May 20, 2007 — -- Hurricane season is just days away and experts are predicting this year will be a very active one.
This week, FEMA director R. David Paulison will testify on Capitol Hill about how prepared the United States really is for the next big storm.
At a hurricane conference last week, Paulison vowed that his agency will be ready and that it won't repeat the mistake of Hurricane Katrina almost two years ago.
"You are not going to see the same type of response," Paulison said. "You are going to see a federal government that is extremely proactive, moving very quickly ... making sure that when the state asks for something, it is there on the ground waiting for them."
But, by their own admission, FEMA officials will not have their emergency response plans ready by the start of the hurricane season on June 1.
There are also problems outside FEMA. The levees that failed to protect New Orleans two years ago are still not up to code. There is turmoil at the National Hurricane Center, the agency charged with predicting and tracking storms. The center's new director publicly complained that the agency is being denied the proper resources to do its job.
Adding fuel to the fire, some charge that the Iraq war has drained states of National Guard resources key to any emergency response. Still, Florida's emergency management director, Craig Fugate, while worried about the problems at the Hurricane Center, feels confident his state will be ready.
"You prepare for disasters year around and with hurricane season, we start getting ready early in the spring," Fugate said. "In fact we just completed a statewide hurricane exercise last week."
The system will likely be tested this year. One reputable forecaster predicts at least nine hurricanes will hit the country this season.