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When the levees collapsed in New Orleans, the faith of Americans in their government's ability to protect them against natural disasters crumbled as well. Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security who led the federal response, called Hurricane Katrina and the flood it spawned an "ultracatastrophe" that "exceeded the foresight of the planners."
But in truth the failure was not a lack of foresight. Federal, state and local authorities had a plan for how governments would respond if a hurricane were to hit New Orleans with 120-mile-per-hour winds, raise a storm surge that overwhelmed levees and water pumps, and strand thousands inside the flooded city. Last year they even practiced it. Yet when Katrina struck, the execution of that plan was abysmal.