Feds Cite Some Progress in Hurricane Prep

The Associated Press
Thursday, June 1, 2006; 6:08 PM

WASHINGTON -- In the chaos after the next big hurricane, the demands on Washington will be many: More protection against looting and violence, temporary housing for victims, a quick way to sign people up for aid.

In short, for everything that went wrong during Hurricane Katrina to go right next time.

After a year of second guessing and reworked plans arising from the Katrina debacle, federal officials cite improvements on several fronts for the hurricane season that started Thursday.

For one, they expect to be able to handle 200,000 calls a day from storm victims seeking assistance, double the number in the wake of Katrina.

Also, thousands of mobile homes are ready to be moved in, and procedures have been sharpened for tracking the location of emergency supplies _ the sort of task companies like UPS and Federal Express do routinely but authorities messed up in the pinch last year.

Still, all the tabletop exercises, supply reinforcements and attempted clarification of responsibilities on paper can do only so much. Precise chains of command will remain untested until a storm happens. Debris from last year's storms add another element of danger to what's ahead. And no one will feel safe from post-storm looting until they see the law in control on the streets.

The government is finishing an assessment of evacuation plans and other efforts to prepare for disasters in all states and in as many as 75 big cities. The study was expected as early as Friday.

"We've taken a pretty candid look at the state of preparedness and it's uneven _ good in some places, not so good in others," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday. He said Washington would work with state and local officials to help them improve their plans.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it has enough food and water to feed up to a million hurricane victims for a week after a storm. By mid-July, which would normally be just in time for the heightened threat of hurricanes, it expects to be able to take the 200,000 daily calls.

And instead of waiting for traumatized victims to seek out the agency, it will go to them.

FEMA personnel will be stationed at Red Cross shelters, waiting to sign up victims as they arrive to avoid the lost time and expense of tracking them across the country as during Katrina, said FEMA Director David Paulison.

Also new this year: Aid workers will drive registration vans, equipped with cell phones and computers, into damaged areas to help people without working phones or transportation.

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