U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  HHS.gov  Secretary Mike Leavitt's Blog

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Weekends of Hurricanes

The past weekends were full of disaster preparation. In previous blogs, I have talked about the competence of the people who manage disaster response in our country and the substantial increase in our readiness in the three years since Katrina. That point of view has only been enhanced watching them manage emergencies in two successive weeks.

As Hurricane Ike moved closer to land fall in the United States, it looked to be a massively treacherous storm. When I woke up Friday morning, the words “may face certain death,” were being used by weather forecasters to describe anybody ignoring the evacuation advice.

Every few hours, I had a conference call among my advisors and emergency managers to update me on the storm. This storm, like Hurricane Rita in 2005, was dancing across the gulf, changing directions at least five times. Each time required responders to begin evacuating a different population. Late in the afternoon, it was evident that it would hit the Galveston and Houston area. The storm was projected to have category 4 winds and ocean surges as high as 25 feet, which would produce widespread disaster— serious disaster.

On the final call of Friday evening, our equipment, supplies and people were in place and all we could do was wait for the storm to pass.

Saturday morning at about five a.m., I got up to watch the early television reports. I was relieved as the morning passed to hear officials say that the massive surges being forecast were not developing. We deferred the call until noon so our command center could gain situational awareness and consider how our preparation needed to be altered.

During the noon call, it became evident there were a number of communities hit hard along the coast. We were well positioned with assets to meet the requests of the states. I got a report on our capacity to respond to the millions who had been evacuated.

By Sunday afternoon, we were discussing when I should visit the area. The decision was made that Monday would be too early, things were still playing out and that I would fly down on Tuesday morning, stay the night in Austin and return Wednesday, visiting four cities during the two days.

Monday morning, we woke to news that problems of another kind had been occurring during the weekend, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and sale of Merrill Lynch, signaling more dramatic fallout from the credit crisis.

My first scheduled event of the day was an arrival ceremony for the President of Ghana on the South Lawn of the White House. Because of HHS’s significant activities in Africa, I had been asked to attend. Following a meeting in the Cabinet room with President Bush and President Kufuor, we briefed President Bush on the storm in the Roosevelt Room.

The storm briefing was lead by David Paulison, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), with Sam Bodman, the Secretary of the Department of Energy, who discussed the impact the storm would have on the nation’s energy situation. My part of the report didn’t take long because our assets were in place and services were being provided as planned. At the conclusion of the meeting, Ken Wainstein, the President’s Homeland Security Advisor, asked me to accompany the President on Tuesday morning to the Houston area, so our travel plans changed.

I left the House at 5:50 a.m. for Andrews Air Force Base. As I walked across the tarmac, it was still pre-dawn. It is never that I see Air Force One and I don’t feel a sense of awe. It is such an inspiring symbol of our nation’s stature. It is shaped like any other 747, but there is something special about the remarkable power-blue color and the words United States of America.

Typically, those who accompany the President on these trips get into place about a half-hour before takeoff. It’s actually a very pleasant time. The plane is more like an office building than an airliner. It’s a place of work. There are small offices and a conference room as well as places for the news media to sit and work.

We arrived at an airport near Houston, spent a half-hour being briefed by Texas emergency management officials and then boarded helicopters so we could view the widest possible areas during our visit. One element of the briefing likely hasn’t seen much news coverage. The briefer told the President one significant issue the emergency management officials were having was animal problems. “Cows,” he said, “are running all over the place.” “And,” he continued, “a lion and two tigers on the loose.”

It turns out, some people in remote parts of the island had these wild animals as pets. Somebody wryly said, “Well, that probably takes care of the cow problem.” A good sense of humor in a disaster is always appreciated.

President George W. Bush speaks with state and local officials during a briefing Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008, at the Galveston emergency operations center.
President George W. Bush speaks with state and local officials during a briefing Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008, at the Galveston emergency operations center.

I rode, along with Governor Rick Perry and David Paulison of FEMA, with President Bush in Marine One (another fine machine and symbol).

