Katrina Prompts N.H. Officials to Review State’s Disaster Preparedness

The scope of the destruction and despair in the South has New Hampshire legislators poised to ask plenty of questions about how prepared the state is to handle unspeakable disaster.

While agreeing the state is better prepared to handle disasters because of training and new equipment made available after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the head of a legislative committee that oversees emergency management wonders if the state has done enough.

What has happened along the Gulf Coast “will increase the tone of the urgency to make sure that we are ready for any type of disaster that may affect New Hampshire,” said Rep. Peter Batula, R-Merrimack.

“A lot of money has been spent, but have we completed our work? The answer is absolutely not. The disaster in the South is going to demand perhaps some more specific responses on what our goals are,” Batula told the New Hampshire Sunday News.

His committee meets on Friday with state emergency and health officials.

“I’m going to demand a lot of answers and find out exactly where this whole thing is at, at least mentally where it’s at, with the people who are in charge.”

The committee was established by the Legislature after the Sept. 11 attacks and it has met quarterly since January 2004.

At recent sessions, it has heard reports on progress being made to face the possibility of influenza pandemics and biological terror threats, and the equipping and coordinating of hospitals throughout the state, said Rep. Kenneth L. Weyler, R-Kingston.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, who serves on the oversight committee, said in New Hampshire, flanked by the Seabrook nuclear power plant on the coast and the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant just across the Connecticut River on the west, “something could confront us at any time.”

And if disaster strikes Boston, New York or cities in between, “it will have a spin-off effect. We are the logical choice to move people to because of the north-south highway system.. ..

“Given what has happened in New Orleans, it’s incumbent on us to find out … where we stand,” D’Allesandro said.

The committee convenes Friday to meet with officials including Bruce Cheney, the state director of emergency management; Raymond Carolyn, the federal security director for Manchester Airport; and state Public Health Director Mary Ann Cooney.

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