WASHINGTON – Touting stronger radio systems and enough food, water and ice to last a week for 1 million people, the Bush administration sought Tuesday to prove it is better prepared for the brewing hurricane season than it was last year.
In a calculated contrast to the federal government's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina last August, top officials from the Homeland Security Department and Pentagon rolled out plans and ticked off amounts of stockpiled supplies headed for storm zones in the Southeast. At one point, acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison said his agency last year "didn't have a clue" on whereabouts of relief aid being rushed to victims.
Emergency responders in some Gulf and Atlantic coast states recently expressed doubt that Washington will be ready to help them if faced with another storm the size of Katrina, one of the nation's worst national disasters.
"Our feedback from the states is mixed," said Karen Cobuluis, spokeswoman for the National Emergency Management Association, which represents state emergency directors. "Overall, it appears the federal government is going to meet their goals, and we'll have to take them at their word. If they meet those goals they'll be more prepared for the next disaster."
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said state and local emergency responders also need to be ready for what forecasters predict will be another tumultuous storm season when it begins next week.
"Experience shows that even with the best of planning, we're going to face some unprecedented challenges and unforeseen events," Chertoff told reporters. "But if we begin with a good plan, and we have a good plan, we will be in a far better position to coordinate our assistance this year with state and local governments, and get help to people who need that help the most."
The officials said they will meet all 11 top-priority reforms ordered by the White House in February to strengthen federal disaster preparations by June 1. They include systems to track supplies, aid victims with food, water, and shelter, and deliver quick information to all levels of government during a disaster.
The Pentagon is also gearing up to help, as ordered by the White House, with 367,000 National Guardsmen available to respond to domestic disasters like a hurricane. Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said those troops do not include 71,000 Guardsmen deployed overseas or up to 6,000 who are supporting a crackdown on illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border.