Emergency Response Scores Average
The report card came one day after the Bush administration got lousy grades for terrorism preparation. The state gave agencies like the Highway and Water Patrol and SEMA only a C for their ability to respond to a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
Seven agencies tried to brag about their work, but lawmakers pelted them with questions instead. Most used Hurricane Katrina as an example of how not to respond to disasters, but not before the committee drilled into State Public Safety Director Mark James.
"When we have an earthquake, who's in charge?" asked Rita Days of the Homeland Security Committee.
James agreed Missouri must be better prepared for an attack or disaster.
"We've identified new and different initiatives that we need to be embarking on that really should've been started over the last few years," James said. "We're not ready."
Days said the state's response to an attack could be catastrophic because there's no one in charge.
"When this incident happens, the governor is going to get his information from some person. My question is, 'Who is that person?'" she asked.
"Although it may not have been readily apparent to her, what the rollup is, what the chain of command is, those who are responsible for doing the job know the chain of command," James responded.
He said the state's quickly improving in one key area: communication. The state will spend $10 million to improve communication among agencies. Six million will go to local agencies and $4 million to state agencies. James says that's enough to raise the grade.
"In terms of the initiatives we've identified, we're at a strong B and I would say, within six to eight months, we'll be sitting on a firm A," he said.
"I think a C grade or less. It's very difficult to determine a grade based on what we heard today. But just from my observations from trips around the state, we are not ready. I'd say a C or D," Days countered.
Other weaknesses that worry the committee include slow responses to disasters and shrinking budgets. The Homeland Security Committee will take another look at the state's grade next spring.