Many States Unprepared for Next Natural Disaster

Fewer than half the states say they are prepared to respond to a catastrophic disaster like Hurricane Katrina, and many are still struggling to meet federal guidelines for evacuations, a Homeland Security Department analysis shows.

Louisiana officials, who were overwhelmed by the Aug. 29 storm, reported they feel confident in their plans to respond to future catastrophes. Louisiana officials also said they are somewhat confident in their ability to evacuate victims from disaster sites, according to the Feb. 10 report to Congress.

The Homeland Security analysis, which was ordered by Congress and President Bush, was released as the department has come under fire for its response to Katrina.

A House report set for release Wednesday blames all levels of government for the sluggish response, but singles out Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for delays that slowed aid.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush has full confidence in Chertoff, and has not considered asking him to step down in the wake of the criticism.

"Secretary Chertoff is doing a great job," McClellan said Tuesday. "The president appreciates his strong leadership."

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, however, reiterated an earlier call for Chertoff to resign. The recent criticism about Chertoff's performance during Katrina "only adds to my displeasure with our secretary," Reid said.

The Homeland Security analysis compiles self-assessments by the 50 states, five U.S. territories, the District of Columbia and the nation's 75 largest cities.

In the survey, 47 states reported that their emergency response plans meet federal standards. Two states — West Virginia and Hawaii — said their basic plans do not, while Wyoming did not respond.

Twenty states — including Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Alabama, which were all slammed by massive hurricanes last year — said they felt confident about their plan to respond to a catastrophe. Fourteen states said they were only somewhat confident, while another 13 reported they were not confident about their plans to manage a catastrophe. Three states, including Mississippi, which was also rocked by Katrina, did not respond.

Only five states — Texas, Florida, Alabama, Virginia and Connecticut — said they were confident their evacuation plans would work during a catastrophe. Eighteen others, including Louisiana, said they were somewhat confident. Twenty-two states said their evacuation plans would not be adequate and five states did not answer.

A spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the state's catastrophic response and evacuation plans were updated after Katrina hit.

"A lot of the lessons were learned before (Hurricane) Rita," Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said Tuesday. She noted that officials directly called homes, and helped those in nursing homes and hospitals get out before the Sept. 24 storm.