In Defense of FEMA

From the Atlantic magazine: It’s (Mostly) Not FEMA’s Fault. The problems blamed on emergency managers are often caused by the shortcomings of other governmental bodies, both before and after disasters.”

This article reinforces the points made in the June 21 posting on this blog, which cited a study documenting the failure of many Gulf Coast states to take the needed steps to mitigate known problems.

Staffing Problems at FEMA

Three articles have appeared lately. From oldest to newest:

(1) Article in Vice News: FEMA Is Facing Hurricane Season With a Vastly Depleted Workforce.

(2) From Reuters: US Disaster Response Stretched Thin As Hurricane Season Starts. An excerpt:

Internal documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show the agency’s disaster-response force is understaffed by 26 percent. And as last year revealed, many of those who sign up don’t always respond when needed. (For graphic, see tmsnrt.rs/2Juw4LV)

(3) Another take on the topic from TheHill: FEMA Scrambles to Hire Response Force as Hurricane Season Looms.

After the Flood: Ellicott City, MD.

Historic town suffered it second 1,000 year flood in two years. See:  Do You return After Another 1000 year Flood? Some excerpts from the article about the rebuilding efforts there for the past two years:

Funding for water infrastructure programs finally did come through, just three weeks ago, with a little more than $1 million for flood-mitigation in Ellicott City from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But that will barely get the front-end loaders cranking on a project that’s a $10 million event — for openers.

The planning folks warned everyone this would happen. They issued a 2014 report that detailed what needed to be done to tame those raging waters. And nothing happened. Then, after the 2016 flood, the report was rebooted last June as the “Ellicott City Hydrology/Hydraulic Study and Concept Mitigation Analysis. Conclusion: “The nature and scope of such improvements is significant in scope, impact and cost. It will require a long term planning and implementation effort.”

“FEMA’s Strategic Plan Commits a Strategic Error” – from the NDRC

Following on the theme of why we are not making progress in the disaster preparedness field. See this article from the Natural Resources Defense Council: FEMA’s Disaster Preparedness Plan Is a Disaster for the U.S. An excerpt follows:

FEMA’s Strategic Plan Commits a Strategic Error

FEMA’s failure to acknowledge the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise and more extreme weather, is an omission that completely undercuts the goals of the strategic plan. In the document, FEMA outlines plans for building preparedness and readying the nation for catastrophic disasters. For example, FEMA did indicate it wants to invest in more “pre-disaster mitigation, and encourage actors at all levels to better reduce their risks. These are laudable goals. However, FEMA, under a section about “Emerging Threats,” only cites cybersecurity and terrorism, making no mention of climate change and its associated impacts. Such an omission renders any aspirations to increase disaster preparedness meaningless. This glaring omission by FEMA sets the nation up to continue to spend billions of dollars on disaster recovery without every addressing the a contributing factor of the problem.

More on the DHS OIG Reports

Last weekend, the Diva did a posting titled What the Heck is This About, which dealt with the decision of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to remove some reports about early disaster response activities from their website.

On March 16, a reporter at USA Today provided more details in a second article about the DHS OIG reports. See: FEMA’s response to Hurricane Maria won’t get initial review under watchdog agency’s new approach. Reporter Ledge King raised several issues that remain about the decisions made by the OIG, including how best to inform FEMA staff re progress with response efforts and how to provide documentation of response progress for those outside the agency interested in the disaster response process.

The Diva was pleased to be interviewed by the reporter to make the case on behalf of researchers and historians.

FEMA’s New Strategic Plan

From HSToday, this announcement: FEMA Strategic Plan Centers on Community Resiliency, Catastrophe Prep, Less Red Tape.   From the forward:

The most important lesson from the challenging disasters of 2017 is that success is best delivered through a system that is federally supported, state managed, and locally executed,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long says in the plan’s foreword. “This plan seeks to unify and further professionalize emergency management across the nation and we invite the whole community to join us in embracing these priorities. We must all work as one through this strategy to help people before, during, and after disasters to achieve our vision of a more prepared and resilient nation.”

The Diva thinks she has heard these words before.

Update: By March 16 several news sources noted the missing words “climate change.” Here are two articles:

 

What The Heck Is This About?

Two accounts of a strange recent action taken:

(1) From USA Today on March 10: Government watchdog purges mostly positive reports on FEMA from website.

In a rare move, the government watchdog for the Federal Emergency Management Administration has removed a dozen largely positive reports evaluating how the agency responded under President Obama to several disasters from 2012 to 2016, according to an internal memo obtained by USA TODAY.

The 12 reports were rescinded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General because they “may have not adequately answered objectives and, in some cases, may have lacked sufficient and appropriate evidence to support conclusions,” read the internal memo issued Thursday. “In an abundance of caution, we believe it best to recall the reports and not re-issue them.

(2) From The Hill, on March 10:  FEMA watchdog removes positive evaluations of agency under Obama.

As a researcher and historian in the field of emergency management, the Diva is baffled by this action.  I cannot recall a precedent for the removal of reports on disaster responses from a federal agency website. Do any of you readers have additional information about this matter?

Update on March 13: Here is the memo that explains the removal.  The Diva has copies of the deleted memos if anyone would like to do a content analysis.