Many US cities, states unprepared for catastrophe

Many US cities, states unprepared for catastrophe

Deborah Charles / Reuters | June 17 2006

Nearly five years after the September 11 attacks, most cities and states in the United States are still unprepared for a major catastrophe, a Department of Homeland Security report showed on Friday.

The study showed that Washington, one of the targets of the September 11 attack, was among the worst-prepared regions in the country for a catastrophic event.

Louisiana and the city of New Orleans — both battered by deadly Hurricane Katrina last year — were also among the worst-prepared areas. West Virginia also received low marks.

Other large urban areas seen to be poorly prepared included Dallas and Oklahoma City — the site of a 1985 bombing that killed 168 people.

The best-prepared states included Florida and 10 others that are generally in the "Hurricane Belt" along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast.

"The current status of plans and planning gives grounds for significant national concern," said the report, which was issued by the department after assessments of emergency operations plans of all 56 U.S. states and territories and 75 of the country's largest cities.

The report was released just two weeks after the DHS angered politicians in Washington and New York City by slashing their 2006 counterterrorism funding by 40 percent.

The preparedness review was ordered by President George W. Bush and Congress after the dismal government response to Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,300 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"The National Plan Review findings demonstrate the need for all levels of government across the country to improve emergency operations plans for catastrophic events such as a major terrorist attack or Category Five hurricane strike," the department said in a statement.

Among the areas needing the most attention were evacuations plans, resource management, dealing with people with "special needs" like the disabled, minorities who do not speak English and the elderly.

States and cities need to coordinate their planning and need a clearly defined command structure, the report said.

George Foresman, Homeland Security undersecretary for preparedness, said the assessment should be seen negatively as a scorecard but viewed as a "snapshot" of where the states and cities are in their emergency planning programs.

He said the results showed there was more need for planning and for the federal government to offer detailed guidelines and support on how to prepare for catastrophe.

"This is not something that is a grand surprise," he told reporters. "It has put in documented numbers what we intuitively knew in the post-9/11 era."

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