WASHINGTON — Ahead of Monday's official start of the hurricane season, President Barack Obama urged Americans in vulnerable areas to take responsibility for their own safety and to get ready now.
He said all Americans should make plans now for how they'd handle an emergency, and to have a ready stock of non-perishable food, water, first aid kits and radios.
Obama said during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that the federal government is determined to be ready for an emergency. However, he stressed that the first responsibility falls with individuals, and then with the state governments.
"We just saw some statistics coming out of Florida indicating that a huge percentage of people in hurricane areas simply don't make plans. They don't have a plan, they don't have a set of contingencies that will allow them to respond in an effective way," Obama said.
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He said those who can prepare themselves should do so now, lest they burden the government during an emergency and distract it from helping those who can't help themselves.
"I hope that message of personal responsibility sinks in," he said.
Obama was among the many Democrats who criticized the response of the federal government to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, particularly the response by FEMA and its former administrator, Michael Brown, who had little disaster management experience. President George W. Bush at first praised Brown with his now famous comment, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," then later fired him.
After a briefing at the National Response Coordination Center, Obama praised newly installed FEMA chief Craig Fugate, a Florida emergency response veteran.
"We've welcomed Craig Fugate, who has hit the ground running and is already doing an outstanding job not just leading this briefing but leading this excellent agency," Obama said.
At the White House, officials stressed that Americans who've moved since the last hurricanes into areas such as Florida probably don't know how to get ready or what to expect.
"Areas that have been hit recently actually tend to be more responsive to this," said Louis Uccellini, director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction.
"We are particularly concerned for areas where there's been a tremendous population growth and have not experienced a hurricane, where these people do not really fully comprehend or understand the types of dangers that face them."
Thanks to steady migration to cities in Florida and up the East Coast, he said, nearly 50 percent of the population hasn't experienced a hurricane.
He urged all Americans to check a government Web site, www.ready.gov, that is tailored to local areas for tips on how to prepare.
"Waiting 24 hours before a landfall is too late. It's too late for making plans and in many cases it's too late to even evacuate," he said.
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