Senators Collins and Lieberman Question Search and Rescue Efforts Following Hurricane Katrina

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman held a hearing today exploring the search and rescue operations in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The hearing was titled; “Hurricane Katrina: Urban Search and Rescue in a Catastrophe.” This was the 12th hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs into the preparations for and response to Hurricane Katrina.

Committee members heard testimony from WILLIAM M. LOKEY, Operations Branch Chief, Response Division, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; BRIGADIER GENERAL BROD VEILLON, Assistant Adjutant General, Louisiana National Guard; LIEUTENANT COLONEL KEITH LACAZE, Assistant Law Enforcement Division Administrator, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; CAPTAIN TIM BAYARD, Commander, Vice Crimes and Narcotics Section, New Orleans Police Department.

During the hearing, Senators Collins and Lieberman questioned the witnesses about breakdowns in the systems and structures in place that were intended to assist in search and rescue operations. One example that came during the Senators’ questioning, William Lokey admitted in his testimony that FEMA denied a request from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for 300 rubber rafts just one day before the Hurricane struck.

“No one has ever doubted the courage and commitment of America’s emergency responders – again and again throughout our history they have performed magnificently when disaster strikes,” said Senator Collins. “Hurricane Katrina added a new chapter to this outstanding record, but it also revealed flaws in planning, preparation, and coordination that made their jobs more difficult, put them in needless danger, and delayed the rescue of victims. We owe it to them, as well as to future victims, to do better.”

“More than 60,000 people were rescued by a handful of agencies. More than 60,000 people rescued by relative handful of heroes,” Senator Lieberman said. “Nevertheless, although the fictional Hurricane Pam exercise was a clear warning for everyone that the search-and-rescue efforts in New Orleans would require boats, helicopters and buses – and assumed a decimated force of local rescuers – these alerts drew no effective response.”