Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"...along with state and federal partners, and voluntary agencies.”

It looks like FEMA might finally be getting it together, but now that Rove has taken over Federal Emergency Image Management Agency, please don’t accept everything FEMA says it’s doing at face value, and be leery of statements like, “FEMA, along with state and federal partners, and voluntary agencies.” I’m not a conspiracy theorist, just a healthy skeptic of political spin.

For example, this from a FEMA Press Release on 9/4:

"Even as progress is being made, we know that victims are still out there and we are working tirelessly to bring them the help they need," said Brown. "FEMA and the entire federal government, is deploying every resource available to treat wounds, aid the suffering and protect and preserve lives. We will not rest until every need is met.

Brown, along with state and federal partners, and voluntary agencies, is holding press briefings twice a day to provide updates on response efforts. To date:...

As of yesterday, 308 shelters in nine states had a total population of 94,000.”

If other areas receiving evacuees are anything like Houston, most of this is being done by the Red Cross, local officials, churches, and faith-based charities, not FEMA…though FEMA works with the Red Cross, and might have some coordinating function, but many of the smaller shelters seemed to have been set up spontaneously by local groups. To be fair, several other items listed on this press release seem like operations that would have more FEMA involvement. However, I also saw Chertoff stating the 300-shelters claim in an interview.

As a side note, also, from this press release:

“Affected individuals in declared counties can register online for disaster assistance at www.fema.gov or call FEMA's toll-free registration line 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) - TTY 800-462-7585, hours. Victims are encouraged to register on-line due to the possibility of high call volume.”

Does FEMA realize many victims have no electricity, let alone a computer, or internet access, but they are encouraged to apply for FEMA aid via computer? Thank goodness folks are donating laptops for use at the Astrodome.

Also on the FEMA website there is a FEMA Slideshow. It shows two photos from Houston, one inside the Astrodome and one of the stockpile of donated clothing, both with the credit “FEMA Photo.” I’m no expert on how FEMA operates, and I’m sure they have some bureaucratic oversight role in what is going on in Houston. But from my two days volunteering at Reliant City and from local news reports it seems that the huge evacuee centers set up in Houston were due to the quick response of Mayor White, the Red Cross, Houston and Harris County officials, Harris County Citizen Corps (an offshoot of Freedom Corp, which might prove to be one of Bush’s best post 9/11 ideas--the Harris County chapter at least responded faster and more efficiently than FEMA), average Houston citizens, the Salvation Army, Star of Hope shelter, local businesses and churches, etc. I have yet to see or hear from one FEMA official here in Houston.

Not that FEMA isn’t finally doing something, but with the Bush Administration’s apparent strategy of shifting all the blame to local officials (not that they don’t deserve it as well) and away from their own poor response, watch out for them also trying to take credit for all the amazing responses of state and local governments around the country, and more importantly of volunteer organizations and private citizens.


At 9:00 PM, Blogger Brian Campbell said...

David, I notice you're getting a lot of cut- and-paste spam on your blog. To eliminate that, I'd suggest you go into settings and activate the word verification feature in your comments box. Just typing out some letters before posting a comment seems to thwart the spam-bots out there who have chosen blogs as their latest target...


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