Mayors seek more federal support for disaster response

Local officials ask that the military no longer be viewed as a “resource of last resort.”

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Wednesday said the heavily criticized government response to Hurricane Katrina illustrates the need for a faster and reorganized national system for responding to all large-scale disasters, including terrorist attacks.

Nagin told reporters at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting that he is increasingly satisfied with the amount of resources flowing into his city in the wake of the late-August hurricane but not with the speed of their delivery.

"We need to figure out ways to move faster. The amount of support that's coming out of the federal government is looking a lot better, but it's not moving fast enough," Nagin said.

The widely reported miscommunications and poor coordination among levels of government in responding to Katrina should lead to a revamped response system, the mayor said.

"We need to reorient, redesign, reorganize our national response to these types of disasters," he said. "The circumstances and conditions of this disaster could happen in another way. It could be a terrorist attack."

Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson addressed the mayors late Thursday morning, and other department officials are scheduled to participate on Friday.

In advance of the security discussions, the Conference of Mayors on Thursday circulated a formalized version of a security plan first drafted and released in October, during Washington meetings with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

In the plan, the mayors call for more federal funding for local-level emergency responders and increased federal support to back up mutual-aid agreements among municipalities in a region. Such agreements, they say, become useless if a catastrophe requires each municipality to deploy all its resources in its own jurisdiction.

The mayors also ask that the military no longer be viewed as a "resource of last resort" in disasters, but rather be allowed to intervene immediately in catastrophes. They call for more federal funding for transportation security measures such as weapons of mass destruction detectors, and they urge the federal government to create a system whereby local emergency responders would be notified before highly toxic materials such as chlorine were shipped through their cities.

U.S. Conference of Mayors Vice President Michael Guido said Wednesday that cities need more federal funds for responding to events that could outstrip any local capacity.

"We need to have the resources necessary in order for us to respond," said Guido, the mayor of Dearborn, Mich.

During plenary talks Thursday morning, Seattle's Greg Nickels told fellow mayors that anthrax attacks and smallpox fears have given cities a leg up on planning for a potential avian flu epidemic.

"We've all had a lot of opportunity to work on the idea of preparedness," Nickels said. He called on cities to step up education and planning efforts for large-scale disease outbreaks.

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