President Bush says the federal government has learned lessons from the mixed response to last year's killer hurricane along America's Gulf Coast.
President Bush says he was not satisfied with the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. The storm killed more than 1,300 people along the Gulf of Mexico Coast and destroyed much of the region's infrastructure.
So he appointed a commission to look at what went wrong. Accepting that commission's report at a White House Cabinet meeting, the president said there is much that could have been done differently.
"We will learn from the lessons of the past to better protect the American people," said President Bush. "We have made a strong commitment to the people of the Gulf Coast and we will honor that commitment as well. The report helps us anticipate how to better respond to future disaster."
The report, prepared by Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend, looks at how federal, state and local governments, the private sector, and community leaders can improve disaster preparedness.
It outlines 17 lessons the Bush administration has learned, 125 specific recommendations, and 11 changes to make before the next hurricane season begins June 1.
Among those, Townsend says, are improving federal support for local law enforcement, much of which was overwhelmed by the storm.
"While the national response plan called for federal law enforcement capabilities to be available to back-fill that vacuum, the response was slow and disjoined," she said. "One key recommendation is that the attorney general take the lead in fixing this problem and put in place a deputization process so federal officials can immediately be deployed so we know what federal law enforcement assets are available."
The report calls for a National Preparedness System to unify federal, state, and local responses to natural disaster or terrorist attack.
Opposition Democrats leading the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana criticized President Bush for the slow federal response to the storm, including delays in the arrival of National Guard troops to restore order.
Ms. Townsend says the Pentagon must be prepared to play a greater role in responding to natural disaster.
"When state and local first responders are overwhelmed or incapacitated, it may be that our military is the last and only resort," she said. "We need to plan and prepare for the Department of Defense to play a significant supporting role during future catastrophic events."
Ms. Townsend says there must be action to improve communications, designate locations for staging emergency material and personnel and update the national emergency alert system.