I do not usually inject my personal views in this blog, but as a person who has spent more than 40 years in the field of emergency management – as a researcher, adjunct professor, consultant, practitioner – I am truly concerned about how President Trump is mismanaging the response to and slow recovery from COVID-19.
Much of my past work has involved sharing the experience and expertise of the U.S., sometimes with other countries. Presently, the U.S. is a dreadful model. I can only hope that things get corrected here in the near future.
These thoughts were triggered by reading this article in the WashPost: Directions on Safely Reopening the County Must Come from Credible Officials Not Trump.
I have to say, this was not just a question of poor communication by Trump while he was doing all the right things. He wasn’t. Go read up on how President Tsai of Taiwan handled things and how Trump did, and you’ll see the contrast. And the failures by those always-dreaded “bureaucrats?” Sorry, but I was a “bureaucrat” at FEMA for 29 years, and I can assure you that 99% of the problem goes back to political leadership, not to the professional staff, going back as far as Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina, two cases when FEMA’s political leaders and other government leaders ignored the recommendations of the professional staff who actually understood emergency management. But unlike Claire, I’m annoyed but not worried. Sadly, lives will be lost due to Trump’s incompetence, but it’s happened before…the incompetence and foolishness of government leaders lost many American lives in Vietnam, where I served in the Army. But we’ve recovered from these crises before. The American Constitution and the American people are strong. They survived the Civil War, Jim Crow, McCarthyism, and a host of other ills. They’ll survive Trump.
I am confused by the comment about Biden and the two to tangle. First it is by no means evident that Clinton (who was the alternative) would not have acted quickly if she had been elected, given her participation in H1N1 pandemic as Secretary of State. Critically, she would not have eliminated the pandemic team in the NSC, withdrawn CDC liaison in Wuhan, left lead agencies without proper leadership, or removed scientist and experts from policy making bodies. She would not have created the leadership void which left agency staff confused as to what the policies were that needed to be implemented. Whether her policies and decisions would been without fault is unlikely, but it is hard to imagine they could have been as contradictory, capricious or just plain wrong as Trump’s have been. What positive steps that are being done, seem to come despite him, not because of him. However, since we will be deciding between Biden and Trump in November, it is reasonable to ask what Biden would have done and what he plans to do. He has been explicit about both and they are credible.
The pandemic has laid bare the inadequacies of our emergency management system, but it was recognized well before this not just in the pandemic community, but with the 2017 hurricane response, as well as by anyone working to respond to such hazards as a Cascadia earthquake or other mega hazards. Indeed, it was this realization that was behind resilience planning, that fundamental changes needed to be implemented in our built environment and social/economic systems to deal with them. Our current system sets up emergency management for failure, even when well run.
As far as it takes two to tangle, what does that actually mean with Trump? How do you separate the contradictory statements and mistruths? Despite them, there has been bi-partisan legislation to address the pandemic, yet the implementation is done in ways that create more distrust since established procedures are not followed and seem based on politics. Truman stated that the buck stops here. Trump says it is not his responsibility.
A board of inquiry would be useful, but I would focus it not just on the pandemic, but a broader look that includes emergency management, natural hazards, climate change, and even a restructuring of federal agencies. DRRA was an initial step in this direction, especially the BRIC portion, but it is not sufficient to the task.
DRRA and BRIC: Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 and
Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities
I have a slightly different take on this, but I, too, am worried.
• If you look at Trump’s actions – in the context of what the experts were saying – he seems to have pretty much done what they said to do. And his decision to close the borders – in spite of media howling, and pooh-poohing by the WHO and China – saved thousands of lives. How many we don’t know, but we do know that Biden would not have acted nearly as fast.
• If you listen to Trump’s words and looked at many of his tweets, his performance has been beyond abysmal.
• The media have focused on the latter, not the former, and aren’t really giving us an accurate picture of what’s happening. I’m basing this on my trying to separate fact from fiction AND what the Govs in particular are saying.
• My worry is that Trump’s sorry communications performance and the equally sorry performance of the media are leaving the public confused and more scared than it should be. This is a time for pulling together, and it ain’t getting done! I blame both sides – it takes two to tangle.
My concerns are mostly with the public administration failures: failure of the federal government to take the lead in areas where they have authority and expertise, compounded by Trump’s decision to let the states and territories figure it out for themselves — thus competing, for attention, funds, and supplies.
And those are very valid concerns. One of the things I’m going to suggest in my blog next week is that a Board of Inquiry be formed – independent of both the Executive and Legislative Branches – to dispassionately look at what went right and wrong and to recommend ways to improve both response and recovery. Many of the failures were by bureaucrats faced with situations for which they were unprepared both in resources and in mental outlook. No one with responsibility had ever been faced with this situation. Our EM doctrines were clearly inadequate to handle this type of situation.
Personally, I prefer that states lead, but admit that it is unclear how much the states were left to fend for themselves. There are lots of intimations in public reports and statements (e.g., by Newsom and Cuomo) that there was a lot more communication between the Task Force and the states than has been reported. That needs to be clarified – again why a BoI is needed.
Most importantly, the BoI needs to consider successful responses from other countries. As of today, Taiwan has had only six deaths and less than 400 cases out of a population of 23+M. They learned some hard lessons from SARS – and acted on what they learned; we apparently didn’t.
I am all for a board of inquiry of some sort. The model might be the 911 Commission.