FEMA chief says Louisiana getting special help on disaster plans
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director R. David Paulison said Tuesday that Louisiana is getting a larger share of federal resources than other areas as the agency tries to improve disaster planning in the state.
"In Louisiana, we're helping them out with evacuation plans and transportation plans," he said, adding "more than anywhere else."
Homeland Security Department and FEMA officials said they want state and local agencies to have the greatest presence when disasters strike. Representatives from both DHS and FEMA have indicated publicly that some states have weaknesses in response preparedness, but have not said publicly which ones.
DHS Undersecretary for Preparedness George Foresman, speaking at a House hearing earlier this year, said he is aware of states' individual abilities to respond to emergencies. But he told lawmakers that he would prefer to discuss specifics in a closed-door session and declined to answer a Government Executive reporter's question on the same matter.
Several FEMA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, characterized Louisiana and Alabama as the worst-prepared states, and described Florida as the best organized. Some FEMA officials said Florida's relationship with Washington is stronger than any other state's.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush "has a direct line to the White House," one source noted.
The FEMA sources said the agency now is devoting a greater percentage of resources to Gulf Coast states in an effort to bring them up to Florida's preparedness level.
FEMA did not respond to requests for official comment on the agency's allocation of resources as of Tuesday afternoon. Paulison's comments came during a press conference at which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a change in the 2006 hurricane forecast. NOAA is scaling back its earlier predictions, which called for as many as six major hurricanes. NOAA officials said they now believe as few as three major hurricanes will develop this year.
Paulison said NOAA's prediction would have no bearing on FEMA's preparedness efforts, or the resources it allocates.
He told reporters he remains concerned that Americans' individual preparedness for hurricanes is lacking, and that warnings and evacuation orders are not taken seriously. He said nearly 70 percent of people in areas likely to be hit by hurricanes don't have emergency kits -- which typically include food, water and medical supplies -- and many ignore evacuation warnings.
"As we approach the hurricane season, our message remains the same," said Max Mayfield, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center. "Be informed and be prepared."