WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will highlight his concern about hurricane preparedness — and draw sharp contrasts with his predecessor — when he visits the Federal Emergency Management Agency's headquarters for the first time Friday.
Hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
Obama, who was critical of President George W. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina, will be briefed by newly installed FEMA chief Craig Fugate, a Florida emergency response veteran.
"It's important for the president to go and recognize FEMA," said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who lost his home to Katrina and was a relentless critic of former FEMA head Michael Brown's botched response to the 2005 hurricane. "We all learned the hard way why it was such an important post."
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"It's good the president is giving it the emphasis it needs," Taylor said. Brown was a Bush loyalist whose job experience was primarily running an Arabian horse association.
Katrina, along with the war in Iraq, defined the Bush presidency in a way that never enabled him to recover. Bush left the White House as the most unpopular president in history, according to polls. Dan Bartlett, who was counselor to Bush, said of the hurricane in Vanity Fair earlier this year, "Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin."
Obama designated this week National Hurricane Preparedness Week.
"I call on all Americans — including private citizens and those working in government, business and the nonprofit sector — to plan ahead and help secure the safety and property of those who face advancing storms," Obama said.
Experts at Colorado State University are forecasting two major hurricanes this year out of 12 named storms they say will develop during hurricane season.
"Based on our latest forecast, the probability of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline is 54 percent, compared with the last-century average of 52 percent," Colorado State hurricane team lead forecaster Phil Klotzbach said in a statement last month. "We are calling for an average hurricane season this year — about as active as the average of the 1950-2000 seasons."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose agency includes FEMA, also will attend the briefing. The administration hasn't resolved a dispute with some lawmakers over making the FEMA separate and independent.
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