Originally created 06/08/06

Federal officials aid storm plans



ATLANTA - Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison visited Georgia officials Wednesday to plan for this year's hurricane season.

"The middle of the storm is not the best time to improvise," Mr. Chertoff told reporters gathered at the state Capitol.

He and Mr. Paulison met with Gov. Sonny Perdue, state emergency leaders and business representatives behind closed doors.

Georgia avoided the devastation caused along the Gulf Coast by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but the state did experience a record 18 tornadoes in a single day as Katrina moved in.

In shelters and homes, the state also took in thousands of evacuees who fled the flooding and widespread damage in Mississippi and Louisiana.

"For that, the whole country is grateful," Mr. Chertoff said.

This season, which started earlier this month and runs until November, is expected to produce eight to 10 hurricanes, with four to six that could become major, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mr. Perdue said Georgia learned to communicate early with federal officials in planning for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the G-8 Summit held on Sea Island two years ago.

This year's hurricane planning is no different, Mr. Perdue said.

"We think we're even better prepared than we were last year," he said.

FEMA came under heavy criticism last year for its response to Katrina's aftermath. As a result, Mr. Chertoff said, the federal government has made several changes for this season.

Although local and state officials are traditionally the first responders in disasters because they are more familiar with the areas, Mr. Chertoff said FEMA is now going to play more of a role.

Since last season, the agency has focused on more planning and upgrading equipment.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 681-1701 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.