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Hurricane response changes to be done by June 1, security chief says

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON- Systems to track supplies, help victims and deliver quick information to all levels of government during a disaster will be ready by the June 1 start of the 2006 hurricane season, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday.

The changes are among 11 top emergency response priorities identified by the White House after last year's plodding federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

Chertoff said all 11 changes will be in place by the hurricane season's start, but he said much of the success or failure in responding to disasters will depend on how well state and local officials work with Washington and have their own emergency plans in place.

"This is a case where we ... all hang together or we hang separately," Chertoff told The Associated Press. "We've got to be operating jointly. We've got to be in partnership."

Additionally, a second senior Homeland Security official said federal responders are being recruited now as disaster-site coordinators for states along the Eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico coastline to be able to go quickly by June 1. They will begin immediately to train and work with state and local authorities, said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Chertoff was expected to announce the change at a hurricane conference Wednesday in Orlando, Florida, in the center of the Hurricane Belt.

The 11 changes are among 125 recommendations White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend proposed last month within a federal "lessons learned" review of Katrina. They demand restructuring changes, such as giving the military a greater role in coordinating a federal response, updating the national emergency alert system and getting aid to victims faster.

Many of the other recommendations will take longer to complete, Chertoff said.

Trina Sheets, executive director of the National Emergency Management Association, said state responders have seen little evidence that reforms are being enacted.

"To be honest, we haven't seen the hard proof yet of what is actually taking place," Sheets said. "We're hearing about these things, but we haven't seen any new policy or organizational changes, or new procedures being announced for states to be prepared to implement."

She said the organization, which comprises emergency management officers from all 50 states, supports putting a federal disaster coordinator in place now. But it opposes plans to tap a point person to oversee disaster response, as Homeland Security intends, for fear it would create another layer of bureaucracy.

That point person during Katrina initially was Michael Brown, then the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who quit under fire two weeks after the Aug. 29 storm hit.

The Transportation Department is reviewing and evaluating evacuation plans for five Gulf Coast states, and has improved its tracking system of trucks involved in relief and recovery operations, said department spokesman Brian Turmail.


Associated Press writer Leslie Miller contributed to this report.

On the Net:

Homeland Security Department: http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/

National Emergency Management Association: http://www.nemaweb.org/

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