Who broke FEMA?

Based largely on work done by the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic Intelligence Studies (CSIS), Chertoff’s Second Stage Review, or 2SR, plan called for the removal of the DHS Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the peak of the hurricane season.

What Will Happen to FEMA?
by EPM

Long before Hurricane Katrina formed over the Atlantic, Michael Chertoff, as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was in the process of removing the front-line emergency response apparatus that administers FEMA. Based largely on work done by the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic Intelligence Studies (CSIS), Chertoff’s Second Stage Review, or 2SR, plan called for the removal of the DHS Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the peak of the hurricane season.

Spurred on by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have drafted competing bills with the same goals: removing FEMA from the grip of DHS and restoring its independent agency status.

Will FEMA remain where it is now, or will it once again be an independent agency? How did we get into this mess?
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 Disabled FEMA

In July 1979 President Jimmy Carter created FEMA as an independent agency of the federal government’s executive branch. Executive Order 12148 merged into FEMA several disaster-response agencies, including the Federal Insurance Administration, National Fire Prevention and Control, and Housing and Urban Development’s Disaster Assistance activities.

For more than two decades FEMA operated as an independent agency. After September 11th, however, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (HSA). As a result of its passage, control of FEMA’s operations moved to the newly created DHS in March 2003 and FEMA’s role was redefined; it became a second-tier agency in DHS, and much of its authority was removed.

While its organizational structure was kept intact, much of FEMA’s authority was stripped and given to the newly created Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) of DHS...

Many “backgrounder” research reports on the Heritage Foundation’s Web site suggest that Chertoff’s 2SR plan came directly from the Heritage Foundation/CSIS research, one of which is “Who’s on First? A Strategy for Protecting Critical Infrastructure,” a report arguably concluding that human death and suffering are immaterial to the Heritage Foundation/CSIS/Chertoff 2SR plan except as a source of liability risk. “Who’s on First?” decides that, of 14 of the standard accepted critical infrastructures, the focus of reorganization should place emphasis on only four:

The current list of critical infrastructure is too expansive, including sectors that are not truly vital to the federal government’s functioning. The federal government has a vested interest in only the energy, finance, telecommunications, and transportation sectors.

What of the other critical infrastructures — those that are left out now? Here are the remaining 10:

* Chemicals sector
* Continuity of Government Services sector
* Emergency & Law Enforcement Services sector
* Fire Services sector
* Food sector
* Health Services sector
* Higher Education sector
* Insurance sector
* Water sector

Government Services? Emergency & Law Enforcement Services? Fire Services? Health Services? Food and Water? Not so important in the Heritage Foundation/CSIS/Chertoff reorganization plan. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, could any of these 10 not-so-critical infrastructures have been key in the DHS/FEMA failure to respond?

what happens when a right-wing “policy” think tank’s recommendations for a governmental emergency-management agency are followed without careful consideration of those 10 critical infrastructures the think tank sees as “not truly vital to the federal government’s functioning”? Below we list the 10, for each of which we consulted ePluribus Media’s Timelines project to find specific examples of the consequences of FEMA’s ignoring or downplaying that particular piece of the infrastructure during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The text following each link is quoted directly from the Timelines.
Oil spills after Katrina rival Exxon Valdez

(Sept. 16, 2005) Hurricane Katrina is rapidly becoming the worst environmental calamity in U.S. history, with oil spills rivaling the Exxon Valdez, hundreds of toxic sites still uncontrolled, and waterborne poisons soaking 160,000 homes.
Bucket Brigade warns of toxins in St. Bernard

Continuity of Government

Katrina Recovery Officials Unsure What’s Been Spent

(Nov. 03, 2005) Officials responsible for doling out billions in Hurricane Katrina relief contracts told lawmakers yesterday that they still don’t have answers to central questions about why certain recovery efforts have stalled, whether money is being wasted and what’s keeping Gulf Coast firms from getting a bigger share of the work.
Gulf Firms Losing Cleanup Contracts

(Oct. 04, 2005) Companies outside the three states most affected by Hurricane Katrina have received more than 90 percent of the money from prime federal contracts for recovery and reconstruction of the Gulf Coast, according to an analysis of available government data. The analysis by The Washington Post takes into account only the first wave of federal contracts..

Law Enforcement
They Knew What to Expect

(Sept. 02, 2005) Virtually everything that has happened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck was predicted by experts and in computer models, so emergency management specialists wonder why authorities were so unprepared. … In light of that, said disaster expert Bill Waugh of Georgia State University, “It’s inexplicable how unprepared for the flooding they were.” ... “Under DHS, it was downgraded, buried in a couple of layers of bureaucracy, and terrorism prevention got all the attention and most of the funds….”

First Responders Urged Not To Respond To Hurricane Impact Areas Unless Dispatched By State, Local Authorities

(Aug. 29, 2005) Michael Brown.. today urged all fire and emergency services departments not to respond to counties and states affected by Hurricane Katrina without being requested and lawfully dispatched by state and local authorities ...“We appreciate the willingness and generosity of our Nation’s first responders to deploy during disasters. But such efforts must be coordinated so that fire-rescue efforts are the most effective possible.”

The Katrina Crawl

(Aug. 29, 2005) As traffic flooded east on Interstate 10 out of Mississippi and Louisiana on Sunday, it hit a familiar blockage in the major evacuation artery: the Wallace Tunnel under the Mobile River. ... Collier [spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety] said that no plan existed to alleviate some of the traffic snarl ..

Guardsmen ‘played cards’ amid New Orleans chaos: police official

(Sept. 03, 2005) A top New Orleans police officer said that National Guard troops sat around playing cards while people died in the stricken city after Hurricane Katrina. ... His remarks fuelled controversy over the government’s handling of events during five days when New Orleans succumbed to lawlessness after Katrina swamped the city’s flood defenses. … Riley said that for the first three days after Monday’s storm … the police and fire departments and some volunteers had been alone in trying to rescue people.

