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US Not Prepared for Catastrophe: Official Report
Published on Saturday, June 17, 2006 by Agence France Presse
US Not Prepared for Catastrophe: Official Report

The United States is not prepared to cope with a large-scale terrorist attack or a powerful hurricane, the US Department of Homeland Security has said in a report.

The Nationwide Plan Review, conducted in response to directives from President George W. Bush and Congress, examined whether the emergency plans of cities and states were adequate to manage another tragedy.

"The majority of the nation's current emergency operations plans and planning processes cannot be characterized as fully sufficient to manage catatrophic events," the report said.

"Significant weaknesses in evacuation planning are an area of profound concern," it said, adding that the capabilities to receive and care of large numbers of evacuees were found to be "inadequate."

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement: "Most areas of the country are well-prepared to handle standard situations."

But the review findings "demonstrate the need for all levels of government across the country to improve emergency operations plans for catastrophic events such as a major terrorist attack or (top) category-five hurricane strike," it said.

"Several areas, including evacuation, attention to populations with special needs, command structure and resource management, were areas needing significant attention," it said.

The report also lists measures the federal government needs to take to improve and coordinate disaster planning.

The findings "unequivocally support the need to modernize planning processes, products and tools, and to move our national emergency planning efforts to the next level needed for catastrophic events," said George Foresman, the department's under-secretary for preparedness.

"It is a natural evolution towards working together as a nation to implement the lessons from seminal events such as the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina," he said in a statement.

Authorities at all levels of government were blasted over their response to Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,300 people and displaced tens of thousands along the US Gulf coast in August last year.

The city of New Orleans is still struggling to recover and engineers have warned its levees may not withstand another Katrina-style battering.

Some groups warn Louisiana is especially vulnerable to hurricanes this season, because erosion continues to eat away a chunk of Louisiana's coastal wetlands the size of a football field every 30 minutes.

Scientists and environmental activists say that the wetlands are nature's barriers against hurricanes.

The Nationwide Plan Review comes two weeks into the hurricane season, which started June 1. US weather experts are forecasting between eight to 10 hurricanes -- as many as six of them major -- in the Atlantic basin this year.

The review was conducted in all 56 states and territories and 75 urban areas over six months.

The emergency plans were compared to pre-Katrina standards by review teams that included former state and local homeland security and emergency management officials.

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse


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