More training needed for military response to disasters

By Marissa DeCuir
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON — Military officials say they are prepared to effectively respond to predictable disasters. But for the erratic ones, training and equipment still need a boost, a Senate panel learned Thursday.

Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, National Guard bureau chief, said there is still “no state” equipped or prepared to respond to something such as a nuclear attack, an event Sen. Joe Lieberman said is not farfetched.

Blum told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that surrounding states and the federal government would have to offer “immediate” support.

Lieberman cited the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes as an example.

“Almost two years ago, Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the government response system that was shockingly unprepared,” said Lieberman, I-Conn.

The military officials agreed they are prepared for predictable disasters because they know when and where to move resources.

The goal now is to lessen the “time of chaos” after a disaster, said Air Force Gen. Victor Renuart Jr., commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he was concerned that the military does not have aircraft capable of putting out wildfires, particularly in his state. Stevens said the military either needs to build news planes or modify old ones to get the ability.

“When are we going to wake up?” Stevens asked.

The military officials said they have made progress in preparing for the 2007 hurricane season. They said exercises in which military personnel are put through disaster scenarios increased awareness of potential problems they could face.

“Our role is to plan for those shortfalls and fill in those gaps,” Renuart said. “Not when (states) call for it, but to be prepared for it before.”

Blum said National Guardsmen are better prepared for homeland defense, but the groundwork isn’t over.

“There will always be room for improvement,” he said. “We will never get it perfect.”

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