A federal government plan for responding to emergencies will not be ready in time for the approaching hurricane season, officials have told Congress.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which bore the brunt of criticism following the 2005 season when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, sent an advisory to Congress last week acknowledging it will not meet its June 1 deadline for issuing a new national response plan.
The Atlantic hurricane season is officially from June 1 to Nov. 30, according to the Web site of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. Nearly all hurricane and tropical storm activity occurs in that six-month period. Early September is the most-active period.
The FEMA advisory said development of the new plan had been delayed by unexpected issues, and more time is needed to resolve them. No new target date was set. In the meantime, a modified version of the plan in place during Katrina will be followed.
"Every post-Katrina report cited the enormous flaws with the current national response plan, yet here we are six weeks until hurricane season and FEMA has once again dropped the ball," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "Failing to have a revised plan in place and relying solely on the previously failed one is irresponsible and unacceptable."
FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said the advisory was intended to serve as a heads-up to Congress that the plan might be delayed, but said FEMA is "still shooting for a June deadline."
The plan was formulated as a comprehensive approach to handle any kind of catastrophe, natural or man-made. The original plan was considered to have failed in a number of areas during the 2005 hurricane season. The White House ordered Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to conduct a full review of the plan and to revise it.
Since last fall, various working groups have been meeting to revise and update the plan. Along with FEMA, representatives of other interested federal, state, local and tribal authorities, private sector companies, and non-government emergency agencies are working on the revisions.
Walker said the plan is an extremely complex document that will be published for comment, and FEMA wants to ensure it doesn't miss any important element or gloss over any critical issue.
"We are restructuring the entire way that the federal government deals with their state and local partners in a natural disaster or a terrorist attack," Walker said, adding that does not mean scrapping the old plan entirely.