Post-Disaster Preparedness Key for Communities, Say Former Governors

Communities should be ready to fend for themselves without federal help for up to three days after a disaster hits, two former governors said Tuesday in calling for new plans to prepare states and cities for emergencies.

The push for new national disaster plans, by former Republican Govs. James Gilmore of Virginia and Jim Geringer of Wyoming, comes days after a federal analysis concluded that states and cities are widely unprepared to respond to catastrophes.

"We can get prepared," said Gilmore, who chaired a congressionally appointed counterterrorism panel between 1999 and 2004. "There is, I think, a consensus at this point that we are not prepared."

Gilmore declined to blame Congress or the Homeland Security Department for the security gaps. But he mildly criticized a national response plan, issued by Homeland Security in 2004, as too vague to help communities in the first 72 hours following disasters.

"This isn't going to get done until the communities take charge of their own futures," he said.

Gilmore now chairs the National Council on Readiness and Preparedness, a nonprofit group aiming to give businesses and charities greater roles during disasters. Doing so, the council says, will ease demands on emergency responders as they attend to the most urgent needs.

The council and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University will develop new response guidelines for local and state officials after holding a series of town meetings, starting next month in Detroit, to gage community emergency needs.

The council is privately funded by eight private firms and six individuals, including the Sprint Corp. and author Patricia Cornwell.

Meanwhile, House Democrats rapped the Bush administration for what they called continued vulnerabilities in U.S. rail and mass transit systems nearly a year after the London subway and bus bombings on July 7.

"Rail and mass transit security absolutely is not a priority," said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. "Americans deserve more than this type of wait-and-see approach to homeland security."