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September is 'National Preparedness Month'

As the federal government fends off criticism it has moved too slowly and with too few resources in response to Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security and the Red Cross have launched an event with an ironic theme: “National Preparedness Month.”

“Get a kit, make a plan, be informed, get involved,” DHS advises on its website, in urging Americans to always be ready for any emergency contingency.

The department said in a news release 190 organizations in all 56 U.S. states and territories “have joined the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the American Red Cross to increase public awareness about the importance of preparing for emergencies.”

It said the purpose of the annual event, created in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, is “to encourage individuals to take action” to provide for themselves in an emergency.

“The devastation and tragic loss of life caused by Hurricane Katrina earlier this week reinforce the urgency of our coalition’s work,” said DHS chief Michael Chertoff. “We urge all Americans to take some simple steps to prepare for emergencies including getting an emergency supply kit, making a family emergency plan and learning more about how to respond to emergencies that could affect your area.”

Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross, adds, “In the terrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there could be no more important message than the need for Americans to get prepared for the next disaster.”

The event kicked off on the heels of one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. And despite DHS’ theme of readiness, it and the other federal agencies responsible for managing relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, are being heavily criticized for perceived incompetence.

The lead organization, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and its director, Michael Brown, are coming under especially harsh scrutiny.

Brown, who was fired from his previous private-sector job overseeing horse shows, has been criticized for having little to no previous disaster management experience. A one-time Republican Party activist, Brown became deputy director of FEMA in 2001 but had no significant experience that would have qualified him for the position prior to joining the agency.

In addition, his agency is being blamed for actually impeding some relief efforts. In Katrina’s immediate aftermath, volunteers from all over the country mobilized resources and began to make their way towards the hardest-hit areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama – only to be stopped by FEMA officials, reports say.

In one instance, Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard said Sunday during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” FEMA officials turned away three trailer trucks filled with water, forbade the Coast Guard from providing emergency diesel fuel and actually cut emergency power lines.

In an angry response, Broussard pleaded for the agency to call in all “force immediately, without red tape, without bureaucracy, act immediately with common sense and leadership, and save lives.”

Those charges echo similar claims made by a WorldNetDaily reader and former resident of New Orleans who has centuries-old family ties to the Louisiana and Mississippi regions. He told WND in an e-mail that scores of rescuers with buses, boats, food and other provisions responding to calls from local authorities – some from as far away as Texas – all were turned away by FEMA officials.

For its part, FEMA says it has to “manage” the rescue and response efforts in order to make the best, economical use of available resources and to ensure that rescuers don’t become a burden themselves, thereby worsening an already bad situation.

FEMA spokeswoman Natalie Rule told the Associated Press yesterday that unsolicited offers of help and assistance have been hard for the agency to handle.

“You can imagine some of the actual problem of everyone just driving toward the disaster zone,” she told AP, as other officials working within the agency admitted long lines of volunteers flooding into the hard-hit regions were being stopped.

“Anyone who self-responded was not being put to work. The military was worried about having more people in the city. They want to limit it to the professionals,” Kevin Southerland, a captain with Orange Fire Department in Orange County, Calif., told AP.

As to National Preparedness Month, the department says its efforts are aimed at increasing “public awareness about the importance of preparing for emergencies and to encourage individuals to take action.”

Americans, the agency advises, should “take some simple steps to prepare for emergencies including getting an emergency supply kit, making a family emergency plan, being informed about different threats and getting involved in preparing their communities.”

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