'Put someone in charge of disaster recovery' says Katrina study

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - "I think this report will provide the basis for not making the mistakes anywhere a disaster strikes in the future," former Mississippi Governor William Winter said.

Winter served as a top adviser to a team of researchers.  The group spent four-years interviewing city and county officials, school leaders, and business owners on the response to Hurricane Katrina.  On Thursday, the team met at Bay St. Louis City Hall to share the results of the final of nine reports.

The GulfGov study, by the "Nelson Rockefeller Institute of Government" in Albany, New York, pointed to problems with too much red tape and lack of cooperation among government agencies.

"One group would say you could do this.  Another federal agency or state agency would say, no you can't. The regulations permit this. The regulations permit that," said Dr. Dick Nathan, one of the key researchers in the study.

To help cut down on the confusion and speed-up recovery, the study makes a major recommendation -- appoint an Officer-In-Charge to oversee and coordinate response after a catastrophic event.

"That person would be appointed by the president to be the point person and lead person for the federal government, including FEMA," said Nathan.  "The officer isn't a czar.  It isn't going to be someone who's going to take over.  It's somebody who's going to facilitate."

The study says that special officer should also have pre-approved emergency funding -- as much as $100 million.

"I think just having that ability to be able to get on the ground and recognize the needs, and then have the resources to address the needs would be a tremendous asset," said Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame.

The researchers plan to use their findings to convince Congress to amend the Stafford Act, the federal law that deals with emergency management. The research was funded by a $1 million grant from the Ford Foundation.  It focused on Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.