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Ex-FEMA Leader Says Feds May Overreact

Tulsa_The former federal disaster chief widely denounced for his agency's reaction to Hurricane Katrina says the Bush administration would overreact and complicate things if another, similar calamity struck.

Michael Brown, who lost his job directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Katrina, predicted Thursday that if another large-scale disaster occurs, federal responders would try to show they learned lessons by pushing aside the efforts of their local and state counterparts.

Speaking at a conference of Oklahoma emergency management officials, Brown encouraged them to push back, because "you're in the front lines. It's not the feds."

"As long as this administration is in ... they will so overreact that they will come into a state like Oklahoma and you will be overwhelmed," said Brown, who was born in Oklahoma. "That doesn't work, either. Overreaction is not a lesson learned."

He said part of the reason for the current federal bureaucracy is the way the system was set up following the Sept. 11 attacks. Putting FEMA in the new Department of Homeland Security, he said, created a wedge between it and state and local governments.

Current FEMA chief R. David Paulison, in Chicago on Thursday as part of National Preparedness Month, took a different tack on how federal, state and local officials should work together, saying the old system fostered "what I call 'sequential failure.'"

"We would wait for communities to become overwhelmed before the state would step in, and then the state would become overwhelmed before the federal government would step in," said Paulison, a former Miami-Dade fire chief. "This process does not work; we saw that with Katrina."

In his comments Thursday, Brown said when he arrived in Louisiana, he found a chaotic disaster response system and a governor, Kathleen Blanco, who didn't know her role. He didn't exempt himself from criticism, saying he should have been more publicly vocal about the status of relief efforts after the storm.

(© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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