Disasters keep coming but FEMA phased out


Richard Moore

Posted on Wed, Aug. 31, 2005 

Disasters keep coming but FEMA phased out 
Agency responsible for preparedness absorbed into homeland security 
Washington Post 

SEATTLE -In the days to come, as the nation copes with the
disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we will be reminded
how important it is to have a federal agency capable of
dealing with natural catastrophes of this sort. This is an
immense human tragedy, beyond the capabilities of state and
local government to deal with. It requires a national

Which makes it all the more difficult to understand why the
country's premier agency for dealing with such events -- FEMA
-- is being, in effect, systematically downgraded and all but
dismantled by the Department of Homeland Security.

Apparently homeland security now consists almost entirely of
protection against terrorist acts. How else to explain why the
Federal Emergency Management Agency will no longer be
responsible for disaster preparedness?

FEMA was born in 1979, the offspring of a number of federal
agencies that had been functioning in an independent and
uncoordinated manner to protect the country against natural
disasters and nuclear holocaust.

All-hazards preparedness

The creation of the federal agency encouraged states, counties
and cities to convert from their civil defense organizations
and to establish emergency management agencies to do the
requisite planning for disasters. Over time, a philosophy of
"all-hazards disaster preparedness" was developed that sought
to conserve resources by producing single plans that were
applicable to many types of events.But it was Hurricane
Andrew, which hit Florida in 1992, that really energized FEMA.
The year after that catastrophic storm, President Bill Clinton
appointed James Lee Witt to be director of the agency. Witt
reoriented FEMA from civil defense preparations to a focus on
natural disaster preparedness and disaster mitigation. In an
effort to reduce the repeated loss of property and lives every
time a disaster struck, he started a disaster mitigation
effort called "Project Impact." FEMA was elevated to a
Cabinet-level agency, in recognition of its important
responsibilities coordinating efforts across departmental and
governmental lines.

Witt fought for federal funding to support the new program. At
its height, only $20 million was allocated to the national
effort, but it worked wonders. One example: When the Nisqually
earthquake struck the Puget Sound area on Feb. 28, 2001, homes
had been retrofitted for earthquakes and schools were
protected from high-impact structural hazards. Those involved
with Project Impact thought it ironic that the day of that
quake was also the day that the then-new president chose to
announce that Project Impact would be discontinued.

The advent of the Bush administration in January 2001 signaled
the beginning of the end for FEMA. The agency's newly
appointed leadership showed little interest in its work or in
the missions pursued by Witt. Then came the Sept. 11 attacks
and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Soon
FEMA was being absorbed.

Agency's death blow

This year it was announced that FEMA is to "officially" lose
the disaster preparedness function that it has had since its
creation. The move is a death blow to an agency that was
already on life support. In fact, FEMA employees have been
directed not to become involved in disaster preparedness
functions, since a new directorate (yet to be established)
will have that mission.

FEMA will be survived by state and local emergency management
offices, which are confused about how they fit into the
national picture. That's because the focus of the national
effort remains terrorism. Those of us in the business of
dealing with emergencies find ourselves with no national
leadership. We are being forced to fend for ourselves, making
do with the "homeland security" mission. Our "all-hazards"
approaches have been decimated by the administration's
preoccupation with terrorism.

America may well be hit by another major terrorist attack, and
we must be prepared for that. But I can guarantee you that
hurricanes like Katrina, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes,
tsunamis, floods, windstorms, mudslides, power outages, fires
and perhaps a pandemic will have to be dealt with. They are
coming for sure, sooner or later, even as we are weakening our
ability to respond to them. Eric Holdeman is director of the
King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management. Write him
at •••@••.••• .

© 2005 Charlotte Observer and wire service sources. All Rights

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
blog: http://harmonization.blogspot.com/

"Escaping The Matrix - 
Global Transformation: 
    "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
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      - Srdja Trifkovic

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    Faith in ourselves - not gods, ideologies, leaders, or programs.
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