George W. Bush photo

Remarks During a Briefing on Hurricane Rita in San Antonio

September 25, 2005

[The briefing is joined in progress.]

The President. Yes, having said that about Katrina, there were still some amazingly heroic efforts in pulling people off roofs. I don't know how many sorties were flown in Katrina, but there must have been thousands of sorties.

Maj. Gen. White. Well, as I left last Wednesday, it was close to 18,000 sorties flown. Now, sir, that includes every agency, and it's a lot of the airlift in there too.

The President. Your point is, on a Katrina, had there been a better coordinated effort between Guard choppers— Coast Guard choppers, regular Army choppers, it would have been less dangerous?

Maj. Gen. White. It would have been a better orchestrated plan. You wouldn't have seen a lot of—for instance, one of the things that we've learned out of that— we had someone that needed to be rescued, and that comes up on the net. Five helicopters show up at the same place to get one person. That's the sort of simplistic thing we'd like to avoid, and we're not maximizing the use of our forces to best efficiency.

Certainly, that was a train wreck that we saw in New Orleans, and I know everybody is jumping in, trying to help at one time, and that's the right thing to do. But if we can have a national plan that would address the search and rescue at this magnitude, is what we're out to try to do.

The President. Good.

Maj. Gen. Mayes. Sir, if I might add, I would say that it wouldn't necessarily make it less dangerous. I would tell you that the professionalism and the plan came together. I believe that all participants would agree that with the fog that we had and the weather that we were battling, nighttime, all the things that went into that environment, that I'm not sure we can make it less dangerous. There may be a factor there, but the main point would be, with a national plan, we'll have a quicker jump-start and an opportunity to save more people. That would be my input there.

Lt. Gen. Clark. A national plan, good training against the plan, gets you to this state faster in extremis. And that's the goal.

The President. Part of the reason I've come down here and part of the reason I went to NORTHCOM, was to better understand how the Federal Government can plan and surge equipment, to mitigate natural disasters. And I appreciate very much, General, your briefing, because it's precisely the kind of information that I'll take back to Washington to help all of us understand how we can do a better job in coordinating Federal, State, and local response.

The other question, of course, I asked was, is there a circumstance in which the Department of Defense becomes the lead agency? Clearly, in the case of a terrorist attack, that would be the case, but is there a natural disaster which—of a certain size that would then enable the Defense Department to become the lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort. That's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about.


NOTE: The President spoke at 7:30 a.m. in the headquarters of the Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base. Participating in the briefing were Maj. Gen. John White, USAF, member, Maj. Gen. M. Scott Mayes, USAF, member, and Lt. Gen. Robert T. Clark, USA, commander, Joint Task Force—Rita. A portion of these remarks could not be verified because the tape was incomplete.

George W. Bush, Remarks During a Briefing on Hurricane Rita in San Antonio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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