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FEMA: There is No Such Thing as Bad Press

May 18, 2007

SWATA little more than a month ago Mike of the new blog, Emergency Management Issues noted, with some trepidation, the newly reconstituted FEMA.

As part of the 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, FEMA has changed the mantra of emergency management: mitigation, preparation, response and recovery (I always had a problem with thinking of these as phases, but apparently that’s irrelevant now) to the DHS-speak of prevent, protect, respond and recover. Mike noted:

Replacing mitigation and preparation is a mistake and, I believe, sends the wrong mission. Realistically we can not prevent natural disasters, and terrorists only have to right once to be successful. We would be better off focusing on mitigation and preparation efforts that are based on realistic hazard and risk analyses that are appropriate to the local area. This would improve our ability to withstand the impact of disasters, and also lessen the impact of terrorist attacks, making the area less desirable as a target.

My fear with this reorganization is an increased focus on terrorism at the expense of all-hazards preparation and response. This is reflected, ominously, by the new advisory level position created within FEMA, “Law Enforcement Advisor.” As an aside, I always thought that was the FBI’s job. I guess I was right when I wondered if FEMA would end up just doing everything.

Mike closed the post with the following:

…[T]he jury is still out on how effective the “New FEMA” is going to be, and I am more than willing to give them a chance, but what I’ve seen so far doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Well, it only took one month and one disaster to see the fruits of this change.

On group blog Preemptive Karma Becky posted on FEMA’s actions responding to the devastation in Greensburg, Kansas. Apparently, Mike’s worst fears of a FEMA that is more concerned with security than response and recovery have been realized.

Reports that:

The … volunteers … [were] denied entry by armed guards at checkpoints set up outside of what was left of the town – because those were FEMA’s instructions.

and…

…[H]undreds of recovery volunteers were told to not come to Greensburg by the United Way, hundreds of police from dozens of Kansas jurisdictions were mobilized to enter the city and establish “control.”

and…

…(rumor has it that all FEMA has done for those people is mail a packet of information to them – which, of course, cannot be delivered as their homes and, therefore, mail boxes, are gone)

I’ve yet to hear a single complimentary word about FEMA’s actions in Greensburg. But even worse, I’ve only heard a very little bit about their actions, which is infinitely worse.

Becky feels that this state of affairs is directly related to:

…[T]reating natural disasters as it would terrorist attacks. That is why before any assistance can be provided, it must first disarm and establish military control. Only then, after lives have been needlessly lost, can volunteers be allowed in to help the victims.

I highly recommend reading Becky’s article here. If it weren’t so terrifying I would call it eye-opening.

Finally, welcome to Mike at Emergency Management Issues to the blogosphere.

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