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Homeland Security says states and cities still not ready for catastrophes

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON- Cities and states remain unprepared for catastrophes, a new Homeland Security Department analysis concludes, despite threats of terrorism, hurricanes and pandemic flu.

Most of the 131 emergency response plans reviewed by the department still fail to designate a clear chain of command during disasters, the analysis found. It also described weaknesses in planning for evacuations as "an area of profound concern."

"The majority of the nation's current emergency operations plans and planning processes cannot be characterized as fully adequate, feasible, or acceptable to manage catastrophic events," the concluded the review, obtained Thursday evening by The Associated Press.

President Bush ordered the review of state and city emergency plans in a speech in New Orleans last Sept. 15, weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city. It analyzes response and evacuation procedures for all 50 states, the nation's 75 largest cities and six U.S. territories.

The review noted several shortcomings on the federal government's part, calling on Washington to deliver clearer guidance and up-to-date preparedness data to state and local officials. It also urged better collaboration with private businesses to help evacuate disabled people and with charities and other non-governmental services to stockpile aid for disaster victims.

It criticized the states and cities for failing to address emergency needs for sick, elderly or poor people unable to help themselves. And it found that disaster warnings and other alerts remain slow in going out to the public.

Overall, plans for major disasters are antiquated and don't link into any national system, the review found. "The current status of plans and planning gives grounds for significant national concern," it noted.

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