U.S. Draws 2006 Hurricane Frontlines

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff speaks at a travel summit in Washington, April 11, 2006. The government is on pace to have 11 priority response reforms completed by the June 1 start of hurricane season.
As Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff Hurricane Katrina was a "wake-up call" for disaster responders, hurricane-ravaged St. Bernard Parish is considering hiring former FEMA chief Michael Brown to advise its hurricane recovery effort, a move drawing sharp complaints.

"Do we hire an individual to assist in our recovery efforts who as FEMA director resigned two weeks after Katrina made landfall?" asked Republican state Sen. Walter Boasso. "We were in the middle of the worst natural disaster in our nation's history."

The news of Brown being considered comes less than a week after President Bush nominated Brown's successor, R. David Paulison, to be the permanent FEMA head.

Chertoff meanwhile urged officials to have evacuation routes set and emergency plans in place before the start of this year's storm season.

Chertoff, in Orlando to meet with Gulf Coast state emergency managers and attend an annual hurricane preparedness conference, also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency should not be considered the front line of defense in future disasters.

In preparing for the upcoming hurricane season, now seven weeks away, "I think some parts (of the Gulf Coast) are readier than others," Chertoff said in an interview with The Associated Press during his flight to Orlando. "I think this has been a great wake-up call."

St. Bernard officials have called the talks about hiring Brown preliminary, and parish spokesman Steve Cannizaro said Wednesday that they had not yet decided whether to hire Brown.

Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez said Brown's understanding of the system's red tape would speed the flow of federal recovery money. He said he and three council members had met with Brown informally while they were in Washington, D.C., lobbying for recovery assistance and agreed to hear his pitch as a consultant.

Hurricane Katrina killed 129 people and destroyed 26,000 homes in the parish after it hit in August. FEMA immediately came under fire for the slow government response to the disaster, and Brown was relieved of his command in the stricken region and recalled to Washington Sept. 9; he resigned three days later.

Now, in what's being called an overhaul of Homeland Security and FEMA, disaster coordinators are slated to be in place along the Gulf Coase and mid-Atlantic states before the June 1 hurricane season start this year, CBS' Brian Andrews reports.

Brown's sullied reputation recovered slightly after a videotape was released recently showing him warning President Bush a day before the hurricane that it would be "the big one" and "the bad one" and that New Orleans-area levees could be topped.

Like previous FEMA directors, Brown has formed a consulting company that tries to help businesses and communities negotiate the maze of federal bureaucracy.

Federal rules prohibit him from lobbying his former agency directly for another five months, but he could tell parish officials how to deal with the agency. He has said he hopes to help St. Bernard get publicity for its plight.

The City of New Orleans has no plans to seek Brown's advice, City Council President Oliver Thomas told CNN Wednesday. He said he wishes Brown and the other parishes well but quoted a line from what he said had become a school children's poem.

"In New Orleans, we're not down with Michael Brown, we were glad when he left town," he said.