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Katrina emergency response

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There are a few things that should be considered in gauging the response to date.

1. FEMA Urban Search and Rescue are considered first responders. As such they have extensive training, and deploy to be self sufficient. Their training includes all aspects that you could consider including HAZMAT, safety, emergency medicine, rescue, logistics, structural assessment and shoring. They deploy with dogs and remote sensing equipment. They train as teams, and they cross train in other areas such as water rescue. They have procedures. Untrained volunteers have often caused dangerous situations for themselves and interfere with rescue efforts. The searches are set up on gridded maps and are coordinated with other teams. They DO NOT routinely report to the media. They just do the work in a professional, organized manner. Sometimes volunteers are essential and are critical to recovery. Sometimes they get in the way, create hazards, and consume TF resources.

2. The career FEMA people take the lead. The senior politically appointed FEMA people do the press conferences and just let the professional career FEMA people do their work. During the Clinton administration, there was no FEMA head for almost 4 months. FEMA's ability was not compromised. It made no difference. They know what to do in the trenches.

3.  The FEMA TAC contracts will be next and will help the area re-construct.

4. Any emergency training at all tells people that the locals will have to be capable of taking care of themselves on a local basis for several days following a disaster. All Federal resources take time to set up and deploy. You can't deploy a force from a remote location instantly.

5. Keep in mind that this is the biggest disaster that anyone has ever attempted to manage. There will be lessons learned.

6. FEMA USAR Missouri Task Force 1 deployed early last July for a hurricane. They sat around Georgia for a while, and when it petered out and did not cause any damage they came home. It cost money, but we were positioned to respond if it did. There was no media documenting us sitting around a hotel.

Could Katrina have been managed better? Yes, with the aid of hind site. I don't recall any outcry to bolster FEMA emergency forces PRIOR to the arrival of Katrina. There is enough blame for everyone. But let's get NO back on line first. We will just do the work and let Congress tell us what we did wrong after we are done.

For the professionals there will be de-briefings to correct problems for future deployments. For the amateurs and politicians there will be Congressional hearings.

Harold Sprague

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