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Katrina commander says federal response to Harvey is 'amateur hour'

Ret. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore on federal response to Harvey

By TOM BENNING | The Dallas Morning News | Published: August 31, 2017

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The commander who oversaw military rescue efforts to Hurricane Katrina is describing the federal response to Hurricane Harvey as "amateur hour."

Ret. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore told CNN late Wednesday that "something is significantly wrong with our command and control." He said the "American people have put too much confidence in us" to respond quickly to these kind of disasters.

And he said government officials "need to need to stop patting each other on the back while these poor people are waiting out here to get rescued."

"We've been too successful overseas deploying to come out in amateur hour and incrementally deploy the force," he told CNN. "You've got to come in big, and you've got to be there right at the edge of the storm, so you can come in soon and rescue people."

That negative review is an outlier amid reports of cooperation and collaboration between federal, state and local officials.

President Donald Trump has said Gov. Greg Abbott is doing an "incredible job." Abbott has returned those warm feelings, saying that whatever the state has asked, "they have given us." And Texas lawmakers have generally been effusive in their praise of the federal response.

Honore, however, isn't buying it.

He said that he had command of 40,000 National Guard troops and 240 helicopters in the first four days after Katrina, suggesting that the current response isn't close. He said there should be a "significant grid system for search and rescue" - and that "I don't know where that is."

"It doesn't look like anybody in Texas ever read the plan," he said.

Some 21,000 federal workers and 14,000 National Guard troops have now been mobilized to respond to Harvey. The Pentagon said that up to 30,000 Guard members stand ready to assist recovery efforts. It's unclear how many helicopters are in use, though Honore pegged the total at 100.

But even before Honore's critique, federal officials had defended their response.

Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, the Coast Guard's commandant, said on Wednesday that federal teams had helped rescue thousands of Texans. He described the collobration between all levels of government as having "truly been a unified effort."

"We will be able to stay in front of this," he said.

Zukunft also made clear that the approach to search-and-rescue is not slapdash. He said officials have been using something like "Google heat maps" to zero in on areas where they see concentrations of distress calls. And then they also have fixed-wing aircraft to do surveillance, he said.

"This isn't like five-year-old soccer, everyone clustered around one point," he said. "We're looking across the entire metropolitan area to make sure we've got resources allocated."

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Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore speaks during a training event in Lake Forest, Ill., on June 11, 2011.
PETER FORD/U.S. ARMY

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