With the horrors from Hurricane Katrina still flashing on live television, Connecticut emergency officials and Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) met on Sept. 7 to decide how to evacuate 100,000 coastal residents if a Category 4 hurricane hit Long Island Sound.
The answer? Just about every which way–from cars to trains to buses. “We went through the whole scenario,” said one emergency official, who noted the group even discussed making prison inmates cook for refugees.
Connecticut’s emergency strategy session was one of many hard looks triggered by Hurricane Katrina as a growing number of states combed through their disaster plans in hopes of avoiding another New Orleans catastrophe. Key among many of these impromptu summits was scrutiny of plans for evacuating and for keeping communication channels open.
In New Hampshire, the Legislature has called a special session to evaluate the state’s emergency plans. Officials plan to discuss a range of disasters, including how the state would handle mass evacuations from nearby Boston and New York.
New Hampshire State Rep. Peter Batula (R), who chairs the state’s emergency management committee, intends to stress the need for better communication among federal, state and local officials. “It seems that we had a meltdown of response in the Gulf states over the last week. And we want to make sure that our communication is where it ought to be,” he said.
In Maine, officials also are concerned about communication. But unlike New Hampshire and Louisiana, state emergency officials there said they are most concerned about linking state, local and county operations during a disaster because of how much power local authority holds in the rural northeastern state.
“Coordination is critical to any large-scale event,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for Maine Emergency Management Agency. “That’s the lesson we are learning.”
In addition, Maine Gov. John Baldacci (D) told emergency officials to look at the state’s defenses against a hurricane–even though a major hurricane has not hit Maine in at least a half century.
Separately, the Maine coastal cities of Portland and South Portland called their own drill last week to make sure they could handle a threat from the sea.
“Our problem with coastal storms does not end with the hurricane season,” said Miller, pointing to Maine’s winter squalls.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) and Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) have called the failure of New Orleans’ levees to contain floodwaters a “wake-up call for Californians.” They urged the Army Corps of Engineers to address the deterioration of levees that channel river water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and that experts say could be vulnerable to floods and earthquakes.
“A major breach in these levees could imperil hundreds of thousands of people and endanger most of the state’s water supply,” Feinstein said. “As we have seen in New Orleans, it would be a dramatic mistake to further delay the repairs that are necessary to protect communities from the ravages of floodwaters.”
In Hawaii, an island chain 2,500 miles from the nearest major landmass, the threat of disasters weigh heavily on the minds of emergency planners.
“The big problem with an island jurisdiction like us is that we can’t evacuate to another state when a hurricane comes through” said Larry Kanda, a mitigation planner in Hawaii’s Civil Defense division.
State emergency managers in Hawaii say Katrina underscores the need for an additional 124,000 spaces in short-term shelters such as community centers and public schools to properly cope with a major natural disaster.
Hunter and Matthews are writers for www.stateline.org, which reports on state activities. Reprinted with permission.
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