I won’t attempt to duplicate news accounts, except to say that seeing damage like that is always more startling in person than on television. The scene I saw was reminiscent of Katrina, but not as universal as some of the areas of Louisiana and Mississippi at that time. I was not able to visit any of the flooding areas.

As they move from survival and rescue into recovery, the Mayor of Galveston, Lyda Ann Thomas, and her team were beginning to wrestle with public health issues. There were no toilets, or places to wash hands. Disease becomes a serious threat. I linked up to talk with David Lakey, the Texas Director of Public Health. I also discussed recovery resources with Governor Perry. The Texas team is a good one.

When I talked with the Governor on the phone earlier in the week, I simply said, “Well, here we go again.” They are battle-proven and confident. However, it was clear to me the Governor was worried that this one could be a monster. Fortunately, it was bad, but not as serious as it could have been overall.

The President had to get back to D.C. to deal with the financial crisis on Wall Street, which was unfolding as we moved. Occasionally, a reporter would shout a question about AIG, which was leading the news. The President reminded them he was dealing with a grieving Galveston right then. He would deal with that in Washington.

One cannot avoid being overwhelmed by the power of nature. Likewise, it is hard to understand why people build homes in some of the places they do. There were stretches of beach in and around Galveston where homes were not only destroyed, but also completely cleared of all debris. There was no sign anything had existed but a concrete pad.

There were some homes standing that had been built with a different code, requiring hurricane-resistant construction.

Once again, I will say the emergency responders were an inspiration. There are always things we can do to get better, and we’re getting better with each disaster. Texas was impressive. The mayors and their teams in Houston and Galveston were both impressive.

Galveston will be a long time recovering. In my view, homes on the beach areas of that region should not be rebuilt unless they are at a standard of construction that can withstand a powerful Hurricane. I also don’t believe the government should be heavily subsidizing property insurance, or offering big payouts after a storm for private structures in areas where they will obviously be blown away again by a hurricane.

HHS has deployed more than 1,600 people into the hurricane theater. The state of Texas is carrying most of the burden. We are now moving from rescue into a recovery mode.

I would also like to say what an effective operator I think David Paulison is. I’ve watched him for many months now. He’s direct and organized; doesn’t over-promise and is willing to solve a problem with a little ingenuity. FEMA is often the target of frustrated critics. Sometimes, FEMA probably deserves it. However, in an organization as complex as the combined national and state government emergency management system and in the middle of a disaster, there is bound to be some confusion and unpleasantness. With Paulison’s leadership it has been minimized.


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You know, Ike was bad don't get me wrong. But it could have been much worse. That being said, some parts of Tx actually did look like a war zone, thank goodness there were only 20 or so deaths, it could have been much worse.

Posted by: Dan Mikguires | September 19, 2008 at 12:45 AM

It's nice to learn that homes built to hurricane resistant building codes actually performed as expected, especially to the observer across the country who wonders in disbelief at the precarious places some people choose to build.

Posted by: Jim Grapes | September 19, 2008 at 05:40 PM

I agree with Dan, it could have been much worse.

Posted by: Bryn Youngblut | September 21, 2008 at 10:10 PM

If a hurricane is going to ruin a holiday weekend, the long Labor Day weekend is the one that's most likely to be affected.
The Fourth of July is the only other major U.S. holiday during the hurricane season, but hurricanes are much more likely at the end of August and the beginning of September than in early July.
Multi List Service

Posted by: julee | October 14, 2008 at 12:36 AM

It is great to know homes built to withstand a hurricane will, though evacuation is preferable.
Now if only the power lines, water ans sewage would built that way. Sewage particualy. One can cut off the cable, the power, the water, the food but effluent will always flow and gurgle up at the lowest point.
Unlike trash - sewage and liquid medical waste is quite dangerouse.

