Report: States Not Disaster Ready

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff pauses during remarks to the National Emergency Management Association on Monday, Feb. 13, 2006 in Alexandria, Va.
AP
Fewer than half of the 50 states say they are prepared to respond to a catastrophic disaster like Hurricane Katrina, a Homeland Security Department analysis shows — and many are still struggling to meet federal guidelines for evacuations.

Louisiana officials, who were overwhelmed by the Aug. 29 storm, reported they feel confident in their plans to respond to future catastrophes. Louisiana officials also said they are somewhat confident in their ability to evacuate victims from disaster sites, according to the Feb. 10 report to Congress.

The Homeland Security analysis, which was ordered by Congress and President George W. Bush, was released as the department has come under fire for its response to Katrina.

A Republican-written House report blamed governmentwide ineptitude for mishandling Katrina relief. A report by Congress' investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, reached similar conclusions and singled out Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for delays.

Former FEMA chief Michael Brown told a Senate panel last week that he dealt directly with the White House in Katrina's aftermath rather than with what he described as a bumbling Homeland Security bureaucracy. Brown said that under Chertoff's leadership, the agency was preoccupied with terror threats at the expense of preparing for natural disasters.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush has full confidence in Chertoff and has not considered asking him to step down in the wake of the criticism.

"Secretary Chertoff is doing a great job," McClellan said Tuesday. "The president appreciates his strong leadership."

However, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reiterated an earlier call for Chertoff to resign. The recent criticism about Chertoff's performance during Katrina "only adds to my displeasure with our secretary," Reid said.

The Senate committee purposely saved Chertoff for last, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, who adds that the panel has used the previous hearings to build a Katrina timeline. On Wednesday, the senators plan to grill Chertoff about it and will try to get him to fill in some of the blanks.

The Homeland Security analysis compiles self-assessments by the 50 states, five U.S. territories, the District of Columbia and the nation's 75 largest cities.

In the survey, 47 states reported that their emergency response plans meet federal standards. Two states, West Virginia and Hawaii, said their basic plans do not, while Wyoming did not respond.

Twenty states, including Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Alabama — all of which were slammed by massive hurricanes last year — said they felt confident about their plan to respond to a catastrophe. Fourteen states said they were only somewhat confident, while another 13 reported they were not confident about their plans to manage a catastrophe. Three states, including Mississippi, which was also rocked by Katrina, did not respond.

Only five states, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Virginia and Connecticut, said they were confident their evacuation plans would work during a catastrophe. Eighteen others, including Louisiana, said they were somewhat confident. Twenty-two states said their evacuation plans would not be adequate; five others did not answer.

A spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the state's catastrophic response and evacuation plans were updated after Katrina hit.

"A lot of the lessons were learned before (Hurricane) Rita," Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said Tuesday. She noted that officials directly called homes and helped those in nursing homes and hospitals get out before the Sept. 24 storm.