Food Services
Homeland Security won’t let Red Cross deliver food

(Sept. 03, 2005) The Red Cross, Salvation Army and Southern Baptists report difficulties delivering aid: “As the National Guard delivered food to the New Orleans convention center yesterday, American Red Cross officials said that federal emergency management authorities would not allow them to do the same.” … “The Homeland Security Department has requested and continues to request that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans,” said Renita Hosler, spokeswoman for the Red Cross. “Right now access is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities. We have been at the table every single day [asking for access]. We cannot get into New Orleans against their orders.” Calls to the Department of Homeland Security and its subagency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, were not returned yesterday.
Broussard — FEMA prevented aid

(Sept. 04, 2005) Aaron Broussard, Jefferson Parish President — “Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn’t need them. This was a week ago. FEMA — we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, ‘Come get the fuel right away.’ When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. ‘FEMA says don’t give you the fuel.’ Yesterday — yesterday — FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice...

Health Services

Charity evacuation begins

(Sept. 01, 2005) State and federal authorities on Thursday morning began evacuating about 350 patients from Charity and University hospitals in New Orleans who have been stuck for days in facilities lacking water and working plumbing and where severe shortages of fuel and medicine have put strains on their ability to provide basic care. … [T]he evacuation came nearly 2 1/2 days after hospital administrators first asked for an evacuation in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning when levee breaches sent floodwaters coursing through the city. … Smithburg said he did not know why it took so long to start the evacuations, and why a doctor working under primitive conditions was able to achieve the kind of rapid response that LSU administrators working from the Office of Emergency Preparedness in Baton Rouge were not.

New Orleans health care system destroyed

(Sept. 20, 2005) “Essentially the health care infrastructure of New Orleans is gone — it no longer exists,” said Cappiello... Although the city has more than a dozen hospitals, none have resumed normal operations. Officials at Children’s Hospital, which Mayor Ray Nagin had hoped would be ready when residents are allowed to return to the Uptown neighborhood this week, said they may need 10 more days to prepare. ... Many local doctors and nurses are without paychecks, he said: “There’s a nationwide shortage of nurses. People will try to recruit them and many may never come back.”
New Orleans Health Care Another Katrina Casualty

(Nov. 25, 2005) Providing medical care is one of the most daunting challenges for New Orleans as it rebuilds, and the choices made now will determine whether one of the nation’s poorest cities can adequately care for its legions of uninsured. Katrina damaged more than a dozen hospitals and uprooted thousands of private physicians. Now, nearly three months later, health care remains scarce. The last military medical unit in the city is gone, leaving only Touro and Children’s hospitals partially reopened.

Higher Education

Katrina floods wipe out years of research

(Sept. 14, 2005) Important work on heart disease, cancer, AIDS and a host of other ailments may be lost forever to scientists at Tulane and Louisiana State universities’ medical schools in New Orleans. LSU lost all of its 8,000 lab animals, including mice, rats, dogs and monkeys. ... About 300 federally funded projects at New Orleans colleges and universities worth more than $150 million — including 153 projects at Tulane — were affected in some way, according to an initial survey by the National Institutes of Health...

FEMA’s flood money has dried up

(Nov. 17, 2005) The Federal Emergency Management Agency has no more money to pay flood insurance claims and has advised the nation’s 96 companies that underwrite flood insurance to suspend payments, a spokesman for the agency said Thursday. Butch Kinerney, the FEMA spokesman for the flood insurance program, said Hurricane Katrina claims have totaled $23 billion — and FEMA has already borrowed its limit of $3.5 billion. Kinerney said the agency notified Congress in September, October and November of the problem and is waiting for Congressional approval to borrow more money...

Doctors fear dysentery in Mississippi shelter

(Sept. 03, 2005) Officials closed a shelter in Biloxi, Miss., on Saturday because doctors think more than 20 ill people there may be sick with dysentery from tainted water. An additional 20 people in Biloxi, not staying in the shelter, were treated for vomiting and diarrhea. The shelter, at a Biloxi school, has had no water or power since Katrina hit on Monday. About 400 people had been staying there, and doctors said some may have ignored warnings to stay away from water. … Most of the patients were treated with antibiotics. About 30 were taken to a hospital in Mobile, Ala., while the rest were bused to a shelter in Thomasville, Ga.
This Is Not Just a Natural Disaster; This Is a Failure to Prepare

(Sept. 07, 2005) The people of the Gulf Coast region were struck by two disasters — first the Hurricane, and then the failure of the federal government in their time of great need. This is not just a natural disaster; this is a failure of lack of preparedness. It’s a natural disaster, but man-made mistakes have made matters much worse, having lost many more lives. Instead of unconscionably blaming others, President Bush must take charge and take responsibility, and must get it right, and that is my concern and the message that I will bring to the President: ‘Mr. President, you should have taken charge and you should have taken responsibility.’ After 9/11, Congress stood united to make homeland security a top priority. Yet in the four years since, our Republican Congress has given natural disaster preparedness secondary status in the federal budget, undermined the effectiveness of FEMA, and cut funding for the Army Corps flood control projects in and around New Orleans.

Research and writing: Wanderindiana, Luaptifer, HeyThereItsEric and Kfred.

Contributors: BarbaraS, Kfred, SawcieLackey, Sue in KY, Susie Dow, Cho, JeninRI, Standingup, Beverly in NH, XicanoPwr

Photographs: © 2005 by, and used with the permission of, Sheldon Morton / World Eye Press

What Will Happen to FEMA?


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