WASHINGTON – Maryland disaster officials Thursday praised a federal move to provide one-stop federal assistance for it and 12 other states just in time for the hurricane season.
In fact, 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 on 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, according to an announcement by Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff.
This organizational shuffling is in response to the federal government’s inadequate and sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, which struck the nation?s Gulf region on Aug. 29.
By all accounts, 2006 is going to be a busy hurricane year.
William Gray and Philip Klotzbach, leaders of a top prediction team at Colorado State University, predict above average hurricane activity for the Atlantic basin. Their 2006 forecast calls for 17 tropical storms, above the yearly average of 9.6, and nine hurricanes, above the yearly average of 2.3. Though the Atlantic will be in its 11th consecutive year of heightened activity, the 2006 season is not expected to be as active seasons of 2005 and 2004.
But long before Hurricane Katrina?s devastation, 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. It specifically called for a single FEMA official to be designated to Maryland. The protocol in place in 2003 provided a federal officer only be assigned to a state 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 so that the state workers can collect the appropriate information.”
That report was released in September 2004, although the recommendation was not acted on, however 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, MEMA’s planning directorate deputy director, contributed to the report, and she said although the group of federal coordinating officers has always been very 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.” – 30 ? CNS-4-13-06