FEMA chief: Response plan retooled
By Carol Eisenberg
Newsday (New York)
Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — After the government's disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, new FEMA director R. David Paulison said yesterday that he has scrapped the agency's old model of moving in only after local and state authorities become overwhelmed.
As the Atlantic seaboard and Gulf Coast areas head into peak hurricane season, Paulison vowed that unlike last year, "FEMA is going to be ready to respond. We are literally light years ahead of where we were last year. We're not necessarily where we want to be. But I don't ever want to say we're where we want to be."
The former Miami fire and rescue chief, who took charge of the beleaguered agency in April, said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is now "heavily involved" in planning in Louisiana, from developing evacuation plans to identifying shelters and how to staff them.
But in a news conference with national hurricane experts, Paulison stressed the importance of personal responsibility. He urged all coastal residents along the Eastern seaboard to prepare for an above-average number of storms forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Every family living along the coast should set aside food, water and medicine to last 72 hours, along with flashlights and batteries, he said.
Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, killing more than 1,500 and wiping out parts of the Gulf Coast.
Forecasters are predicting 12 to 15 named storms this season — of which seven to nine will intensify to hurricanes, including three or four major hurricanes. While that's fewer than the number forecast in May, "there's no reason to let our guard down," said National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield.
Mayfield stressed that despite the wake-up call of Katrina, many coastal residents are complacent. He cited a recent survey that found that 56 percent of coastal residents say they do not feel vulnerable to a hurricane, 60 percent do not have a disaster plan and 13 percent said they would not evacuate.