WASHINGTON (AP) – Thirteen U.S. cities including Portland, Maine, were rated better than New York in a study of emergency communications, according to draft portions of a federal report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

A portion of the report, to be released Wednesday, gives the highest ratings to Washington, San Diego, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Columbus, Ohio, Sioux Falls, S.D., and Laramie County, Wyoming.

Four small city areas did not make perfect grades but still scored higher than New York, according to federal officials: Anchorage, Alaska, Ada County, Idaho, and Topeka, Kan., in addition to Portland, Maine.

Three major urban centers in California – Los Angeles, Anaheim and Long Beach – also scored above New York.

Asked if New York officials agreed with the assessment that 13 other regions have surpassed their emergency communications, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s spokesman Stu Loeser said the city “has improved emergency communications immensely in the most complicated operating environment in the country and now has interoperable communications both at the command and operational levels.”

Loeser added: “We are well aware that there is always more for us to do, and we are continuously improving our systems.”

The lowest scores went to Chicago, Cleveland, Baton Rouge, La., Mandan, N.D., and American Samoa.

The study, conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, comes five years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, revealed major problems in how well emergency agencies were able to talk to each other during a catastrophe. Many firefighters climbing the World Trade Center towers died when they were unable to hear police radio warnings to leave the crumbling buildings.

In New York now, the report said, first responders were found to have well-established systems to communicate among each other – but not the advanced systems of San Diego or Sioux Falls.

Just over a year ago, Hurricane Katrina underscored communication problems when radio transmissions were hindered because the storm’s winds toppled towers.

Democrats have said they will make improving emergency communications a priority when they take control of Congress this week, though they have not said specifically what they will do, how much it will cost or how they will pay for it.

In the study, communities were judged in three categories: operating procedures in place, use of communications systems and how effectively local governments have coordinated in preparation for a disaster.

Most of the areas surveyed included cities and their surrounding communities, based on the assumption that in a major crisis emergency personnel from all local jurisdictions would respond.

The areas with the six best scores were judged “advanced” in all three categories. The cities with the lowest grades had reached the early implementation stage for only one category.

Chicago, Cleveland and Baton Rouge, for example, were judged to have accomplished the early stage of governance coordination, and intermediate grades in the other two categories. Mandan, N.D., and the territory of American Samoa were found to have gotten to the early stage of their actual usage of interoperable emergency communications, and received an intermediate grade in the other two categories.

On the Net:

Report can be downloaded at http://wid.ap.org/documents/dhs.pdf

AP-ES-01-02-07 2007EST