WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2007 (PRIME NEWSWIRE) -- Local communities still have major, serious gaps in disaster plans, according to homeland security experts speaking at American Military University's "Homeland Security: The Ripple Effect" symposium. The conference -- among the first to address issues faced by outlying and smaller communities after disaster -- was recently held at the National Press Club.
Part of the preparedness issue lies in incomplete plans, according to symposium speaker Lt. Gen. Russel Honore', former commander of Joint Task Force-Katrina.
"Did you take your understanding of the disaster to failure?" said Honore'. He was referring to disaster plans that miss critical elements. For example, many disaster plans end without addressing mass casualties.
Other conference speakers -- that included U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director R. David Paulison -- said that many communities remain unprepared to handle evacuees and need to develop partnerships with private industry. Others addressed the necessity of personal preparedness and regional approaches to response and recovery.
Patrick McCrory, mayor of Charlotte, N.C., and a member of President Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council, discussed the need for evacuation agreements with communities that may be hundreds of miles away. His city, for example, housed hundreds of victims from Hurricane Katrina.
McCrory also addressed the difficulties of gathering information and deploying assistance in the first hours. "Many (people) put unrealistic expectations on government, especially in the first 48 hours," McCrory said. (Listen to McCrory's remarks: )
FEMA Director Paulison says his agency is building partnerships with private industry. Private industry controls much of the nation's infrastructure -- communications, energy and transportation -- so its cooperation is critical. He is also strengthening FEMA, including adding many positions.
Former U.S. Senator Gary Hart addressed recommendations made more than six years ago as part of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century -- recommendations he said were largely ignored and could have helped prevent terrorist acts and better prepared America for natural disasters. Hart is now the Wirth Chair Professor at the University of Colorado's Graduate School of Public Affairs.
James Spears, homeland security advisor and secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety for West Virginia, discussed preparedness issues for states located near major metropolitan areas. He said his state could be left vulnerable, for example, if its National Guard -- an important state resource -- was called in to support Washington, D.C.
James Gilmore, former Virginia governor and chair of the Congressional Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, discussed the integration of local, state and federal preparedness and the value of the National Council on Readiness and Preparedness in shaping the process.
Leading experts from academia, and the public and private sectors, joined these nationally recognized speakers at the event. Nearly 200 attended the limited-seating conference. Attendees included local and state emergency planners, military officers and analysts, university professors, law enforcement officials, and private business leaders and consultants.
Experts presented papers regarding planning and preparation; training, education and awareness; and command, control and operations. American Military University (AMU) will soon post papers and related information on its symposium Web site: . Discussions are ongoing at the university's blog, .
"We're very pleased at the wealth of information that was presented," says Dr. Frank McCluskey, university provost. "We plan to continue being part of the solution -- in conferences such as these and in our academic programs."