FEMA head says it has improved

Communication, equipment ills addressed

June 18, 2006|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

GULFPORT, Miss. -- Federal emergency officials say they have improved the logistics, communication and equipment problems that were exposed by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma last year.

David Paulison, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters in a conference call Friday that his office has worked since last hurricane season to fix the issues that left many people without help after devastating storms.

"We have a lot of issues inside of FEMA," he said. "There were a lot of systems that were not in place and a lot of things that need to be fixed. FEMA was not brought into the 21st century."

One of the major problems was getting food, ice and water to people in areas hit by storms, particularly Katrina. Paulison said the agency did not have enough supplies and didn't know where the trucks went.

"There was no ability to track where those supplies were once they left our warehouse," he said. "We didn't do that very well."

This year, the agency purchased tracking systems for trucks carrying supplies, and they are installed.

Paulison said the amount of supplies was also a problem.

"There were not enough supplies to deal with what we had to deal with," he said. "We should have had more in stock."

Before Katrina, FEMA had 160 tractor-trailers filled with food.

Now, there are nearly 800.

For this hurricane season, FEMA will have a unified command system to promote better communication among local, state and federal agencies, which was a big problem in New Orleans after Katrina, Paulison said.

But Butch Loper, director of the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, said there were communication issues in Mississippi that needed to be addressed.

"Even when you could talk to the state they wouldn't listen to you," he said.

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