Do We Need a Disaster Recovery Czar for Puerto Rico?

Once of the advantages of decades of experience is the recollection of previous situations where the federal response and recovery endured major clashes with state and local officials.  The example that comes to mind is Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992.

Then President George Bush appointed a key aide, Andrew Card, to a newly created position, which was above that of the Federal Coordinating Officer. The response and recovery was complex and conflict-ridden, but Card helped sort it out and expedited matters.  See the article from NYTimes, dated Aug. 29, 1992: HURRICANE ANDREW; BREAKDOWN SEEN IN U.S. STORM AID. One excerpt:

Even though the emergency management agency was created in 1978 to coordinate the Federal response to disasters, Mr. Bush on Wednesday appointed Transportation Secretary Andrew H. Card as the head of a separate inter-agency group, the Task Force on Hurricane Andrew.

NOTE: The Diva has been rethinking this suggestion based on comments from readers.  More leadership and decisiveness are needed for the recovery, but not in the form of a czar.


4 thoughts on “Do We Need a Disaster Recovery Czar for Puerto Rico?

  1. Asking for a “Czar” sends the wrong message. What is needed is more mutual coordination of activities by all involved stakeholders. The article you cite refers to a federal interagency group. “Czar” implies a hierarchical command and control model. The administrative leader of an interagency group is more or a chairperson and facilitator. I would argue that Puerto Rico needs something similar, with its record of decisions open to the public.

  2. As I see it, the reason a Hurricane Czar was apparently needed in 1992 was that the president had appointed a guy to run FEMA with no disaster experience and whose mandate existed on paper but not in reality, and in an agency that had become a dumping ground for ineffective political hangers-on and which focused overwhelmingly on nuclear civil defense to the expense of all-hazards planning. Starting in 1993, there was in fact a Hurricane Czar: it was the new FEMA Director, who had the full backing of the President and was tasked with organizing an effective Federal disaster response while bolstering training and guidance (and funds) to strengthen State and local response capability as well. Bottom line: If the people at the top care about disaster preparedness, know what they’re doing, and are willing to support and fund it, then the FEMA Director can run things just fine. But if President and his top people are, with all due respect, corrupt and ineffective folks interested only in enriching themselves and staying in power by stirring up racism and bigotry, then calling someone a “Hurricane Czar” won’t fix anything.

    • Right you are. Things in Puerto Rico would not be in the mess they are if the initial response for the feds were adequate and appropriate. If the President decides to care about PR, I think a special appointee could help resolve the many conflicts.

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