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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 September 2005, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
UK cities 'to learn' from Katrina
By Alex Kleiderman
BBC News

Evacuees leave New Orleans
UK planners hope to learn lessons from the evacuation of New Orleans
Hurricane Katrina is likely to prompt local authorities in the UK to review their own disaster emergency procedures, experts have said.

A perceived failure to put established plans into action quickly in New Orleans has come under much scrutiny.

UK authorities have prepared responses for terrorism and natural disasters.

The Emergency Planning Society said the way the mass evacuation of New Orleans was conducted was one of the areas UK officials would be most keen to study.

The EPS, a UK professional body for organisations involved in crisis and disaster management, said it was almost impossible to test a mass evacuation.

"You can run table-top exercises and test part of plans such as evacuations from individual sites," said EPS chairman John Asquith.

"But it would be such an enormous and expensive exercise to evacuate a whole city centre just for the purpose of a test."

'Obvious' lessons

Commentators have said Hurricane Katrina has highlighted the racial and class divide in New Orleans, where two-thirds of residents are black and more than a quarter of the city lives in poverty.

One lesson seems to be that you must consider the most disadvantaged in society when considering evacuation plans
John Asquith, Emergency Planning Society

"It is far too early for us to have learnt all the lessons from New Orleans but it's obvious that most of the people who did not get out were among the most disadvantaged in society," said Mr Asquith.

"One lesson seems to be that you must consider the most disadvantaged in society when considering evacuation plans."

He said policing and the measures set up in the US to accommodate evacuees were among the other areas UK planners might look at.

Climate change

The government's Civil Resilience Directorate was set up in 2003 to deal with a range of emergencies and oversee the various regional evacuation plans.

We are monitoring the implications of Katrina for our own flood defences carefully

Earlier this year details of how public transport would be used for a mass evacuation from London in the event of a "catastrophic incident" were revealed.

Under the strategy, special road routes have also been designated for people who want to get out of the capital by car.

Local authorities would provide basic accommodation and supplies for up to 48 hours.

But such measures are not designed only for a terrorist incident.

In January, fierce gales in parts of the country left the centre of Carlisle flooded and three people dead.

Climate change is increasingly being taken seriously by policy-makers.

Last year, an exercise saw 60 agencies test the UK's emergency response to an extreme flooding disaster across 35 locations.

Katrina impact

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was currently considering how to manage flood risk in the Thames Estuary over the next century.

Carlisle after floods
Carlisle was hit by floods in January 2005

Climate change experts say the existing Thames Barrier may not be able to cope with rising tides. Thousands of new homes are planned for the Thames Gateway development.

A Defra spokesman said storms and weather systems of the sort witnessed in New Orleans do not usually affect the UK but the department was not being complacent.

"The terrible events in New Orleans have highlighted the big impact that extreme flooding events can have," he said.

"We are monitoring the implications of Katrina for our own flood defences carefully, as we do with any major flooding incident."

The Civil Resilience Directorate also indicated its plans would be reviewed in light of Katrina.

"Sensible contingency planning is vital," a spokeswoman told the BBC News website.

"This is why the Government is making substantial investment to ensure that local authorities, the emergency services, and government departments and agencies are prepared to respond effectively to meet a wide range of emergencies.

"These plans are regularly reviewed and we have an ongoing process to look at what we could do better.

"This includes looking at lessons learned from incidents when they do occur, whether terrorist attacks or natural disasters."

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