FEMA again

Kevin Drum has a post outlining how FEMA has done under the past four presidents. Here’s an even shorter summary (to be fair, both HW and W tried to improve FEMA after its inept response to a disaster–Andrew in HW’s case and Katrina in W’s):

  • George HW Bush: it sucked
  • Bill Clinton: it worked well
  • George W Bush: it sucked
  • Barack Obama: it has worked well so far

Kevin points to these two articles that talk about the change. The takeaway is that Clinton and Obama treated FEMA like professional organization by appointing professionals in disaster preparation, while the two Bushs treated it like an afterthought and appointed people based on their politics (so they did not have a background in disaster planning). Romney, of course, is more like the Bushs (look down a couple posts). Republicans say that FEMA isn’t that important, that states can do the job themselves. Look at the first article Kevin links to see why that’s not true:

In Florida, the hurricane so overwhelmed state officials that they didn’t even know what had happened, let alone what help they needed. Initially, Andrew was expected to hit Miami. But when the hurricane hit 20 miles south of the city the morning of August 24, most Floridians breathed a sigh of relief. “The storm surges were not as bad as anticipated,” said one spokesperson for Governor Lawton Chiles. One National Guard major issued this report the day after the hurricane: “Florida has not requested any support from other states or federal agencies, nor do we project a need.”

Florida was slow to realize its own dire straits because many of its emergency workers were among the storm’s victims. Half of the members of the Dade County Police and Fire Departments had lost their homes. Most of the area’s fire and police stations were destroyed. Like their fellow southern Floridians, disaster management workers were looking for food, water, shelter, and medical care. The state was unable to issue specific requests for aid because it had no one available to assess the damage.

Finally, as the full extent of the damage–and the lack of federal action–prompted heavy criticism, President Bush circumvented FEMA and formed a hurricane task force led by Secretary of Transportation Andrew Card. Card and the task force flew down to Florida to assess the damage. As the Department of Transportation airplane passed over southern Florida, the members of the task force were stunned by the extent of the damage. “This eerie silence came over the plane as we flew over mile after mile of pure devastation,” remembers Shelley Longmuir, the task force’s chief of staff. “You got the feeling that you were no longer in the United States, but in some far away, mystical place because there were none of the reference points of civilization…. It looked like Beirut.”

Some disasters are just too big for one state to deal with.

By the way, this might be a good time to give to the Red Cross.

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