Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz announced city and county plans to combine with state and local groups currently aiding victims of Hurricane Katrina at a press conference Wednesday on the front steps of the City County Building.

Falk said city and county readiness is key if officials ask for direct help.

“State and national officials have asked our area to be ‘on call,'” Falk said. “We are eager to provide service and assistance. We are in the process of coordinating some key issues.”

Those issues include transportation, establishing chains of communication, food, housing, clothing, medical care and security. Cieslewicz expressed the importance of coordinating those issues.

“This is a disaster of national proportions,” Cieslewicz said. “Madison is going to do its part to support the families who have literally lost everything. Although we do not know exactly how or when our community will be called on to assist these families, we will be prepared to get them the help they need to get back on their feet.”

Cieslewicz said the city and county are waiting to hear from federal officials. It may be necessary to house evacuees in Madison, he added.

According to Falk, citizens have come to them looking for ways to aid in the relief effort.

“Three weeks ago our community was hit by a devastating tornado,” Falk said. “We have some sense of what the victims of the hurricane are going through. We are eager to help them.”

Many people have taken it upon themselves to drive south and help out first hand, Falk added.

Falk and Cieslewicz agreed that it would be better for citizens not to go on personal crusades, but to use appropriate channels, like The American Red Cross, to provide disaster relief.

“I am so impressed with the great deal of civic energy I’ve seen,” Cieslewicz said. “I would just prefer people to direct their energy in the most productive way possible.”

Falk said definitive plans for hurricane relief have not yet been formed in Dane County because what is needed is still unclear.

According to a press release, the county prepared efforts to meet with city, state and local community groups to determine what needs evacuees might have if they arrive in Dane County on Sept. 6. The United Way, The American Red Cross, St. Vincent de Paul and local hospitals and medical centers are among the local community groups involved in the preparations.

Cieslewicz said monetary, food and clothing donations to those organizations or volunteering for any of those causes would be the most productive way to channel a citizen’s assistance.

Any student who wants to help can contact one of the organizations that have offered their support. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul can be reached at 608-278-2920. The United Way of Dane County can be reached at 608-246-HELP. The Salvation Army can be reached at 608-345-0191. The American Red Cross can be reached at 1-800-LOVED-1S or 1-888-HELP-NOW.