Saturday, June 17, 2006

Homeland Security Cuts Funding, the declares: Cities not prepared for disasters

Here is the beginning of my post.
Yahoo! News
Agency: Cities not prepared for disasters

By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer

New Orleans is still woefully unprepared for catastrophes 10 months after Hurricane Katrina, and the two cities targeted by the 9/11 attacks don't meet all guidelines for responding to major disasters, a federal security analysis concluded Friday.

Ten states were rated in a Homeland Security Department scorecard as having sufficient plans to respond to disasters: Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont.

Florida, accustomed to being whipped with hurricane winds, was the only state to meet all of the department's basic requirements for planning for catastrophes. Response plans for Louisiana, still devastated from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, were deemed insufficient to manage huge emergencies.

The shortcomings in emergency planning, including antiquated and uncoordinated response guidelines, are cause "for significant national concern," Homeland Security's analysis concluded.

President Bush ordered the review of state and city emergency plans in a visit to New Orleans last Sept. 15, weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city. The report analyzes response and evacuation procedures for all 50 states, the nation's 75 largest cities and six U.S. territories.

The analysis is based on a complicated scorecard for each state and city, rating their plans for evacuations, medical care, sheltering of victims, public alerts and other emergency priorities.

More than half of New Orleans' plans — 58 percent — were described as insufficient to respond to catastrophes, and only 4 percent met the minimum federal guidelines.

New York and Washington, al-Qaida's targets on Sept. 11, 2001, received lukewarm ratings. Seventy-one percent of New York's emergency plans were described as only partially sufficient. In Washington, 67 percent of the plans were deemed partially sufficient and 2 percent insufficient.

Despite sending $18 billion in Homeland Security grants to spur local preparedness since 9/11, "very little of it has gone to planning, training and exercise," said department undersecretary George Foresman.

The report found that the 18 hurricane-prone states, from Maine to Texas, appeared to be better prepared for disasters than the rest of the country.

Those states hugging the Atlantic and Gulf coasts were judged by peers to have emergency plans "that were more likely to be rated sufficient ... than other states," the review noted. Plans by Hurricane Belt states to manage resources, health and medical issues and communications were noticeably stronger, it found.

Similarly, cities in these states also were more likely to be prepared to issue warnings, manage resources, distribute emergency public information and mass care.

But there was a major exception: The cities were judged comparatively not sufficient in planning for evacuations.

The review is the latest in a series of government and expert analyses since Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. Nearly all have found preparedness levels lacking for large-scale disasters. The Sept. 11 commission and other panels also have found shortcomings in preparedness for another terrorist attack.

The latest report was released as the Senate sent Bush a $94.5 billion emergency spending bill that included funds for new aid for Gulf Coast hurricane victims.

The review noted several failings on the federal government's part, citing a need for clearer guidance and up-to-date preparedness data to state and local officials. It also urged better collaboration with private businesses to help evacuate disabled people and with charities and other non-governmental services to stockpile aid for disaster victims.


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