Nearly half of emergency response leaders from around the country say their organizations have made little or no improvement in preparedness in the 4 years since the terrorist attacks, according to a survey released Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the survey conducted this summer - before Hurricane Katrina - found that security officials were 4 times more worried about a natural disaster than another terrorist attack.
The CODE Red telephone survey of 200 responders for state Homeland Security departments, airports, seaports, and cities was conducted for the St. Louis-based engineering and technology design company Ross & Baruzzini. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percent.
Those in charge of airport security were most likely to note major improvements, while municipal security chiefs were least likely, the survey said. Representatives of 51 of the top 100 metropolitan areas were contacted, including Washington, D.C.; Boston; San Francisco; and Dallas.
Public buildings and parks were considered the most vulnerable to man-made emergencies, including terrorist attacks and chemical spills, according to 38 percent of the respondents, followed by chemical plants (35 percent), water supplies (33 percent), power generation facilities (33 percent), airports (33 percent), office towers (30 percent), ground transportation (29 percent), hospitals (27 percent), communications systems (26 percent), coastal and inland ports (25 percent), and colleges and universities (17 percent).
For natural disasters such as severe storms or earthquakes, power generation facilities (41 percent), water supplies (38 percent), and communications systems (36 percent) were seen as most vulnerable.
Bureaucracy was cited by nearly half of respondents as the biggest obstacle in securing federal funds to improve preparedness. About a quarter of those surveyed cited a lack of grant-writing skills.
A natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado was cited as most worrisome by 48 percent of respondents. A catastrophic accident such as a chemical spill was cited by 19 percent, while only 12 percent cited terrorist attacks.
"The survey indicates that progress has been made in making our country safer, but we've got to increase these efforts on a number of fronts," said Michael Shea, principal at Ross & Baruzzini, which has designed security and emergency systems for more than 200 public and private facilities over the past 20 years. He leads the firm's specialized practice area - called Critical Operations Design and Engineering (or CODE) - serving organizations needing a facility designed to support 24/7 mission-critical operations.
"The world has changed since 9/11," Shea said, "and, as a result, the need to be prepared has changed as well."
A key step forward, he said, occurred last November when the U.S. National Response Plan was completed. The plan establishes a single, comprehensive framework for the management of all domestic incidents.
"Nevertheless, there are gaps in receiving funding or planning for emergency preparedness," Shea said. "We must identify and address them, because these issues will remain with us for years to come. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix."
Following are some additional key CODE Red Survey findings:
--In assessing emergency preparedness of municipalities, 51 percent of the first responders in the survey - such as police and fire departments - said major improvements had been made, while 39 percent of that group said minor improvements were implemented. Another 5 percent said emergency preparedness was about the same, 1 percent said improvements were planned but not yet implemented, and 3 percent said preparedness had actually deteriorated.
--Less than half (47 percent) of municipal administrators reported major improvements, with 30 percent seeing minor improvements, 13 percent seeing no change, 7 percent saying improvements were planned but not implemented, and 1 percent saying the situation had deteriorated.
--About 65 percent of security leaders at seaports reported major improvement, while 35 percent said only minor improvements have been implemented.
--The state homeland security directors surveyed were somewhat optimistic in their assessment of progress, with 64 percent saying major improvements have been implemented in their state and 29 percent saying there had been minor improvements.
--The most important features of these emergency centers are data back-up, as well as redundant emergency power and communications systems, these leaders said.
To register for a complete summary of CODE Red Survey results, please visit: http://code.rossbar.com/.