Unprepared for Disaster

In a rare move by his administration, President Bush accepted full responsibility today for the badly flawed response to Hurricane Katrina. Despite the billions of dollars the federal government has spent since 9/11, many leading disaster readiness experts say the country may not be prepared for most major disasters.

Another terror attack on a major city, either biological or nuclear in nature, is drawing the most attention.

Although there have been police drills, a leading Republican congressman says there is no effective preparedness plan for a dirty bomb.

"I think if there was a dirty bomb attack in any of our major cities, we would be very unprepared," admits Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., who heads a key House subcommittee overseeing the government's preparedness against terrorism threats.

As for smallpox, the government says it now has enough vaccine for everyone in the country. However, the New York Academy of Medicine finds the government's actual preparedness plans to be deeply flawed.

"The plans themselves are flawed because there's a real disconnect between what people would actually do and the risk that planners are trying to protect them from," asserts Roz Lasker, head of the public health division at the academy.

There appears to be even less preparation for natural disasters, such as earthquakes. California is considered prepared, but not the Midwest and cities along the little-known New Madrid fault that stretches from Illinois to Tennessee.

"We're talking about hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of casualties, an event in the Katrina class," says Kyle Olson, the vice president of Community Research Asociates, Inc., a private homeland security consulting firm.

"Whether any state or local government is ready to respond to that, an event that comes without the warning we had with Katrina, I think that's the kind of thing that can keep you up at night," Olson says.

In addition, many officials believe the federal government has been slow to recognize a new and potentially greater threat, a rare and deadly strain of flu. Currently found in Asia, it is threatening to become a global epidemic and hit the United States.

"We could be dealing with a situation where 1,500 people a day could be dying of influenza, with a large number of those people being children," says Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disease Preparedness.

There is no vaccine for the avian bird flu. The United States has been well behind most industrialized countries in obtaining supplies of the one medicine that works against the rare flu. No deliveries of the medicine are expected until after this winter's flu season.

According to Redlener, "We are not even close to being prepared for this country."

ABC News' David Scott and Avni Patel contributed to this report.

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