The Federal Emergency Management Agency is more prepared than ever for the 2007 hurricane season, having at the ready helicopters, generators, disaster medical teams and road clearing crews to react within hours, according to FEMA Director R. David Paulison.
“So don’t believe the stories that you’ve heard that FEMA and the federal government are not ready,” Paulison told a crowd of emergency responders and others at the Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference.
The former Miami-Dade County fire chief assured the group that his agency is “a different FEMA, a new FEMA,” one that has made solid partnerships with local governments and is prepared to deploy staff and supplies even before disaster declarations are issued.
“You won’t see what happened with (Hurricane) Katrina happen again in this country,” said Paulison, who was tapped by President Bush to replace former FEMA head Michael Brown in 2005 amid national scrutiny for the agency’s slow response to Katrina.
Paulison cited FEMA’s quick response to a tornado that wiped out an entire Kansas town nearly two weeks ago, noting that federal teams were on the ground within hours of the storm and supplies were rolling in even before they were requested.
Paulison also asked for help as the agency retools.
“I want you to come work for FEMA,” he said, adding that he has authorization to hire 750 new staffers over the next three years.
“We’re not done yet … we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I want this agency to be what you want it to be and that’s an agency that serves you and stands right beside you, not taking over.”
Gov. Charlie Crist said the state is also prepared for the hurricane season set to begin June 1, and has developed strong partnerships with emergency responders in all 67 counties.
“Team work is the watch word of what we do in Florida,” Crist said.
He said the state was prepared to enforce a law enacted last year that requires all 254 gas stations along evacuation routes to have generators.
“We found out a couple of days ago that only about half of those gas stations are prepared,” Crist said, adding that he has sent letters to them all and enforcement will follow if they do not have generators by June 1.
“We’re very pleased with how prepared we are for this season,” he said.
Forecasters are predicting a busy 2007 season, with 17 named storms – five of them major hurricanes – expected to form over the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
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