Maryland among states to get FEMA coordinator

April 14, 2006|By CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Maryland disaster officials praised yesterday a federal move to provide one-stop federal assistance for Maryland and 12 other states in time for the hurricane season.

The Homeland Security Department's decision Wednesday to designate a federal official in Maryland to coordinate federal hurricane assistance was among the key recommendations of a 2004 Maryland Department of Planning report produced after the state was devastated by Tropical Storm Isabel.

"They want to make sure each state and jurisdiction can pick up the phone and say, `We need this, this, this and this,'" said Maryland Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeff Welsh. "Once they sort out the responsibilities, I'm sure it will help. There's a value in knowing who to talk to."

When hurricane season begins June 1, the new federal coordinators also will be in place in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and New York, the Department of Homeland Security said.

Tropical Storm Isabel ravaged Maryland's bay waterfront counties in September 2003. In response to that storm, the Department of Planning issued a report of lessons learned, including the need for a single FEMA official to be designated to Maryland. The protocol in place in 2003 provided a federal officer be assigned to a state only after a declaration of disaster was made.

"FEMA guidance was inconsistent," the report said. "Differing interpretations of guidelines were offered. It would have been more efficient if FEMA had provided federal forms or reporting documents to MEMA and state agencies prior to the storm."

That report was released in September 2004. Hurricane Katrina fallout spurred action.

"In Louisiana and Mississippi, people didn't know who to turn to," Welsh said. "This is about the ability of the federal government to provide the support that people want."

Ruth Masceri, deputy director of MEMA's planning directorate, said that although the group of federal coordinating officers has always been good, having one assigned to the state is a necessary improvement.

"It's a very positive and proactive step," Masceri said. "And I'm happy to see it."

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