Wednesday, September 07, 2005
What was FEMA's role, anyhow?
One of the areas of confusion appears to be FEMA's role in this whole fiasco. FEMA's job was/supposedly is to coordinate the relief effort -- not to provide the relief effort. Traditionally, FEMA itself did not have assets. FEMA relied on the National Guard, the American Red Cross, the U.S. Military, and local first responder assets. Now FEMA has access to Department of Homeland Security assets, but that is supposed to be secondary to its coordinating role.
I've lived through several Louisiana hurricanes in the past. Each parish's designated Emergency Response Center got a FEMA guy with a radio so that they could always communicate with FEMA. All resources registered with FEMA, whether it was a school board with buses and schools, the Red Cross, the military, or the National Guard, with numbers and location of assets. Then once the disaster was over, FEMA reps in the field talked with the first responders on the spot, assessed needs, then went to their list of assets and, e.g., notified the National Guard that they needed X soldiers here, Y soldiers there, notified the Red Cross that they needed shelters set up in location A and location B for people displaced by the hurricane, etc. By 24 hours out, assistance had reached everybody who needed assistance, and FEMA largely bowed out insofar as their field responsibilities went, and instead shifted into a monetary assistance role, providing monetary assistance to those who'd lost property and governments that needed to e.g. hire a bunch of trucks to haul debris away.
I'm not sure what failed here, but it is clear that FEMA's coordinating function didn't work. There appears to have been at least three major problems that I observed:
Then the shit hit the fan when their non-response became THE issue...
- FEMA did a poor job of registering assets, apparently relaying the information to their center in Atlanta where it was keypunched into a computer, rather than the information being available to people in the field who would be able to look at the list of assets and say, "Oh, I know! Those 400 buses that the Orleans Parish School Board has, we could move those to high ground before the waters rise and use them to evacuate people after the hurricane!".
- Secondly, people registered their assets to FEMA, but FEMA had nobody in the field at the parish Emergency Response Centers with radios, so they got no requests for assets. Rather than sending runners or guys in choppers to the Emergency Response Centers to see why they weren't getting requests, they instead decided that everything was okay (no news is good news, right?), and spent three days congratulating each other and slapping each other on the back on a job well done, while vitally-needed resources sat idle.
- Because their stupid computer told them that no assets were needed (because they failed in their job of maintaining communications with the parish emergency response centers), they turned away volunteers and material coming in from the outside. And because they're now part of the Department of Homeland Security, they had armed DHS agents to "secure the perimeter" and turn that aid away.
In short: FEMA used to work, albeit often haphazardly (the volunteers often were not well trained, resources often did not get efficiently dispatched because they were being managed by guys in the field off of clipboards). But at least the resources DID get dispatched, even if a shelter with 5 people got 20 porta-potties and a shelter with 500 people only got five porta-potties. Let's face it, inefficiently-dispatched resources are better than NO resources. Which is what the New Orleans area got for FOUR FREAKIN' DAYS in the aftermath of this disaster, as FEMA completely dropped the ball.
- Badtux the Louisiana Penguin
Posted by: BadTux / 9/07/2005 05:29:00 PM
- Name: BadTux
- Location: Some iceberg, South Pacific, Antarctica
I am a black and white and yellow multicolored penguin making his way as best he can in a world of monochromic monkeys.
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