Ex-Honcho Blasts FEMA

In light of all the criticism heaped on the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina, is the agency ready for another disaster of Katrina proportions?

A former chief of staff says the agency is even worse off today than it was when Katrina stormed ashore late last August.

Jane Bullock toldThe Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith Tuesday she doesn't think the nation is ready for another Katrina.

"I don't think the steps have been taken that the federal government would be there to help the state and local governments should we have another Katrina disaster," Bullock said.

With forecasters predicting that the upcoming hurricane season will be bad, though perhaps not as bad as the last one, FEMA hasn't done anything to change itself fundamentally to assure that it will be ready next time, despite the unrelenting barrage of criticism fired its way over its post-Katrina performance, Bullock says.

"In fact," she said, "things have gotten worse. They've separated the preparedness from the response. People who normally would work together getting ready to prepare for the hurricane and then respond no longer work together. What's the coordination going to be like? State and local governments are not interacting with the federal government so that, when it occurs, we're not sitting down with the state saying, 'What are your needs? What can we do to help you?'

"And, has the federal government exercised? Have they gotten together and said, 'OK, if we have another major Category 4 or 5, what is my role, and will I have the supplies there?'

"Will there be enough helicopters to bring in generators and to evacuate people? Have they done anything to pre-deploy assets? I don't think those steps have been taken."

Bullock said the fault wouldn't be at the local level: "Some of our state and local governments have made great strides, and we have excellent state and local emergency managers. But, if we have a major hurricane, their assets are going to be overwhelmed, as we saw in Katrina, and they're going to look to FEMA and the federal government. The question is, will the federal government be there? And who will be in charge? We currently don't even have a (permanent) head for FEMA."

She added: "I don't think there's a prospect of (the system) being fixed until the administration and the Department of Homeland Security make a commitment to helping people in disasters. During the '90s, FEMA worked. FEMA was there to help people. They knew they could count on the government. I don't think anybody, now, can count on the government being there for them during times of disaster.

"I think people living behind levees in places like New Orleans and other areas really need to be worried and really need to think about what they're going to do when a storm comes."
  • Brian Dakss

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