Agencies better prepared for terrorist attacks, report says

Government agencies are better prepared to respond to terrorist attacks thanks to training and guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office. FEMA has provided better guidance to federal, state, and local agencies on handling the aftermath of terrorist acts and has expanded its emergency response training courses since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, Okla., said GAO in its report, "Combating Terrorism: FEMA Continues to Make Progress in Coordinating Preparedness and Response" (GAO-01-15). Following the tragedy in Oklahoma City, President Clinton issued a directive formalizing FEMA's role in coordinating and managing the government's response to acts of terrorism. Since then, FEMA has helped states develop emergency management plans, improved its cooperation with other agencies, such as the FBI, and expanded its use of grants to encourage state and local agencies to hone their preparedness programs. FEMA and the FBI are the lead agencies in handling domestic threats and acts, according to a plan released in February and signed by several Clinton administration agency heads shortly before President Bush took office in January. GAO said improvements have been made "across the board" in creating a federal emergency response plan that serves as a model for states' plans and increasing the number of emergency response teams to deal with mass casualties. FEMA has made progress in making sure states' emergency response plans are tested regularly and sufficiently meet federal standards, the report said. "Through FEMA's and other agencies' efforts, the types, numbers and complexity of terrorism preparedness exercises to test states' response plans have increased significantly over the past five years," the report said. The exercises include a combination of scenarios that could involve weapons of mass destruction. FEMA's budget for terrorism-related activities has increased by $16.4 million since 1999. Bush's fiscal 2002 budget includes $5 million to help prepare for potential terrorist threats during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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