Local Disaster Plans Aren't Making the Grade

Experts say local disaster plans have "major gaps" in emergency preparedness.

Five years after the Sept. 11th and anthrax tragedies, adequate emergency preparedness at all levels - federal, state and local - remains catch-as-catch-can, say experts.

Speakers at American Military University's recent symposium, Homeland Security: The Ripple Effect, noted that local communities still have major, serious gaps in disaster plans.

Part of the preparedness issue lies in incomplete emergency plans, according to symposium speaker Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, former commander of Joint Task Force-Katrina.

"Did you take your understanding of the disaster to failure?" asked Honore. He was referring to disaster plans that miss critical elements. For example, many disaster plans end without addressing mass casualties.

Other conference speakers, who included U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director R. David Paulison, said that many communities remain unprepared to handle evacuees and need to develop partnerships with private industry. Others addressed the necessity of personal preparedness and regional approaches to response and recovery.

Patrick McCrory, mayor of Charlotte, N.C., and a member of President Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council, discussed the need for evacuation agreements with communities that may be hundreds of miles away, in other states. His city, for example, housed hundreds of victims from Hurricane Katrina.

McCrory cited the difficulties of gathering information and deploying assistance in the first hours following a major event. "Many (people) put unrealistic expectations on government, especially in the first 48 hours," McCrory said. That is true at all levels of government: local, state and federal.

To try to remedy the problem, FEMA Director Paulison says his agency is building partnerships with private industry. Private industry controls much of the nation's infrastructure - communications, energy and transportation - so its cooperation is critical. He also is strengthening FEMA, including adding many positions.

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