The 72nd annual meeting of the Southern Governors' Association (SGA), slated for July 15-17 at the JW Marriott Hotel in New Orleans, La., will address some of the most provocative issues to confront the Southern region in decades. Amidst a backdrop of massive recovery efforts following the 2005 hurricane season, the South's governors will discuss and debate strategies to prepare for and deal with future catastrophic events. Governors will join in a landmark rebuilding effort, hear from experts in disaster preparedness, emergency management, civil disturbances and terrorism, and collectively explore solutions to technical, political and attitudinal issues related to the development of state-based health information systems, regional interoperability and the privacy and security of electronic medical records.

Many of SGA's governors have seen, first-hand, the resultant devastation from the record-breaking 2005 hurricane season. On Saturday, July 15, SGA Chairman Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has invited her colleagues and other meeting attendees to participate as volunteers in the construction of a new housing community in New Orleans' Upper Ninth Ward. Known as the Musicians' Village, this innovative project was conceived by Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., in partnership with New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH), as a way to help displaced musicians and others come home. Eventually, the village will consist of nearly 300 homes and the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, and will serve as a major economic engine in revitalizing this devastated community.

SGA has raised nearly $1.5 million for Habitat for Humanity to construct homes in the hurricane-impacted areas of Louisiana, including the Musicians' Village, as well as Mississippi. Underwriters for this important project include 84 Lumber, Entergy, LP Building Products, American Electric Power (AEP), Chevron, Freddie Mac, ExxonMobil, Shell Oil Company and Symantec. A press conference will be conducted from 12:30 - 1:30 p.m. at the 4000 N. Roman Street site in conjunction with the governors' construction activities.

A plenary session titled, "Improving Emergency Preparedness," will kick-off the formal meeting agenda on Sunday, July 16. As federal, state and local officials continue to work diligently to improve their abilities to predict, prepare for and respond to emergencies, the region's governors will hear about the performance of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) during last year's hurricane season. Governors will consider recommendations for improvements relative to all potential disasters, including resources and logistical support that can be made available by the private sector in times of emergency, and discuss approaches for achieving communications interoperability among emergency responders.

On Monday, July 17, Mike Leavitt, secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will serve as the featured speaker for the closing session, "E-Medical Records: Developing a Roadmap for Adoption and Implementation." Following the secretary's address, industry experts will review the development of the Gulf Coast Health Information Technology Task Force; explore solutions to technical, political and attitudinal obstacles to the development of state-based health information systems; and focus on ways to ensure regional interoperability and the privacy and security of patient information.

Governor Blanco's Chairman's Initiative: Education in the South-A Passport to Opportunity, a strategy to enlist communications campaigns to promote high school graduation among at-risk youth also will be on the agenda. Governors will discuss their efforts to increase graduation rates and improve academic rigor with representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MTV during this Sunday, July 16 session.