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White House Katrina report recommends changes

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WASHINGTON, Feb 23 (Reuters) The Pentagon should have a clearer role in responding to future disasters like hurricane Katrina, the White House said on Thursday in a review offering 125 recommendations for improving US emergency management.

The recommendation was among 125 the review made for President George W. Bush, who has been widely criticized for his administration's response. The review identified 11 changes it said should be implemented before June 1, the start of the next hurricane season.

Recommendations included making sure federal, state and local officials were working together and in close proximity in the event of another disaster.

In cases where there are advance warnings, ensuring that an interagency Federal Joint Field Office is in place to coordinate and direct federal support.

The review also called for embedding a Defense Department contact at the Joint Field Office and Federal Emergency Management Agency regional offices to improve coordination of military resources.

''The 2006 hurricane season is just over three months away. Even while the process to implement the lessons learned from Katrina is underway, there are specific steps the federal government can and should take now to be better prepared for future emergencies,'' the White House said.

The White House review, led by Frances Townsend, homeland security adviser to Bush, comes after a congressional report harshly criticized the federal response to the disaster that left New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast flooded and thousands of residents homeless.

A report by congressional Republicans last week said federal emergency agencies were unprepared for last year's hurricane and quicker White House involvement might have improved their response.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has acknowledged that his department was overwhelmed by the Aug. 29 storm but has rejected the suggestion he and Bush were unresponsive.

Reuters MP GC2150

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