Michael Brown, the Federal Emergency Management Agency director during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, told The Daily Caller that people should “calm down” about the possibility of a hurricane striking Tampa, Fla., during next week’s Republican National Convention.
“The hyperbole of this thing is out of control,” said Brown, noting what he sees as alarmism from reporters “wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth.”
Brown was infamously praised by President George W. Bush during the height of post-Katrina chaos with the phrase, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” He resigned his position shortly after.
Brown said that he believes RNC event planners are doing a good job, and that FEMA needs “to have their contingency plans in effect now.”
“From the things I’ve heard from people in D.C., I think the party is doing the right thing,” Brown told TheDC. “I don’t have a gauge on whether the city is doing the right thing, because all I’m hearing is the mayor talking about rescheduling.”
Brown did not say what specifically the Republican Party is doing a good job at, but said, “I assume the RNC is sending out daily emails … just to get people thinking.”
Earlier this week Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, “absolutely, we’re prepared to call [the convention] off.” Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said, “safety — that’s going to be the number one priority … We can have the convention again.”
“I think the most important thing the party can do is communication,” Brown said. “The party needs to take control of the flow of information to the delegates.”
Approximately 50,000 reporters, delegates and protesters are expected to descend on Tampa for the weeklong convention, which begins on Monday, the same day the storm is projected to arrive in the area.
On Thursday, FEMA Director Craig Fugate appeared on CNN to stress the importance of generalized hurricane preparedness, rather than a localized focus on Tampa.
“Craig may be trying to say what I’m saying, ‘we kind of know some of the projection plans, where it may or may not hit,’” said Brown.
But, Brown said, “people could read that statement as ignoring the fact that we have a national special security event going on with a possible natural disaster.”
Offering his advice for FEMA, Brown said that regional offices should be stocking up on supplies and manpower.
“Just like in Katrina, you ought to move your logistical material, your personnel, close, but you don’t want them at the location,” said Brown. “You don’t want them in Tampa and then have them become victims too.”
The Tampa Bay Times Forum, the sports arena that will host the RNC, is likely being considered as a makeshift shelter for worst-case scenario plans, said Brown, who cautioned that the stadium’s structural strength needs to be carefully analyzed by planners.
“If you recall in Katrina, the mayor decided to make the Superdome the refuge of last resort. I saw the engineering reports, which said it would withstand a category three storm, but Katrina was a category five,” he recalled. The Superdome’s roof was damaged by Katrina’s punishing winds.
FEMA spokesman Carter Langston told TheDC that the agency has not drafted detailed contingency plans for Tampa, focusing instead on the broader regional threat posed by the storm.
Florida’s state-level emergency management agency, Langston said, is working on “that kind of granular detail at this point. Obviously the conference planners will be the ones to decide whether to continue,” he said.
“We assist the state and when it extends all of its resources — then the federal government comes in to assist,” said Langston. “There’s a laundry list of things we could do … we have a lot of levers that we can pull.”
The state’s emergency management director said that his agency is “working on a high number of potential evacuations.” ABC meteorologist Max Golembo noted that “Tampa is just as vulnerable as New Orleans was [before Katrina] in the sense that the water will funnel into the bay area and from the storm surge which will flood completely the whole entire city of Tampa.”
Brown said that despite the need to prepare for the worst, convention-goers might want to also consider the upside of a mild storm.
“If you have a category one storm with 75 mile-per-hour winds and driving rain that’s not the end of civilization,” he said. “If this is a tropical storm, there’s no need to panic or shut down … Occupy Wall Street protesters will go away, and it will make security easier.”