WASHINGTON – President Bush highlighted U.S. preparedness for the upcoming hurricane season as he marked a change of command Thursday at the U.S. Coast Guard, which rescued 33,000 people after Hurricane Katrina.
"The whole world saw your skill and bravery during the hurricanes last year," Bush said at Fort McNair, where Adm. Thad Allen replaced Adm. Tom Collins as commandant of America's oldest maritime service. "They saw Coast Guard rescuers plunging from helicopters, lifting people from rooftops, hoisting them to safety."
Overall, however, the federal government botched its response to Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast. The National Hurricane Center has warned residents to prepare for as many as six major hurricanes during this year's hurricane season, which begins June 1.
"We're determined to learn the lessons of Katrina, and we're doing everything possible to be prepared for the next storm," Bush said. "The Department of Homeland Security has reviewed emergency plans for all 50 states and America's 75 largest cities. The department is working closely with communities to identify any weaknesses in their plans and to find ways to improve them now."
Bush said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has taken steps to reform FEMA, improve partnerships with the Red Cross and the Defense Department and expand federal supplies.
"We're also making it clear that all able-bodied Americans should have the resources necessary to sustain themselves for 48 to 72 hours after a disaster so that emergency personnel can focus on saving those who cannot help themselves," Bush said.
While Bush was with the Coast Guard, Senate Democrats hosted a homeland security summit with leaders from across the nation to discuss how to protect the nation from the next emergency.
"While President Bush has pushed hard to ensure that our military has the resources necessary to protect our nation abroad, he has let our country's fire fighters and paramedics down by failing to provide the resources necessary for them to protect our citizens here at home," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. "Our nation shouldn't have to suffer another Katrina or 9/11 before our nation's first responders get the support they need."