President Obama on Sunday morning was briefed via a video teleconference call on the federal response to Hurricane Irene, now a tropical storm. Obama has asked his advisers to keep him updated on developments and will deliver a statement at 5 p.m. EDT Sunday.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a briefing after the morning conference call that while most communities had already seen the worst of the storm, “we are not out of the woods yet.”
Officials said they are also moving into the response phase of the storm and conducting damage assessments with state governments.
“We will be working with the governors to determine what additional assistance may be needed on top of the emergency declarations that President Obama has already issued for many of the states along the path of the storm,” said Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate.
He also cautioned that “we may not yet have all the impacts from the storm as rivers continue to come up and we look at additional flooding.”
Fugate told ABC on Sunday that reforms enacted after the trouble-plagued federal response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina are paying off.
He cited FEMA reorganization legislation signed into law in 2006 and said the federal-state collaboration on disaster response has improved.
“We have learned to really work as one team, not as separate levels of government, and to put everything together early before the storm hits,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
He cited the recognition that “we shouldn’t have to wait until a state is overwhelmed to begin getting ready,” and noted “we should be able to go in before the governor has made a request, have supplies ready, have our teams in the state and work as one team, not waiting for damages to occur and that formal request to come.”
The White House said Vice President Biden, chief of staff Bill Daley, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan and Energy Secretary Steven Chu were also briefed on the conference call.
White House officials have gone to great lengths over the weekend to portray Obama as engaged in overseeing FEMA’s relief efforts. The president held two conference calls with emergency response officials Saturday and visited the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA’s headquarters.
Officials hope to avoid comparisons with FEMA’s poor handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast in 2005.
In a statement, White House officials said the president asked administration officials “to continue to be in touch with governors and local leadership up and down the East Coast.”
The president is expected to receive another update on recovery efforts Sunday evening.
This story was posted at 11:55 a.m. and has been updated.