- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 2005

The federal government has learned its lesson and has placed food, water, communications gear, supplies and emergency workers in Florida ahead of Hurricane Wilma, a homeland security adviser said yesterday.

Before Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast almost seven weeks ago, “the sense of everyone who had been involved at that point was that we were appropriately positioned and we had the right mechanisms in place,” said Frances Townsend, a homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.

“It turned out we were all wrong. We had not adequately anticipated,” she said.

Although meteorologists yesterday were not sure exactly where Hurricane Wilma would make landfall, most forecasts showed the storm striking the southwest coast of Florida within the next few days. Mandatory evacuations for some areas are under way, and forecasters warned that major cities on the peninsula’s Atlantic Coast, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, could be hit by strong wind and heavy rain.

A 12-member team of federal government employees, headed by Mrs. Townsend, has been conducting a review of the Katrina response, which was fraught with communication and coordination failures and confusion over who had primary authority and responsibility during the aftermath.

The “lessons learned” exercise has prompted the federal government to make “enhanced” preparations, which include:

• The Pentagon and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are deploying more communications equipment to the areas Wilma might damage.

• The Pentagon’s U.S. Northern Command in Colorado, the federal agency in charge of homeland security, has stationed planners inside FEMA headquarters in Washington so the military can be dispatched as quickly as possible to the right places.

• Larger numbers of federal officials have been sent to the region to provide on-the-ground coordination with state and local authorities.

• Increased amounts of food, water and ice are ready in the region.

FEMA’s acting director, R. David Paulison, said the biggest problem with the Katrina response was a lack of awareness of the situation on the ground by officials in charge. He said FEMA will have 300 satellite telephones in Florida and additional personnel at key locations across the state.

“We’re going to have situational awareness over this storm to make sure that we know what’s going on and we can provide the equipment and supplies that a particular community needs,” he said. “I think it is significantly different than what happened in Katrina.”

Mrs. Townsend said that although the White House review was not complete, “we will make incremental policy changes to improve our nation’s emergency response and capability, and not wait until the end of the review.”

“The president has made perfectly clear that he was not satisfied with our response last time. His concern is with the next time, and ensuring that we strengthen our response capability to make sure we are both more efficient and effective,” she said.

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