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FEMA enlists technology for hurricane season

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a live video network to allow officials in Washington to assess disasters and has equipped trucks with GPS devices so the agency can see when supplies are delivered to stricken areas, officials said Thursday.

To better prepare for this year's hurricane season, FEMA has also stockpiled equipment for floods and started a partnership with the Coast Guard to use its boats when responding to some emergencies.

Agency leaders discussed the improvements Thursday during a media tour of FEMA's logistics center in Fort Worth, which serves Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

FEMA plans to reduce delays by sending relief supplies before a storm hits to cities close to the expected damage area, including generators and search-and-rescue and medical teams, said Ron Cooper, who supervises six of FEMA's nine logistics centers nationwide.

The streaming video system has been added to one of FEMA's mobile command units, officials said. The cameras can be hand-held or mounted on trucks and helicopters, and the images will be transmitted to the nation's capital via satellite.

FEMA's medical teams will also have more doctors and nurses, said Ozro Henderson, a team commander with the National Disaster Medical System.

The 55 teams treated 160,000 victims in the weeks after Katrina and nearly 40,000 more after Hurricane Rita struck less than a month later.

"Those number of patients would stretch any nation in the world," Henderson said.

FEMA has been sharply criticized for responding too slowly to Katrina, and last month a Senate panel recommended dismantling the agency and replacing it with a stronger authority.