What scared me most was the EOC photo. During a H5N1 pandemic having so many people so close together seems dangerouse. Unlike a hurricane that lasts a few days - a pandemic will last weeks to months and then recovery can begin.

Hopefuly those in the EOC are making plans.

Free non profit blog "Emergency operations Centers (EOC) 101 - for Pandemics"
Source: http://www.newfluwiki2.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=2757

Posted by: Kobie | November 02, 2008 at 07:26 AM

Senator Mike leavitt,
I so appreciate all you do as you serve and minister to many in the area and places you viisted. We will miss the republican
presence as we start the new new year but pray those in leadership roles will lead with God's quidance pattybeigay

Posted by: pattybeigay | November 19, 2008 at 08:00 PM

Thank you so much for your action and the support you provided for the regulation that would prevent anyone who receives federal funds from discriminating against pro-life doctors, nurses, or other medical workers because of their beliefs. This is extremely important and we can't thank you enough.

Ron and Barbara

Posted by: Ron Yauk | November 19, 2008 at 08:20 PM

Thank you, Mr. Leavitt, for pushing for the rule that would create a hedge of protection around health care providers who object to abortion or other procedures on moral grounds.

Posted by: Frank DeRemer | November 19, 2008 at 08:30 PM

Thank you! You are doing a great job!

Posted by: Sherri | November 19, 2008 at 09:33 PM

thank you for your hard work to protect the prolife health care workers. As a Christian, I have and am praying for our nation and I have prayed for our leaders. We appreciate you and what you are doing. May God bless you and assist you in the preservation of our morals which have held our nation high before the other nations of the world. Keep on keeping on.

Posted by: Lois Maag | November 19, 2008 at 09:55 PM

Secretary Leavitt:
Great thanks and appreciation for moving to protect the free speech rights of health workers refusing to participate in the butchering of unborn and (with Obama) just-born children. While this is a religious and spiritual issue at heart, I tend to - having been a soldier, police officer, crime/intel analyst, and technical documentor - look at this in somewhat martial terms. In that view, you take women and like-minded men who see zero worth in an unborn or just-born child, who hide behind "rights" not found in the Constitution, and murder several generations' worth of citizens (no illegals needed with 55 million live US citizens not aborted), and you have, basically, cowards - arrogant, no less - who inflict lethal harm on those least able to defend themselves. To an educated street guy like me, these people are the heaviest of the stones forming the avalanche of American demise. Close behind are the now-violent homosexual "activists" in the street intimidating those who actually seek to shore up the culture enough to avoid the coming catastrophe. All being self-absorbed, they are unwilling, and unable, to see the broader ramifications.
Thank you for providing much-needed inspiration and encouragement for those of us - religious and non-religious alike - who still see the decency that has always been at the core of American success.

Posted by: Paul Weber | November 19, 2008 at 11:59 PM

Thank you for standing up for my conscience and that of millions of Americans that still have one. A prayer goes up for your protection and for strength.

Posted by: Keith Bohn | November 20, 2008 at 01:20 AM

Thank you for your hard work in protecting the values and rights of medical workers who oppose abortions based on their religeous values

Posted by: Chuck | November 20, 2008 at 07:01 AM

Thank you for all your hard work regarding the physician conscience issue. Such rights must be preserved!

Posted by: | November 20, 2008 at 08:33 AM

Thank you very much, Secretary Leavitt, for ALL you have done and tried to do to protect conscience.

Posted by: Roger and Jean Cooper | November 20, 2008 at 08:39 AM

Thank you for protecting the innocent unborn children of America! I appreciate the fact that you and my President, George W. Bush, are taking every opportunity before he leaves office to pass pro-life bills.
Again, thank you for your efforts!
Marilea Reese

Posted by: Marilea Reese | November 20, 2008 at 08:56 AM

I appreciate your perseverance on conscience protections. Secretary Leavitt, I am grateful for all your hard work.

Best regards,

John Couillard

Posted by: John Couillard | November 20, 2008 at 08:59 AM

Kudos on your perseverance on conscience protection!!!
God bless.

