Hurricane Katrina RecoveryPrincipal federal official. It's a prosaic official title for one of the hardest temporary jobs in history, held by Vice Adm. Thad Allen. Allen is principal federal official (PFO) for the Gulf Coast recovery from Hurricane Katrina.Allen, the chief of staff of the Coast Guard, was DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff's pick for PFO when Michael Brown, the former Federal Emergency Management Agency director, was forced to step down from overseeing the Katrina response. (Brown later resigned.)Allen parries any suggestions that he has squelched the intense political infighting that led to his appointment, but which seemed to disappear the moment he took over. "I'm a career government service guy, and my job is to do the best I can here on the ground," Allen says in an interview (you can listen to the podcast). What goes on in Washington, he adds, "that's way above my pay grade. I don't get involved in that."In Katrina's Wake1.5 million residents displaced 600,000 homes uninhabitable72,000 personnel deployed33,000 people rescued by the Coast Guard93 disaster recovery centers openedsource: Department of Homeland SecurityNeither does his team. Allen's biggest feat as PFO may be that he's disconnected FEMA and other agencies on the ground from Washington. From his base at an old Baton Rouge warehouse, he keeps an autocratic focus on the local, day-to-day execution of the recovery. The job, he says, has put on his shoulders tasks he hasn't faced before. For example, Allen says he's become an ad hoc "housing czar" for the 600,000 homes in the Gulf Coast region (200,000 in Louisiana) that the storm made uninhabitable, some for years to come."My number-one priority," Allen says, "is to move people from emergency shelters and short-term housing and hotels to better transition housing options."But he also wants security practitioners to learn from the Katrina response. Experts have been weighing lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina (see "Spinning the Wheel of Misfortune"). Allen says the episode should serve as a real-world drill for a premeditated attack. So, what did we learn from the drill? Are we prepared for such an attack?"I don't think the national response plan anticipated how we would react to what I'd call a catastrophic loss of the elements of a civil society," Allen says. "New Orleans was taken down hard. This is far beyond the scale for what might have been envisioned for a natural disaster response and comes closer to what you might envision if a weapon of mass effect was used on a municipality. From that standpoint the lessons learned from this will be extremely useful."Since his posting, Allen has spent one day away from the Gulf Coast (for Washington meetings). No date has been set for a transition from recovery to reconstruction, when he'd be relieved of his duty.Allen is quick to praise the hundreds of FEMA officials in New Orleans, and his Coast Guard, which has a history of cleaning up disasters (see "Same Ship, Different Day"). "What the Coast Guard did here is nothing different than what we've done for over 200 years," Allen says. "The scope and the complexity of the job here was more than we've seen in a long, long time. As I've said, transparency of information breeds self-correcting behavior, and I hope that has not been lost on the Congress."