- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

Most of America is not prepared for a catastrophic event waged by terrorists or Mother Nature, according to a Homeland Security report released yesterday of 75 cities and the 50 states.

“The majority of the nation’s current emergency operations plans and planning processes cannot be characterized as fully sufficient to manage catastrophic events,” says the study called for by President Bush after last year’s disastrous hurricane season.

The study found that New Orleans’ current emergency plans are not “adequate,” “acceptable” or “feasible.”

Only 27 percent of state plans and 10 percent of urban plans were rated as “sufficient” in terms of adequacy to cope with a catastrophic event.

The 11 states with “sufficient” plans to handle a catastrophe are Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont.

Virginia, targeted by terrorists on September 11, was given “sufficient” ratings except for its ability to issue warnings, plan evacuations or provide massive health care. Nearly 70 percent of Washington’s plans were deemed partially sufficient.

Cities chosen for the study include 55 municipalities participating in this year’s Urban Areas Security Initiative grant program, plus an additional 20 based on population.

Nearly $240 billion has been allocated by Congress to the Homeland Security Department since its creation, but officials say only recently have states set aside money for disaster planning.

“Basic plans do not adequately address continuity of operations or government, and do not define who is in charge. The special needs of the elderly and handicapped are also not addressed,” the study says.

Timely emergency warning systems are lacking, and “the ability to give the public accurate, timely, and useful information and instructions through the emergency period should be strengthened.”

“Significant weaknesses in evacuation planning are an area of profound concern,” the study says. “Capabilities to manage reception and care for large numbers of evacuees are inadequate. Capabilities to track patients under emergency or disaster conditions and license of out-of-state medical personnel are limited.”

George Foresman, Homeland Security undersecretary for preparedness, said officials nationwide are mostly prepared for a common-scale event, but not for a major one.

He said the review shows 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.”

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee called the report “a badly needed wake-up call to … dramatically step up their planning efforts.

“The Nationwide Plan Review is an all-points bulletin calling out for more and better catastrophic planning in states and cities across the nation,” Miss Collins said.

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