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The Homeland Security People Got Their "First Situational Reports" from TV News?!

Reported by Melanie - September 4, 2005

Fox News Watch (the Saturday evening Fox program that is devoted to critiquing the (liberal) media), was preempted last night (September 3, 2005) by "continuing, live coverage" of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, or, as Fox calls it, "America's Challenge."

Last night's "continuing, live coverage" of "America's Challenge" included a taped report featuring former CNN news reader, Bill Hemmer, on his own, and without a Fox News minder for the first time (that I know of). Hemmer took the Fox audience on a tour of the Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Hemmer's guide was Pete Schneider, who Hemmer identified as a "spokesperson for the National Guard in Louisiana," someone who has, "been on our air just about every day, sometimes every hour, throughout the week, giving us updates, ah, throughout this region here."

As the video rolled, Hemmer and Schneider made their way down a crowded hallway. They passed a room Schneider identified as FEMA's headquarters and then they entered a large room filled with approximately 150 people. Banks of computers were everywhere. One wall was covered with a huge (6' x 25'?) video screen divided into giant squares (24" x 24"?), each showing a separate moving image. Schneider said, "all the state agencies" were in that room, "coordinating recovery efforts." He said, "before the hurricane hits, all the state agencies are here, and they receive requests from different parishes throughout the state to provide services."

Hemmer moved toward the video wall. As the camera followed him and moved closer to the huge screen, it became obvious that the large squares were airing video from television news outlets, including Fox and CNN. Hemmer turned to Schneider and asked, "On the screens up here, you're watching how many different news feeds from how many different news organizations?" Schneider said, "About eight, but we also have local TV so we have two locals, ah, we keep the weather on over here and of course, all the national media outlets we try to keep abreast of."

Continuing, Hemmer wondered, "During the course of the aftermath, how much information did you take into the office by watching television?" Schneider said, "Quite a bit, because your organization and other national organizations who were down range and able to transmit right after the storm, provided us with almost the very first situational reports as to what was going on. Although it was limited to where you were, it kinda helped gain what we were up against." (Emphasis added.)

Comment: Imagine that.

In July, 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), held a five-day exercise in the very building Hemmer toured. The disaster preparedness exercise centered around a fake hurricane named "Pam," that brought, "sustained winds of 120 mph, up to 20 inches of rain in parts of southeast Louisiana and storm surge that topped levees in the New Orleans area. More than one million residents evacuated and Hurricane Pam destroyed 500,000-600,000 buildings." At the time, FEMA said it held the exercise to, "help officials develop joint response plans for a catastrophic hurricane in Louisiana." Yet one week ago, with a storm stronger than "Pam" approaching, the only plan the homeland security people had for getting their "first situational reports," was to watch cable news? Incredible.

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