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Your e-mails: Government after Katrina readers' ideas for improving federal disaster response

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff testifies on the preparation and response to Hurricane Katrina.



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(CNN) -- Government response to Hurricane Katrina was sharply criticized at all levels. asked readers what suggestions they had to improve federal response to emergencies. Here is a sampling of the responses, some of which have been edited:

The government did not create Hurricane Katrina. Mother Nature did. The government is not responsible for where someone chooses to live or where hurricanes hit. People need to take responsibility for their own lives and their own mistakes. Why should the government restructure for something that may never happen again.
Pam, Sterling, Michigan

If you keep tripping over furniture in the middle of the night, the solution is not to rearrange the furniture, but to turn the light on! If the local, state, and federal leadership can't make common sense decisions now, just imagine how disoriented they would be by restructuring.
Jennifer Rellick, Alexandria, Virginia

FEMA should be a stand-alone organization with a strong leader answerable only to the president. Homeland Security should be ended and the enormous salaries redirected to FEMA ...and Defense Departments...even to active and reserve military to make these areas more attractive to new recruits. After all our ultimate defense is the military -- not the Department of Homeland Security, which has been so ineffective. We don't need a color-coded alert system, just competent people to help and defend us in time of need.
Donna Beevers, Magnolia, Arkansas

The very first step is to return FEMA to its original mission and structure. When established under President Jimmy Carter's overall government reorganization, the whole purpose of FEMA was to be the "go to" federal agency for all kinds of natural and human-caused domestic disasters in the US -- anything that wouldn't come under the authority of the Defense Department. With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA seems to have become downgraded in more than just its loss of cabinet-level status.
Jan Thomas, Madison, Wisconsin

Because of the nature of our government, state rights vs national policies, I don't see how we can work together cohesively. Perhaps a constitutional amendment is needed to ensure that specific areas of common need [are] structured and financed only by the federal government but administered by the state and locals. Any deviation from the set policies and manipulation of these funds for other uses would be considered to be a federal offense and the elected local and state government officials and their appointees would face federal criminal charges. Perhaps that would stop these "big shots out of little guns" from mishandling and misusing their specific elected and appointed powers.
Christine, Providence, Rhode Island

Things need to get done fast and time is wasted trying to get authorization for every move the local government takes. The federal government needs to step in and take over quickly with heavy equipment, manpower and whatever is necessary to secure an area that is expected to be impacted by a natural disaster or otherwise. Local governmental can't do it alone. Millions of our tax dollars are now going to pay for this so-called Department of Homeland Security. What good is it doing? At the rate it seems to be going, who needs terrorists to do damage to this country, we've got the Department of Homeland Security!
Gerry Corriveau, N. Scitute, Rhode Island

FEMA has no business being under Homeland Security. They definitely need to be separate entities. Responding to a hurricane or natural disaster is quite different from responding to a terrorist attack. Put people in charge who have experience with the priorities of the respective disasters and how to best handle them so the response is both rapid and effective.
Tammy Bodge, Troy, Maine

Yes, it definitely needs restructuring. The president declares an emergency and alerts the various agencies FEMA, Red Cross etc. State and local governments. National Guard troops should be sent to the affected area immediately and under military commanders. State governors can request assistance, but the government is in charge once troops are dispensed to the area. That includes power over both state, and local officials. In the Katrina disaster, both the governor and the New Orleans mayor should have asked for immediate assistance and the president should have acted upon seeing that nothing was being done by them -- not waited for them to act! Federal should have power over all of them but should act in conjunction with the various state and local officials as well as government emergency planners ie., FEMA, Homeland Security, HUD, etc., and emergency agencies such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc. Set up a chain of command and send it to every state in the nation so the next emergency is handled properly!
Maryann Sivilich, Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania

I believe the number 1 breakdown that globally hindered all of the various efforts in process immediately after the storm and flood was the breakdown in communications. I believe the current personnel structure is valid but no one had anticipated the loss of communications. Every parish in Louisiana has an OEP. Each of these offices should be equipped with military equivalent communications equipment. The communications equipment of every public emergency response department (police, fire, sheriff, etc.) should be evaluated and "drilled" on a routine basis. This should be done in all of the "high risk for natural disaster" areas in our country and coordinated through FEMA or homeland security.
Tony Duhon, Lafayette, Louisiana

Restructing may help if clear responsibilities are outlined. More importantly, they should hire competent individuals not each other's friends. They are individuals with backgrounds in solving process issues very quickly and those that can think of unorthodox solutions in emergency situations. Unfortunately, our government is not hiring those individuals.
Chad, Atlanta, Georgia

It is apparent that governments at all levels -- state and federal -- are not prepared to deal with the magnitude of this catastrophic event. I believe the most responsibility lies at the feet of FEMA. I say restructure and prepare for more events that are more than likely to take place in the United States. Instead of sending billions of dollars to other countries, why isn't this money being spent in our own backyard to improve and fix the broken systems we have? Wake up America; If you think the Federal Government is going to bail you out when something horrendous happens, think again! Washington is not looking out for you -- they are lining their coffers and laughing all the way to the bank.
Darlene Leard, High Point, North Carolina

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