the lack of cooperation and focus between the local, state and fed government. Who is really in charge during a crisis like Katrina and what, if anything has changed in how governments deal with each other and make decisions?

Craig Fugate: Generally in a disaster it's local government supported by the states supported by the federal government. Disasters are local but it never meant that local governments were by themselves. We have to work better as a team when disaster strikes at all levels of government. There shouldn't be a division between the local, state and federal government.

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Arlington, Va.: Will FEMA expand and do more international responses like the Haiti earthquake? How do domestic responses translate to international responses? Are they similar?

Craig Fugate: FEMA will continue to support USAID as required but many disasters have common elements that we are trained for such as search and rescue.

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Heckuva a job Brownie!: Do you think FEMA has shaken the negative image it got because of the response to Katrina?

Craig Fugate: I'm not sure but I'm more concerned about working to make FEMA stronger before the next disaster strikes.

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Reston, Va.: One thing I do not understand is New Orleans much like Houston has a port, access to the oil rich gulf, and a warm climate. Why has its neighbor in Houston been able to take advantage of these attributes, but not New Orleans?

Craig Fugate: That's really a social/economic issue that is really not my purview.

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Atlanta, Ga.: We all remember the fraud and waste associated with the FEMA credit cards distributed during the aftermath of Katrina. What procedures are in place to prevent fraud and waste in this new round of federal funding for Gulf Coast reconstruction?

Craig Fugate: You have both the oversight of the Dept. of Homeland Security inspector general as well as the General Accounting Office as well as the oversight of Congress as well as FEMA working closely with the state and the applicants to ensure that we fund the eligible cost.

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Storms on the horizon: How is New Orleans being prepared for the next Katrina?

Craig Fugate: I think the efforts of both the local officials as well as the state continue to improve the state's ability to respond to future disasters as well as the support from the federal government.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: What contracting opportunities are there for small businesses to participate in the gulf states reconstruction efforts?

Craig Fugate: FEMA provides the funds for the local government and they hire the contractors. There is still ongoing construction but you'd have to check with the local parish.

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Fairfax County, Virginia: Thank you so much for what you do. I remember after you were nominated and it took so long (as seems to be usual nowadays) to get the confirmation vote, I was just crossing my fingers and hoping we didn't have a hurricane! It can't be that much fun to leave Florida for our traffic-packed, rainy, snowy city but it's people like you that make the federal government something to be proud of. I'm glad as a US resident that you and FEMA have our back.

Craig Fugate: Thank you.

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Neighborhoods: Do you think some of the devastated neighborhoods in New Orleans will be revived? Or are those families gone for good?

Craig Fugate: It's hard to say. I think some areas come back faster; the others still remain to be seen.

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Pakistan: A little off topic, but I wonder what you think of the lack of response to the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan? How do you mobilize Americans to give their time and money to help in disaster situations?

Craig Fugate: Again, in international disasters our lead for that is USAID. The best way for people to help is to donate money to the international relief organizations on the ground in Pakistan.

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Texas: Who was responsible for making the decision to deploy the national guard in NO? How are these decisions reached and who has the final say so? It seems FEMA was blamed for much of what went wrong during and after Katrina, what steps have been made to make change for the better?

Craig Fugate: The National Guard is under the command of the state when disaster strikes. FEMA does not deploy the National Guard; governors do. But FEMA can request that the Dept. of Defense provide resources to support the governor's team in response.

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FEMA trailers: Whatever happened to the infamous FEMA trailers? Are they still in use? Are they being sold or destroyed?

Craig Fugate: Most of the trailers that were purchased for the hurricanes were surplussed or already scrapped; however, in purchasing new trailers, FEMA has specified lower formaldehyde levels before we will accept their use for housing.

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Waveland: To be completely honest, FEMA is not very popular in the Gulf states, is it? In fact the ill will built up by the Katrina response will take a very long time to fade into the past.

Does FEMA recognize and acknowledge this fact? What is FEMA doing to address the perceptions of the agency among Gulf Coast residents?

Craig Fugate: We recognize it, we understand it and we realize it will not change until we do better in the next disaster. That is why we are working to continue to improve FEMA in our support to disaster survivors.

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Rochester, NY: Why has it taken five years for FEMA to be put on the path to "getting it right" and what true large-scale disaster has the agency been tested against to truly see if you have an effective response? Are you really ready for the next big one?

Craig Fugate: Fortunately we haven't had another Katrina but our improvements in the system continue. Congress passed new authorities and new legislation in 2006 to build a better FEMA but until we have another Katrina we can only work to demonstrate that we are trying to improve but the proof will be in the next disaster.

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Boots on the ground: How many FEMA employees remain in New Orleans? How much longer do you expect you'll have a significant presence there?

Craig Fugate: Hundreds of FEMA employees are still here and will continue to be here until the work is done.

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Rockville, MD: Although humans have to be the number one priority in emergency situations such as Katrina, what regulations for pets' safety have been put into place so people won't be put in the situation of having to leave them at home? Some people, I think, refused to leave their pets behind and may have died because of it. How do we get regulations requiring motels and shelters to take pets so people can bring their entire "family" with them? The last time we had a major hurricane aiming at the DC area, we tried to flee to escape after we lost power, but motels either refused to take pets or charged $100 non refundable deposit plus other charges. Our dogs have a crate and have never left a room or the surrounding area in a way people with kids do. It is my understanding Congress passed some guidelines for emergency shelters to make arrangements for pets but apparently the emergency groups are ignoring them. Pets in crates should be accepted at shelters.

Craig Fugate: One, if you own pets they need to be part of your family plan. Two, if you're asked to evacuate you should take your pets with you. Three, there are resources to help you find pet-friendly hotels. You should plan ahead and find out what your community's rules and regulations are regarding your pets in a time of disaster. More communities are developing pet-friendly pet shelter and evacuation plans.

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Preparing for disasters: What do you think are the biggest threats facing America? Earthquakes on the west coast? Hurricanes? Terror attacks? What can Americans do to prepare for these kinds of events?

Craig Fugate: Start today by going to Ready.gov, our FEMA Web page that helps you prepare your family disaster plan.

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Craig Fugate: Thanks for the great questions but now it's my turn. My question is do you have a family disaster plan? If not, go to www.ready.gov and gets yours today. This site is designed specifically to help families and small businesses get ready before disaster strikes.

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