WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator Susan Collins, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, today released the following statement marking the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
“On the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, many Americans are asking: Are we better prepared for the next disaster, whether it is a hurricane, an epidemic disease, or a terrorist attack? The answer is that America is better prepared than a year ago, but we still have a great deal of work to do.
“Over the past year, I chaired the Senate’s Katrina investigation that heard from 400 people, reviewed 838,000 pages of documents, and included 23 hearings. Our Homeland Security Committee found that the halting and hesitant response to Hurricane Katrina represented, first and foremost, a failure of leadership at all levels of government, despite the heroic performance of a few agencies such as the Coast Guard. Our investigation also uncovered systemic problems that must be fixed. We must ensure that communications systems are survivable and that emergency responders can talk to one another. We must make clear who is responsible for what role at which level of government. We must act to mitigate known hazards.
“Some progress has been made. The Department of Homeland Security has a new logistics system that tracks vital supplies. DHS has pre-positioned food and water in far greater quantities than a year ago. Emergency managers and first responders at all levels of government have come together for additional, important, training. Other reforms are in progress. The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that I authored with Senator Joe Lieberman that will reform the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). If our House colleagues agree, FEMA will become a stronger, more effective, agency with 10 regionally based strike teams that will train with their state and local counterparts and work with the private sector. No longer will emergency managers be exchanging business cards in the midst of a crisis.
“Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call. If government at all levels failed so miserably in responding to a storm that had been tracked for days and predicted for years, how much worse would the response have been to a terrorist attack with no warning at all? We must learn from Katrina before we are faced with another catastrophe, whether from nature or man-made.”