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09-08-2005, 03:51 PM
9/11 commission heads see repeat failures with Katrina


Thu Sep 8, 2005 7:05 PM BST
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - America's response to Hurricane Katrina was hamstrung by well-known system-wide problems that could have been fixed but went unattended and wound up costing lives, the two men who led an inquiry into the September 11, 2001, attacks said.

Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, the moderate Republican who led the independent panel known informally as the September 11 commission, and his Democratic vice-chairman Lee Hamilton said the response was undermined largely by a lack of command.

They also cited emergency communications problems and a failure to target resources at communities facing the greatest risk of natural or man-made disaster.

"The same mistakes made on 9/11 were made over again, in some cases worse," Kean said. "Those are system-wide failures that can be fixed and should have been fixed right away."

Added Hamilton: "I'm surprised, I'm disappointed and maybe even a little depressed that we did not do better four years after 9/11. It says we're still very vulnerable."

Kean and Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman, spoke to Reuters in separate telephone interviews on Wednesday and Thursday, days before the fourth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington that killed 3,000 people.

The two said a leading cause of suffering for stranded residents of New Orleans, where officials say thousands may have died, was an absence of clear authority illustrated by bickering between state and local officials.

"There was nobody in charge," observed Kean, who said the Bush administration should now require states to establish clear chains of command for disaster situations in exchange for federal security dollars.

"There have got to be clear lines of authority because if there isn't somebody in charge, it costs lives. It cost a lot of lives in New Orleans," he added.

Kean said the Department of Homeland Security, a sprawling bureaucracy set up after the 2001 attacks, failed to produce two mandated risk assessments to U.S. transportation and infrastructure including levees such as the ones that failed after Katrina, swamping New Orleans.

"One report was due April 1. The other was due in early summer. Neither report has been done," he said. Homeland Security officials were not immediately available to comment.

Kean and Hamilton both said communications problems occurred between New Orleans emergency crews because of congressional failure to give first-responders nationwide their own segment of the U.S. broadcasting band.

"It is a glaring error four years after 9/11. Still exists. Not resolved. There are bills pending in Congress but they're far from enactment," Hamilton said.

Kean called on Congress to address the communications issue and to set new risk-based priorities for domestic security by the end of the year.

"Those are immediate things," Kean said. "And the federal government should require that states and municipalities set up command and control systems. That can be done pretty fast."

But Kean and Hamilton disagreed on how the disaster should be scrutinized.

Kean suggested Congress may be too partisan to win public confidence in any legislative probe of the disaster and recommended an independent commission like the panel he oversaw.

But Hamilton, who once chaired the House of Representatives intelligence committee, said Republican plans for a joint bipartisan inquiry should be allowed to move forward before an independent investigation is considered.

"If this joint inquiry develops to be a kind of cover-up, or is not aggressive or not robust in its oversight, then I'd change my mind pretty quickly," Hamilton said.