HARRISBURG - The promotional video featured on the Web site of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency opens with images of teary-eyed survivors of Hurricane Katrina and a voice-over describing the failure of government intervention.
But with PEMA, the narrator coos, when catastrophe strikes, "help will be swift and services restored in a timely and coordinated manner."
To the hundreds of motorists stranded last week on snowbound I-78 and other highways in Northeast Pennsylvania, the PEMA response seemed more Katrina than coordinated.
As a result, PEMA director James R. Joseph has spent five uncomfortable hours at the witness table in Capitol hearings this week, trying to explain what went wrong and apologizing for his failures directing the storm response.
But his vague, abbreviated answers to difficult questions did not appear to satisfy lawmakers, including one who said he should step down.
"I think he should resign," said Rep. Karen Beyer (R., Lehigh), whose district straddles I-78 near Allentown.
When asked to respond to the lawmaker's call for Joseph's resignation, Gov. Rendell's spokeswoman, Kate Philips, said she had no comment.
Joseph, 54, was head of intelligence operations for the Pennsylvania National Guard when he was hired by Rendell in May 2005 as deputy PEMA director.
At the time, Rendell lauded him as someone well-equipped to ensure that the state's public-safety agencies were more coordinated and prepared for "any and all emergencies."
Four months later, Joseph - a brigadier general with decades of military command, as well as drug enforcement and intelligence operations experience - assumed the role as director, the point man for all state emergencies from hazardous spills and fires to terrorist acts.
Last year, in his major test prior to the snowstorm, Joseph was praised for his rapid response to widespread flooding.
But the stone-faced emergency point man took a hard hit this week as members of House and Senate committees aimed tough questions at him about his lackluster performance during the snowstorm.
Joseph, along with the heads of PennDot, the State Police and the Pennsylvania National Guard, attempted to explain why he did not react faster to last week's snowstorm that stranded motorists in the bitter cold on sections of I-78, I-80 and I-81.
Speaking in clipped, monotonal sentences, his voice barely above a whisper, Joseph said he was in charge of all agencies when an emergency was declared. This time, he said, he did not have the information he needed to act appropriately.
"When we know there is a problem, we institute a plan," Joseph said.
Beyer said she was angry that Joseph appeared completely blindsided by a storm he should have been well prepared for.
"They are wringing their hands and apologizing, but this isn't a game," she said. "This was a disaster, and the PEMA director was out to lunch."
Defenders say Joseph has "performed brilliantly" in other disasters.
Last year, he led a quick response to flooding that inundated parts of the Philadelphia area and many other counties across the state, said Philips.
Joseph mobilized resources to reach people stranded on roof tops in Wilkes-Barre when the Susquehanna River flooded in June, she said.
But over the last two days, lawmakers focused on the state's ill-prepared snow-removal operations and failed communications systems.
Yesterday, they also heard from two agencies that were able to keep the roads open through the storm: the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Officials said they kept their roads clear through an aggressive "bare-pavement" snow-removal policy that relied on heavy pre-treatment and continuous plowing. They also said they maintained active internal-communications systems and external radio and message boards, along with constantly updated Web sites to deliver real-time information to the public.
Meanwhile, U.S. Reps. Jim Gerlach and Charles Dent, who represent the Lehigh Valley region, postponed a community meeting scheduled for Tuesday after Rendell told them agency officials would not be available until after an independent investigation on the state's storm response was complete.