FEMA: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

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posted on Sep, 7 2005 @ 09:57 PM
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This is a must read article on FEMA.....It explains very much and makes it easier to understand why FEMA has done so poorly in response to Katrina.




A Disaster Waiting to Happen

...some emergency managers inside and outside of government started sounding an alarm that still rings loudly. Bush administration policy changes and budget cuts, they say, are sapping FEMA's long-term ability to cushion the blow of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornados, wildfires and other natural disasters...

In addition, the White House has pushed for privatization of essential government services, including disaster management, and merged FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security -- where, critics say, natural disaster programs are often sidelined by counter-terrorism programs. Along the way, morale at FEMA has plummeted, and many of the agency's most experienced personnel have left for work in other government agencies or private corporations...

From its first months in office, the Bush administration made it clear that emergency programs, like much of the federal government, were in for a major reorientation...

At FEMA, Bush appointed a close aide, Joe Allbaugh, to be the agency's new director...

Some FEMA veterans complained that Allbaugh had little experience in managing disasters...The White House quickly launched a government-wide effort to privatize public services, including key elements of disaster management...

In a May 15, 2001, appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Allbaugh signaled that the new, stripped-down approach would be applied at FEMA as well. "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management," he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

In the wake of the terrorist attacks...22 government agencies, FEMA among them, would be merged into the DHS...

Michael Brown, a college friend of Allbaugh's who had served as FEMA's general counsel, was recruited to head the agency, which would now be part of the DHS's Emergency and Response Directorate. When the reorganization took effect on March 1, 2003, Brown assured skeptics that under the new arrangement, the country would be served by "FEMA on steroids" -- a faster, more effective disaster agency.

Within FEMA...disaster professionals are leaving many parts of FEMA in droves, compromising the agency's ability to do its job. "Since last year, so many people have left who had developed most of our basic programs," Mann says. "A lot of the institutional knowledge is gone. Everyone who was able to retire has left, and then a lot of people have moved to other agencies."

In February 2004, the American Federation of Government Employees surveyed 84 FEMA personnel about the state of things at the agency. The results showed a dramatic downturn in morale: 80 percent said FEMA has become "a poorer agency" under DHS, and 60 percent said that, given the chance to move to another agency and make the same salary, they'd do so...

Waugh, the Georgia State University expert, says that the recent hurricanes could serve as a wake-up call to highlight FEMA's drift in priorities.

"If you talk to FEMA people and emergency management people around the country, people have almost been hoping for a major natural disaster like a hurricane, just to remind DHS and the administration that there are other big things -- even bigger things than al Qaeda," Waugh says. "This is an exposed nerve in the emergency management community, in the sense that resources have been shifted away from hurricanes, tornados and other kinds of disasters -- the kind of disasters that are more likely to occur than terrorism."

In case Congress hasn't gotten the message, former FEMA director James Lee Witt recently restated it in strong terms. "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded," he testified at a March 24, 2004, hearing on Capitol Hill. "I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared. In fact one state emergency manager told me, 'It is like a stake has been driven into the heart of emergency management.'"




[edit on 7-9-2005 by loam]






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