Posted by: Carole Young | November 20, 2008 at 09:15 AM

You are totally awesome. I just read what you are working on to protect the free speech and conscience of doctor's who are pro-life. Please take courage and keep up the good work guarding our freedoms and protecting those who can't defend themselves.

Posted by: Stephen Kendrick | November 20, 2008 at 09:20 AM

Thanks for your timely efforts to protect the rights of Pro-Life Doctors and Pharmacies..Please keep at it until its completion. This is so important!! We appreciate all you are doing.
God bless your efforts!

Posted by: Carol | November 20, 2008 at 09:23 AM

Dear Mr. Secretary,
Thank you so much for protecting the rights of doctors and medical personnel who are pro-life. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: michael Frison | November 20, 2008 at 09:51 AM

Dear Sir,
I want to thank you for your tireless work on the conscience measures. We are praying hard that the next administration does not undo them immediately. Your perseverence has been noted and approved. A job well done!

Reba Clymer Alwine
A citizen and prayer warrior

Posted by: Reba Clymer Alwine | November 20, 2008 at 10:29 AM

Secretary Leavitt:
Thank you for your support for the lives of the unborn and medical providers who by conscience will not participate in the killing of the unborn. We can only hope and pray that this hedge of protection will not be undone by the incoming administration. We're in a tough battle, but with God's help we can win the hearts and minds of those that have so little regard for human life.

Posted by: Rod Moore | November 20, 2008 at 11:08 AM

You have my thanks and appreciate for your perseverance on conscience protections.

Posted by: Larry D. Megenhardt | November 20, 2008 at 11:26 AM

Thank you for your work with the HHS. Every woman has the freedom of choice, it happens before conception. As a mother of six, three of them daughters, education starts in the home. As a healthcare provider I understand the parental role when our children are ill or injured. It is inconceivable that someone could perform such an extreme procedure without parental consent when the same child cannot get a cavity filled without a parent's approval. Please continue to protect those healthcare providers who have objections to performing end of life services for the unborn children.

Posted by: Kris in Wyoming | November 20, 2008 at 11:34 AM

Thank you Mr.Leavitt for all you are doing keep fighting the good fight cause now folks with a moral conscience are being discriminated against and that is wrong!!! God Bless you forever.

Posted by: Kandy Yon | November 20, 2008 at 11:49 AM

Thank you so much for your efforts to protect the conscience rights of our TRUE health care providers. Protecting "the least" among us is one of the legitimate purposes of government. If abortion is a Constitutional "right", why should it be rare? What other true Constitutional right do we say should be rare? Thank you for trying to keep our conscience rights from becoming rare!


Posted by: Keri Lee | November 20, 2008 at 11:55 AM

Secretary Leavitt: Thank you for the work you have done these past years. You will be sorely missed. Your replacement might undo some of the good you have done, but a lot of people will never forget you. You have raised the bar and that can't be undone!

Posted by: Lynn Konold | November 20, 2008 at 12:25 PM

Thank you for supporting pro-life policies! This is the reason I voted for President Bush.

Posted by: Max | November 20, 2008 at 12:32 PM

Mr. Leavitt - thank you for continuing to protect healthcare providers and drug providers that have a moral objection to ending a baby's life. I pray God's blessings on you.

Posted by: Ralph Jenkins | November 20, 2008 at 12:56 PM

Your blog and the other media information about your actions make me proud to be an American under your care. Thank you for your attention to the quality of life for our military, our storm displaced, and our unborn.

Posted by: | November 20, 2008 at 01:30 PM

Bless you for your good work! Wish you were staying in office! We were blessed by your good work! May God bless you in your on going good work for Him where ever that may be
Sincerely, Pastor Dick Clifford

Posted by: Pastor Dick Clifford | November 20, 2008 at 02:31 PM

Thank you for your hard work in protecting our rights, speech and conscience. My 14 year old daughter just wrote a paper for her health class on abortion. Even though I've known what abortion is and have been pro-life, I never knew the details of what and how this horrific procedure is done. In her paper, she also included quotes from doctors and nurses who had performed abortions ... who have since stopped and are telling their stories of why they will no longer be involved. Thank you for your courageous stand.

