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Changes in Preparedness and Relief Systems as 2006 Hurricane Season Approaches


Top U.S. hurricane experts are predicting another severe season this year, though they say it is not likely to be quite as bad as the record setting 2005 U.S. hurricane season. As the season approaches, FEMA -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- and the Red Cross are promising changes in how they respond to such disasters. As Amy Katz reports, the moves come after the organizations were criticized heavily for their slow responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year.

The Director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center, Max Mayfield, says 2005 was a record year for hurricanes. "I suspect that nearly everybody in this audience is thinking it could never be worse as far as deaths and damages than we had last year. Today I am hoping to convince you otherwise."

He made the remarks at a recent national hurricane conference -- where he also said he does not expect that this season.

Another top U.S. hurricane expert, Colorado State University's William Gray, says forecasters predict this year will be fairly active -- as hurricane seasons have been in nine of the last 11 years. "Atlantic surface temperatures are very warm now. We are in this active period that we can expect to last another 15 to 20 years."

As another season of big storms approaches, the U.S. federal government is changing its procedures for emergency preparedness -- which were highly criticized after a slow response to Hurricane Katrina last year.

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff promises things will be different this year. "We have to be really honest with ourselves about what our capabilities are and what are the gaps in capability -- what states and locals {governments} can do, and what they can't do."

FEMA acting Director David Paulison vows his agency will be much better prepared this time around. "None of us can do it alone, because effective emergency management requires a team approach and that partnership has to be on all levels of government and all disciplines of emergency management."

Traditionally, the Red Cross has stepped in with immediate relief. But some survivors of last year's storms criticized the group's response. One survivor says, "Send the Red Cross in. Definitely. We ain't (have not) seen the Red Cross nowheres (anywhere)."

Joe Becker of the American Red Cross says the organization has learned a lot from its mistakes of last year. "If you think about the scope and scale, I am not sure we imagined some of our responses need to be as large what ended up happening last fall."

Peter Dobkin Hall -- a researcher at Harvard University -- does not think the Red Cross can solve its own problems. He says the U.S. Congress should get involved. "The intervention has to be done by people who are completely independent of the Red Cross. And they have to be backed up by a public authority that can ensure the recommendations are followed."

With another severe storm season approaching, residents of coastal areas are hoping the promised improvements will be made -- and the response will be better this year.

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