Tuesday, September 27, 2005

FEMA Solutions?

As I said in my last post, I would post a suggestion on how to fix FEMA. Daedalus kindly pointed out in a comment that the best way to do this would to put FEMA back the way it was during the Clinton days. I happen to agree, but, you know dear reader, I prepared this little post and thought I would post it anyway . . . even if it is behind the news a bit. So here I go: With President’s Bushes Speech last speech in New Orleans he said, and I quote:
In a time of terror threats and weapons of mass destruction, the danger to our citizens reaches much wider than a fault line or a flood plain. I consider detailed emergency planning to be a national security priority. Therefore, I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to undertake an immediate review, in co-operation with local counterparts, of emergency plans in every major city in America. . . . Four years after the frightening experience of 11 September, Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency. When the federal government fails to meet such an obligation, I, as President, am responsible for the problem, and for the solution.
What I see as the problem here is that Bush says that because of 9/11 detailed emergency planning is and was a national security priority but, simply, it was not. I guessing the assumption after 9/11 was that we would not get attacked like we did again with the security measures in place. Monies were diverted from many agencies (including FEMA) to Home Land Security and the war on Iraq. This observation is not a new one as was also pointed out by the New York Times in: “FEMA, Slow to the Rescue, Now Stumbles in Aid Effort” by Steinhauer and Lipton also point to the financial problems facing FEMA:
FEMA, Mr. Lokey said, is an agency with limited federal money that must quickly expand its operational capacity only after a major disaster strikes. It has not won a large chunk of the new federal homeland security dollars, that have been dedicated to terrorism.” If the billions of dollars that have been spent on chemical, nuclear and biological response, if some of that had come over here, we would have done better," he said. "But after 9/11, the public priority was terrorism."
So, first we need to get rid of the assumption that a natural or human made disaster will not hit us in the United States. With this assumption gone, the road is open to redistribute monies more evenly within governmental agencies. That means financing FEMA for at least the following: 1. Monies for running the agency on a day to day basis 2. Monies for continued training of FEMA staff dealing with a variety emergency scenarios –fictional and real 3. Monies available to form extensive (and varied) emergency scenarios and resulting plans for action and well as implementation procedures Monies to be held incase of a long term disaster (either man made or natural) as well as supplies such as tents, food, water, and other necessities needed immediately after a disaster including hundreds of mobile communication systems that do not rely on local resources to be available not only to workers but to citizens. The next problem facing FEMA is the issue of having to cut through bureaucratic red tape to get anything done. In the same article from the NY Times, it was said:
"I don't think federal bureaucracy can handle the next disaster," said Toye Taylor, the president of Washington Parish, one of the hardest hit areas in Louisiana, who met with Mr. Bush this week. "I expressed to the president that it would take a new partnership between the military and private sector," Mr. Taylor said. "Because there will be another one and I don't think the federal government is going to be able to help." Indeed, Mr. Bush said in his address to the nation from New Orleans on Thursday night that the military would play a new role in federal disaster relief.
Mr. Taylor suggests a partnership between the military and private sector, while President Bush wants the military to have a much larger role in federal disaster relief. I am not sure if either of these plans is entirely good ones but I tend to side more with Mr. Taylor. The problem of militarizing FEMA is that even more red tape occurs—chain of command and the like. Already this is a huge problem as people on the ground in the red zones cannot help others because they have to wait for permission from the right people. Thus, nothing gets done. Conversely, because the federal government finally took charge of the situation, and worried about instances of looting and violence which was overplayed by the press, they were weary of allowing anyone in who came with aid and so turned many away. There are also the problems of rescue and aid units being sent from place to place, but are not allowed to help because of the red tape involved—communication is an issue. How do we solve this problem? I suggest creating FEMA as an almost standalone agency who has the backing of the military during emergency situations but works closer with individual state and local agencies in developing a plan for action. Part of the problem arising is that there is little communication going on between the local and the federal level. The local levels know better what is needed for their area so it is reasonable to assume that they must have a hand in the workings and not left out in the cold. A network of communications and agreements need to be instituted so that although the Federal Agency FEMA oversees the effort (as they are better funded for such a thing) they must work closely with the local level in plans already laid out before the disaster hit. Each plan or agreement that FEMA has with each state can be similar in structure but different in aspects that may occur such as geographic considerations, communication abilities and local resources. A disaster that hits, say, Idaho, will have different concerns surrounding that disaster than a disaster that occurs on the Gulf. This is where the plan with each state needs to differ. On the local level, monies should also be diverted for emergency planning and implementation. Local authorities (law enforcement, fire and health workers) need to also be trained in a variety of emergency scenarios in conjunction with and away from Federal training. I suggest in conjunction with because if two different plans of attack occur, communication between the two entities will falter. I also say in conjunction without, because local agencies must be able to function effectively when not under the federal umbrella. Finally, I suggest that the red tape must be streamlined in such a way as to not create hindrance for action during an emergency situation. Individual agencies such as the Red Cross or support sent from other individuals and states must be allowed to contribute to the overall relief and rescue effort. These entities could be asked to meet at a central location and then, under federal and local authority, sent out to various locations in need of their help. Although not trained with either FEMA or local agencies, independent help organizations and individuals could be crucial to the success of operations. The trick is, however, avoiding chaos. Thus, it would be a good idea after meeting at the different centralized locations, each independent relief and rescue group should be overseen by both a federal and a local representative who can help streamline their efforts and make sure that things go according to the overall plan set up before hand. This will avoid instance of having too much aid on one place and not enough aid in another area. Furthermore, this approach will help avoid inequality of aid goods distribution. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with bureaucracy involved and the lines of command that exist now and so cannot even guess how to accomplish this feat exactly. Nevertheless, it is obvious that some type of adjustment needs to be made. You might think that this little exercise does nothing as we are not the ones in power, but you are mistaken. Just by trying to figure things out ourselves we are starting a critical discussion that could (or has the potential to) spread around the internet and out into the public sphere. Even an important politician might get wind of our collective plan and think that some of our ideas are good ones and will wish to use them. Anything is possible, so don’t think of this as purely an academic attempt but a practical measure. Here you go--my 2 cents worth. Now that I have offered a skeleton plan, dear readers, help me fill it in. What have I missed? What have I gotten wrong? What would you add? R aka Harpowoman

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