Posted by: Esther | November 20, 2008 at 03:00 PM

Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for all your work on behalf of the vulnerable unborn, elderly, disabled...all of us, really. God Bless you. We look forward to what God has for you in the future.

And since you know the President, would you also thank him for me? His work, his cabinet, his policies, have all been appreciated by so many.

America will miss you,

Most Sincerely

Posted by: Colleen | November 20, 2008 at 03:13 PM

Thank you so much Secretary Leavitt. You have made a huge difference in the lives of our little ones

God Bless you.

Posted by: molly smith | November 20, 2008 at 04:41 PM

Thank you for standing up for medical providers who do not want to promote abortion.

Posted by: Edward Manring, M.D. | November 20, 2008 at 06:27 PM

Thanks for standing for those medical professionals who object to participating in abortions. May God bless you and your family.

Posted by: Mary J | November 20, 2008 at 09:17 PM

Secretary Leavitt,
Thank you for your perseverence and hard work in your department's developing the rule protecting healthcare providers who are guided by their conscience in refusing to facilitate abortions on moral grounds. Thank you for your determination to see this through to the end. May history record the efforts of your department and this administration as the noble fight for moral liberty and compassion for the unborn.

Posted by: Ron Johnson | November 20, 2008 at 09:25 PM

Secretary Leavitt,
Thank you for doing so much to protect the conscience rights of healthcare providers. Maintaining integrity in the healthcare field is essential for preserving the trust of the doctor-patient relationship. As a Hippocratic physician, I am obligated to protect the sanctity of life (the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly). If conscience rights are taken away from physicians, it won't be long before physicians will eventually be required to participate in the killing of other human beings (such as the Nazi doctors). Please continue to fight for preservation of the integrity of the healthcare profession!

Posted by: Michael Trexler, MD | November 20, 2008 at 10:54 PM

Dear Secretary Leavitt:

Thank you so much for the work that you and our President are doing to protect those in the medical field from having to participate in the horrific act of abortion either by proceedure or pill. This goes directly against everything that a Christian believes in and certainly against the Word of God.

I will be praying that all that you do in protecting life and those that uphold it will not be undone by the next President.

Posted by: Veronica | November 20, 2008 at 11:26 PM

I want to thank you so very much for your work in protecting conscience rights for doctors, nurses and pharmacists! It will be recorded in history that you were a great supporter of life, which is everyone's fundamental and God given right. We will continue to pray that this is passed and will be restored forever.

Thank you and God bless you!
Kerry Palmer

-For in order to be pro-abortion, one must first be born!

Posted by: Kerry Palmer | November 21, 2008 at 02:34 PM

Thank you for your continued work for Pro-Life.
Gob bless you.

Posted by: Mark Oester | November 22, 2008 at 12:27 AM

Dear Secretary Leavitt: How blest we are to have at the helm a servant of government who does that which is right in the sight of the Lord! May God continue to bless you and your loved ones from this day forth!

Posted by: Edwin Vogt | November 22, 2008 at 02:59 PM

Dear Secretary Leavitt,
Thank you for your efforts in protecting those pro-life doctors, nurses, & medical workers that object to abortion or other procedures on moral grounds. It is my hope that the BUSH Administration will FINISH STRONG in the closing days of His term as President. This is not the first time that God has used a BUSH to talk to His people. God Bless All Your Efforts.

Posted by: Mary | November 23, 2008 at 08:22 PM

Thank you for your tireless work in promoting legislation to protect healthcare workers from being required to go against their heartfelt beliefs. May God bless you for engaging in the battle for lives and freedom.


Posted by: Renee Bolkema | November 24, 2008 at 02:48 PM

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