- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Federal officials are employing numerous military resources in preparation for the 2006 hurricane season, with the hope of avoiding a repeat of last year’s disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Gulf Coast.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)/U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard will be first-responders if storms strike, according to the National Hurricane Center. The center predicts as many as 10 hurricanes this season, which begins June 1.

Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, calls the coordination historic and says officials already have been assigned full time to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 10 regional offices.

“[The Defense Department] has tremendous assets to bring to bear in order to assist that civilian-led response to any major disaster that might occur, including a hurricane during the next several months,” Mr. McHale said. “Those assets have now been identified; those assets are ready for deployment. We are better prepared than at any point in our nation’s history to move that assistance as rapidly as is humanly possible.”

The multiagency response was outlined yesterday at a press conference lead by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, along with Mr. McHale, new FEMA chief R. David Paulison, NORAD commander Adm. Timothy J. Keating and Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

“Experience shows that even with the best of planning, we’re going to face some unprecedented challenges and some unforeseen events,” Mr. Chertoff said. “But if we begin with a good plan, and we have a good plan, we will be in a far better position to coordinate our assistance this year with state and local governments.”

Military officials will assist civil authorities with transportation, communications, public works assistance, public health needs and evacuations.

State and federal officials today are finishing a two-day drill in New Orleans to prepare for an event on the scale of last year’s Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. New technology is being tested, as well as evacuation and shelter procedures.

New Orleans police told the Associated Press that National Guard troops may be stationed with police throughout the city before storms, and a dusk-to-dawn curfew would be in place once an evacuation is ordered.

“There will be no command or control issues this year,” Gen. Blum said at the press conference. “It’s our jobs to save lives, not waste time arguing.”