The Wall Street Journal’s Bobby Block (whose new book on Hurricane Katrina hits bookstores tomorrow) has an article in today’s WSJ that assesses the state of FEMA’s readiness for the current hurricane season. He finds measurable progress in many areas:
Under R. David Paulison, the former Miami fire chief who took over in April as FEMA’s director, the agency has streamlined its operations; hired hundreds more employees; outfitted delivery trucks with satellite tracking systems; purchased record amounts of ice and water; and signed more than $4 billion in forward contracts with big engineering firms and the U.S. military for emergency supplies and services that could be activated during a disaster.
FEMA says it now has enough provisions to feed one million disaster victims for a week, and it has made arrangements with the Department of Defense for backup supplies should the need arise. To speed up assistance to victims, the agency also has tripled its daily capacity to inspect homes for damage following a storm.
…but still a number of lingering concerns, including FEMA’s communications capabilities, the efficacy of its new asset tracking system, and its coordination with DHS HQ. The story also notes state-level concerns with the National Response Plan:
Several states are complaining, however, that Homeland Security officials still are too often ignoring state officials when drawing up their response plans. Some emergency experts in California and Washington state have accused the department of pushing a one-size-fits-all approach to disaster response that may be well-suited to hurricanes on the Eastern seaboard but could be irrelevant for Western states facing the possibility of earthquakes and tsunamis. FEMA officials say they can’t focus on all the nation’s disaster risks at the same time. But even hurricane-prone states have voiced complaints.
Heading into peak hurricane season, Louisiana and Department of Homeland Security officials remain at odds over who is in charge of evacuations and shelters. In a sharply worded letter sent to Mr. Chertoff last month, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco cataloged what she saw as multiple shortcomings in the Department of Homeland Security’s plans for the 2006 hurricane season.
In particular she questioned whether Washington was doing enough to guarantee sufficient shelter space for future hurricane evacuees. She also told Mr. Chertoff that officials from his department were working outside the National Response Plan, introducing untested ideas into emergency plans without consulting the state. These moves, Ms. Blanco said, “will only serve to confuse the response.”
I’m still not sure, after reading this story and many like it over the last few months, if we really are prepared. I don’t think we’ll really know until the system is tested under live fire. And I share the concern mentioned in the excerpt above about being solely focused on one threat (hurricanes). Are we appropriately preparing at the same time for other natural disasters and manmade threats?