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White House Katrina Report: 'Significant Flaws' in National Response Plan

The federal disaster response plan leading up to Hurricane Katrina had "significant flaws," according to a Bush administration report released Thursday, which recommended changes in 11 major areas to the way the government responds to natural catastrophes.

The report also lays blame with the White House for not slicing through red tape and settling disputes among agencies responsible for assisting hurricane victims.

The 228-page report ordered in the days after the deadly hurricane struck focuses on better disaster relief coordination among federal agencies and includes plans for a heightened military response. It makes 125 recommendations for changes in disaster response.

President Bush said Thursday he ordered the "lessons learned" review on Sept. 6, eight days after the storm struck.

"We will learn from the lessons of the past to better protect the American people," Bush said Thursday after a Cabinet meeting where the report was released. "I reminded the Cabinet that hurricane season begins in June and that we will be tracking the implementation of the recommendations in this report."

Calling the report a "good work," Bush also said it will be used as a benchmark for his Cabinet's progress.

"We have made a strong commitment to people in the Gulf Coast and we will honor that commitment as well. The report helps us anticipate how to better respond to future disasters. In the meantime, our commitment to rebuild — help rebuild — Mississippi and Louisiana is ongoing and robust," the president continued.

Homeland Security Michael Chertoff also commended the report, which his department helped compile, and whose recommendations are already being implemented at DHS.

"We have already begun to take action to address many of the issues raised in the report, particularly those areas we need to improve before the start of the 2006 hurricane season," Chertoff said in a statement. Hurricane season lasts from June 1 to Dec. 1.

The report, issued by White House Homeland Security Adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, concluded that inexperienced managers, poor planning, discipline and leadership led to failures in responding to Katrina, which left more than 1,300 people dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

Townsend highlighted failures at DHS and a half-dozen federal agencies for lacking fast communication with emergency responders and the public, and an inadequate system for stockpiling supplies before a disaster hits.

"In the end, we must do a much better job at preparation, at planning, and improve out response," Townsend told reporters.

However, she did not specifically blame Chertoff, or former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown, for the brunt of the failures. Brown resigned amid a wake of criticism about the agency's response to the disaster.

"One person in a system that was weak couldn't have made the entire difference. What we need to do is strengthen the system," Townsend added.

The report says that despite people and resources sent to the storm-struck area after it hit, "the response to Hurricane Katrina fell far short of the seamless, coordinated effort that had been envisioned by President Bush" when he ordered the government to craft disaster response plans two years earlier.

"We are not as prepared as we need to be at all levels within the country: federal, state, local and individual," the report said.

The document said "significant flaws" can be found in the national response plan issued by the Department of Homeland Security last year as a blueprint for action the government is supposed to follow during emergencies.

The report recommended establishing a National Operations Center to coordinate disaster response at all levels of government for future crises, and increasing the role of the U.S. military in disaster response. The military played an invaluable role, said a congressional report released last week, but it did not coordinate with DHS.

Townsend told FOX News that in the future, part of the federal disaster plan will be an increased use of military to respond to any similar events.

"We need a greater integrated use of our military capabilities. Our active duty forces are doing a magnificent job overseas. We need to understand when we will need their help in supporting state and local efforts but we also need to have men train and equip our state and National Guard to the Homeland Security mission," Townsend said in an interview Thursday before the report was released.

In a letter to Bush that accompanied the report, Townsend said, "Though there will be tragedies we cannot prevent, we can improve our preparedness and response to reduce future loss and preserve life."

She said the transformation envisioned by the report "will require a sustained commitment over time by the federal government as well as by state and local governments that have essential duties in responding to disasters.

"Hurricane Katrina was a deadly reminder that we can and must do better, and we will," Townsend wrote.

The report characterizes Katrina as the storm of a century, comparing its destruction in New Orleans to the deadly Chicago fires in 1871 and the earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906. It calls Katrina the nation's deadliest natural disaster since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928.

It also describes Katrina as the first U.S. disaster — natural or man-made — with damage estimates approaching $100 billion.

The White House review comes a week after a special House committee issued its own findings that faulted every level of government for the slow response. The scathing House report, written by Republicans, found that earlier involvement by Bush would have speeded up the federal response.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.