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9/11 commissioners blast Katrina response

They say government has failed to act on recommendations

From David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Members of the former 9/11 commission blasted Congress and the Bush administration Wednesday for inaction on some of its recommendations, which the former chairman said could have saved lives in Hurricane Katrina.

"If Congress does not act, people will die -- I cannot put it more simply than that," said former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, referring to what could happen in the next major disaster or terrorist attack.

He said it was a "scandal" that more has not been done to improve the job of first responders in the four years since the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

"Hurricane Katrina pointed out serious flaws in our emergency preparedness and response. And what is frustrating to us is that [these are] many of the same problems we saw in 9/11 and the response to that disaster," said Kean, a Republican

The former commissioners, speaking to reporters at a press conference, called for Congress to take radio frequencies away from broadcasters and give them to first responders well before 2009, as is currently planned under law.

They urged states and local governments to adopt incident command systems, making clear which agency is in charge, and said Congress should financially penalize states that do not do so.

They also complained that reports the Department of Homeland Security should have delivered months ago on risk and vulnerability factors around the nation have yet to be completed.

Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana who served on the commission, said it was "inexcusable and unacceptable" that Congress has yet to enact some of the 9/11 recommendations that "could have made a difference" in Louisiana during the early days after the hurricane.

Malfunctioning radios using different frequencies contributed to the high death toll in the World Trade Center buildings, and public safety officials in New Orleans have reported widespread communications problems as well.

"Government has no higher responsibility than the defense of its people," Kean said, "so this ought to be at the top of the priority list."

Opposition to giving the radio frequencies to first responders before 2009 has come from broadcasting companies, which had been given them for use during the transition to digital and high-definition television.

The bipartisan 9/11 panel -- formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- released its final report in a nearly 570-page book in July 2004.

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