Officials prepare for upcoming storms

By Lara Jakes Jordan The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. – Emergency officials from hurricane-stricken states appealed to the nation’s homeland security chief yesterday for help preparing for the upcoming storm season, seeking plans for everything from evacuation routes to pet protection.

The requests underscored what Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described as a “great wake-up call” for state and local authorities following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Chertoff, attending an annual hurricane preparedness conference in Orlando, said the federal government should not be considered the first line of defense during disasters. But he acknowledged that parts of the Katrina-battered Gulf Coast would need more aggressive federal aid in readying for the June 1 start of the hurricane season.

“I think some parts are readier than others,” Chertoff said in an interview with The Associated Press during his flight to Orlando. “I think this has been a great wake-up call.”

State and local officials who met with Chertoff for an hour-long discussion said they did not want the Federal Emergency Management Agency to overtake responsibilities of on-the-ground emergency responders. But they urged Chertoff to revamp federal plans to send aid quickly to disaster sites.

“I think there are challenges that we really need to work on,” said John Droneburg, director of Maryland’s emergency management agency. “The system will not work unless we solve some of these.”