ORLANDO, Fla. -- Emergency officials from hurricane-stricken states appealed to the nation's homeland security chief yesterday for help preparing for the upcoming storm season, seeking plans for everything from evacuation routes to pet protection.
The requests underscored what Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described as a ''great wake-up call" for state and local authorities after Hurricane Katrina.
Chertoff, attending an annual hurricane preparedness conference in Orlando, said the federal government should not be considered the first line of defense during disasters. But he acknowledged that parts of the Katrina-battered Gulf Coast would need more aggressive federal aid in preparing for the June 1 start of the hurricane season.
State and local officials who met with Chertoff for an hourlong discussion said they did not want the Federal Emergency Management Agency to overtake responsibilities of on-the-ground emergency responders. But they urged Chertoff to revamp federal plans to send aid quickly to disaster sites.
In South Carolina, roads used as evacuation routes need federal improvements, one state official said. Deteriorating beaches in Ocean City, Md., should be restored as a natural defense to storms, said Mayor James N. Mathias. And victims in disaster sites need help in evacuating their pets to prevent ''a lot of sad and tragic stories," said Laura Bevan, a regional director for the US Humane Society.