Chertoff: FEMA improvements due soon

The Homeland Security Department will soon announce new measures to improve the operation and readiness of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said today.

DHS will strengthen FEMA’s logistics and provide top managers with improved data and intelligence of situations in disaster areas, Chertoff said. FEMA will also improve customer service, he said.

The measures are part of DHS’ preparation for the 2006 hurricane season and for any possible attacks, Chertoff said. The changes will cut bureaucracy, allowing FEMA to work as quickly and effectively as possible, he said.

Chertoff reviewed some of DHS’ 2005 activities and shared a preview of its 2006 activities. He spoke at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.,

Three principles will drive DHS in 2006, Chertoff said. DHS’ components and partners will have to work together better and assign money and effort according to risk, he said. He noted that DHS will soon announce the first round of grants awarded according to a new risk-based formula.

DHS will also transform adversity into opportunity in 2006, Chertoff said. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina gives DHS the “opportunity to dramatically retool FEMA and make it better.”

Information technology played an important role in FEMA's 2005 successes and will continue to do so in 2006, Chertoff said. Other technologies also will be important next year.

One of DHS’ biggest successes in 2005 was implementing the biometric entry portion of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, which screens foreign travelers to find terrorists, Chertoff said.

The biometric entry features will be implemented at 115 airports, 14 seaports and 154 land border ports of entry by the end of the year, he said.

DHS’ Transportation Security Administration has changed its airline screening systems and enhanced its technology and training to detect explosives, Chertoff said.

TSA also helped DHS heed the warnings of mission creep, he said. The agency focused its databases on anti-terrorism and did not alter its operations to address requests to find parents who don’t pay child support fees or fugitives in drug cases, he said.

DHS will expand its partnerships with federal, state, local and private-sector partners, especially on catastrophe preparedness, Chertoff said. It will also expand its data sharing and cargo screening with international partners, he said.

The Secure Border Initiative, which protects the nation’s borders, started using unmanned aerial vehicles to improve surveillance of borders, Chertoff said.

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