Sunday, January 08, 2006


FEMA still not reformed

Towards the end of September, 2005, Comedy Central displayed a chart from FEMA's website (thanks to the Presentation Zen blog). Here's that chart:

Now, this chart is a bit amateurish and invites derision, for example, because the upside down arrow "Preparedness" leads directly to "DISASTER". Inexplicably, even after the adverse publicity, the FEMA web page is still in place, for all to see.

One would think that they must have more important work to do than fix their web page, of course. One might hope that they are busy implementing the extensive reforms needed to ensure that FEMA is prepared to do its job properly next time. Shouldn't all of us, and the press in particular, be tracking whether FEMA is indeed being reformed?

There has been plenty of discussion of FEMA's failures but little about reform. Indeed, condemnation of FEMA continues. We can read of the controversy over dumping New Orleans evacuees out of their hotel rooms without any other arrangements, evictions of tenants and unannounced bulldozing of damaged homes. FEMA is far from becoming a responsive organization, and far from being in control of the situation even so many months after the flooding.

FEMA's failures are not limited to New Orleans. The Saturday, January 7, 2006 issue of the Poughkeepsie Journal reported that FEMA has failed to provide assistance to Dutchess County and other communities around New York due to extensive damage from October's torrential rains. KOCO-TV reported today (January 8): Oklahoma Emergency Director Frustrated With FEMA Wildfire Response. The article leads with:
A state official expressed frustration with the lack of response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide aid for statewide wildfires that have scorched more than 363,000 acres.
It's clear that FEMA is far from becoming a responsive organization, and far from being in control of the New Orleans situation even so many months after the flooding. How to explain this? Inquiring minds want to know. We want to understand this, not just read about FEMA's continued failures.

Looking back at New Orleans, FEMA's inaction has intentionally or unintentionally assisted developers bent on gentrification of the city. Just as the disaster of 9/11 and the outrage in its wake were used opportunistically to justify the invasion of Iraq, this disaster has been used opportunistically to change the ethnic makeup of New Orleans. Let's watch if the original residents, primarily poor and black, will be able to afford to move back into a gentrified New Orleans. How to explain the assignment of FEMA rebuilding contracts to the likes of Haliburton instead of to local firms, which could use the jobs? And in the absence of a tax base, local government is having a hard time restoring utilities and other services.

An extensive reform of FEMA is obviously critical. We're between hurricane seasons at the moment, but of course they will return. While storms are less frequent in the Pacific, there is the fear of the occasional tsunami or earthquake, and these have no seasons.

There should be considerable public scrutiny paid to whether FEMA will be up to the task.

Coverage of FEMA's falures is abundant: what has largely disappeared is news of whether FEMA itself is being fixed, and if not, why not.


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