September 11, 2005


Lack of plan hurt Katrina-hit states' response (Dara Kam, Alan Gomez, September 10, 2005, Palm Beach Post)

One thing Florida knows is hurricanes.

Florida emergency planners criticized and even rebuked their counterparts -- or what passes for emergency planners -- in those states for their handling of Hurricane Katrina. Gov. Jeb Bush, the head of Florida AHCA and the head of Florida wildlife (which is responsible for all search and rescue) all said they made offers of aid to Mississippi and Louisiana the day before Katrina hit but were rebuffed. After the storm, they said they've had to not only help provide people to those states but also have had to develop search and rescue plans for them. "They were completely unprepared -- as bad off as we were before Andrew," one Florida official said.

And how Louisiana and Mississippi officials have handled Hurricane Katrina is a far cry from what emergency managers here would have done. Mississippi was in the middle of rewriting its disaster plan when Katrina struck. Officials there were still analyzing what went wrong during Hurricane Dennis earlier this year when Katrina overtook them. Search teams from Florida were rescuing Mississippi victims before law enforcement officers there were even aware of the magnitude of the disaster.

Louisiana also lacked an adequate plan to evacuate New Orleans, despite years of research that predicted a disaster equal to or worse than Katrina. Even after a disaster test run last year exposed weaknesses in evacuation and recovery, officials failed to come up with solutions.

"They're where we were in 1992, exactly," said Col. Julie Jones, director of law enforcement for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in a reference to Florida's state of emergency preparedness before Hurricane Andrew devastated southern Miami-Dade County. Since then, Florida has created what many consider a model emergency management system, initially developed by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles in response to Andrew and beefed up considerably by Gov. Jeb Bush in response to more than a dozen storms that have hit the state since he took office in 1998, including a record four hurricanes last year.

The state, under Bush, has learned even from storms that did not hit here. Bush was mortified by the long, stalled lines of cars fleeing from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and ordered a study of evacuation alternatives that led to the state's current plan to convert certain highways to northern-only routes.

Meanwhile, Florida's western neighbors haven't faced as many storms, and their emergency preparedness apparently has not evolved as Florida's has.

No sense being ready until it's happened at least once...

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2005 8:40 AM
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