- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said yesterday that federal, state and local government authorities were unprepared for Hurricane Katrina and challenged law-enforcement officials nationwide to work together to better prepare for and respond to disasters.

“The lessons learned during and after Katrina will make our nation stronger in the future, not just for the next hurricane season but for any natural or man-made disaster,” Mr. Gonzales told the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington. “And those lessons don’t begin and end with evacuation plans and bottled water.”

Mr. Gonzales said that when thousands of people were left homeless after Katrina tore through the Gulf states, it became clear that “we are not as prepared as we need to be at all levels within the country — federal, state, local and individual.”

“Now begins the work of implementation. … It’s not going to be easy and will require the partnership of everyone to make our nation more prepared,” he said. “But one thing will stay the same: State and local professionals, including the National Guard, will still be the key first responders.

“We will only step in at the federal level if the situation on the ground overwhelms the capabilities of local resources, and then and only at the request of state leaders,” Mr. Gonzales said.

He said the Justice Department is examining ways that it can help state and local officials plan for an emergency, including how to assess whether federal assistance is needed and how to request it.

“That must be a two-way conversation, and it can start today,” he said.

The Bush administration, heavily criticized for its Katrina response, recently released a report detailing lessons learned during the government’s response to Katrina, including more than 100 recommendations for improving its ability to prepare for and respond to disasters.

One recommendation requires that federal, state and local law-enforcement authorities work together on the deployment of federal resources, establishment of law-enforcement coordination centers and deputizing of officers to enforce federal and state laws.

Mr. Gonzales also said:

• The department has focused on six major priorities: fighting terrorism, combating violent crime, drug trafficking and cybercrime, protecting civil rights and preserving government integrity.

• Although improvements have been made since the September 11 attacks, the department needs to do a better job of sharing information with state and local authorities on the war on terrorism.

• The warrantless surveillance program is a necessary tool in fighting terrorists, giving the government the ability to monitor communications between those thought to be tied to al Qaeda.

• In partnership with the department’s criminal division and the Office of Inspector General, the FBI has dedicated significant resources to rooting out public corruption.

• A new program will strengthen the fight against violent gangs across the country.

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