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Chertoff Unveils New Emergency Plan that Restores Local Authority

NEW YORK -- In the first overhaul of emergency response planning since the botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff unveiled a blueprint yesterday that restores authority to state and local officials, emphasizes preparedness and strengthens the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He described the new plan as "a simple, straightforward guide" to respond to crises of all sorts, whether a hurricane in Long Island, a wildfire in California or a terror attack on New York City.

"Unlike past plans, the national response framework is always active, emphasizing and implementing lessons learned every single day," he said at a news conference. "This is a living document."

The document is the first major revision of a 2004 plan, which was completed just months before Hurricane Katrina. That downplayed natural disasters and was widely criticized as dense and hard to understand.

"It seems they actually listened to us this time," said James Callahan, commissioner of the Nassau Office of Emergency Management. "This one looks like it has more local response and coordination in it, which is what it should be."

Callahan and other local and state emergency managers had assailed an earlier draft, which required federal officials to declare "an incident of national significance" -- and to take control -- before they could offer help. That provision has been removed.

"Why would you want someone from Texas, who knew nothing about Long Island, coming up and telling us what to do?" Callahan said of the earlier draft. "This plan eliminates that. So if we had a disaster in Nassau County and needed helicopters, bottled water, generators, or tarps, I could get it now."

New York officials also hailed the changes and said they were prepared to go to work with FEMA on training.

"New York City contributed to the development of the National Response Framework, and we look forward to working with FEMA," said Jason Post, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Chertoff cited the coordinated response to the California wildfires as a model for how the framework should work. The next stage will be a nationwide training and exercise program for first responders, he said. "First and foremost, what this is about is working together, which means planning, training, and exercising before a disaster, and then coming together to execute that plan and that training during and after a disaster."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, calling the framework "an important step in the right direction," said, "I am pleased with the progress we've made since Hurricane Katrina, but we can never rest in our efforts to ensure that we are prepared to respond to disasters nationwide."

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