Friday, February 29, 2008


Really, I don't want this to become an anti-FEMA blog. But poor Rob spent six hours in a classroom this week and has another six ahead of him next week, and for no good reason.

I gather from his anguished mutterings that the course is about Incident Command Structure in the kind of interdepartmental response that would be required if, say, a 747 took a nose-dive into Herrick Bay. The students are all rural volunteer firefighters used to "mutual aid"--the system around here that allows a local fire department to call in assistance from surrounding towns in case of a big fire or other disaster. So what they're learning in this course is either old hat or geared to city folk.

In a mutual aid situation, the fire chief in the town calling in the aid usually is the incident commander, but there is a graceful and efficient system for relinquishing command to someone else who has more experience with a particular situation. (For instance, a boatyard fire can involve dangerous and flammable substances specific to boatyards, so you probably want to turn incident command over to the person on scene who knows most about boatyard fires.)

The local firefighters are not likely to appoint a finance officer for the incident, as this FEMA course would have them do. "If we need a bulldozer at a woods fire," Rob told a large glass of wine the other night, "we call in the nearest guy with a bulldozer. We don't go out for competitive bids."

The firefighters have to take this course in order for the town to be eligible for FEMA grants. So next week they'll all sit there, glassy-eyed, for another six hours.

On a more positive note, looks like we're getting DSL in our little burb. At least some of us are--you have to be within 3 miles (or is it 3.5?) of the substation next to the library. I never thought I'd see the day. Now I have to decide whether to stick with my original plan of nickel and diming myself to death (i.e. buying the less expensive and slower plan) or getting the faster wireless version. I'm tempted, but I need to do more research on whether I really want more radio waves under my roof. Any insights out there?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

FEMA serves as a shining example of the fact that It simply doesn't matter how much you reorganize a dysfunctional Agency, or who is at the helm, it will still remain dysfunctional. Or, in the case of FEMA, continue to be grossly mis-managed by mid- and low-level bureaucrats whom have repeatedly demonstrated their individual and collective ineptitude and incompetence.

Despite what the vaunted Director and his media coverage mongering Deputy's would lead us to believe, there is absolutely no basis in fact for presuming that FEMA's is more capable today of managing a disaster than it was during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina. In reality, a glimpse at just one aspect of day-to-day operations indicates that exactly the opposite may very well be true.

FEMA, since taking over the National Preparedness Directorate that it fought so hard to gain control of since it's inception as the Office of Domestic Preparedness under DOJ and later, DHS, has once again demonstrated a propensity for being incapable of managing even the most mundane functions, leading to signifcant doubts that the Agency as it exists today would be any more capable of dealing with a large scale disaster than it was during Hurricane Katrina. Or, for that matter, even a small one.

Just one example of the continued dysfunction involves funding for many key programs operated under the auspices of FEMA NPD, all which was allocated when the Federal budget was finally passed earlier this year. To date, much of this allocated funding continues to languish as the office moves at glacial speed to complete the administrative process required to release the funding, leaving many State and local agencies without the means to continue with preparedness efforts or correct shortcomings and fill gaps identifed earlier under of these same yet-to-be-funded-for FY08 programs. In some cases, these delays in aid and assistance to State and local recipients have gone on for three, four and even five months.

Several of these awarded but as-of-yet unfunded programs have been described at various times by members of the Adminstration, Congress and FEMA's vaunted Diretor and Deputy Director's as "vital", "critical" and "the cornerstone of our nation's preparedness". If this is how the Agency handles high-profile, high priority programs aimed at aiding State and local governments prepare for the worst, it leaves little room for doubt regarding the Agency's capability to provide support in an emergency.

There is absolutely no need to wait or the next disaster to determine whether or not FEMA is capable of managing the next Katrina-esque disaster. As is evident today, the Agency is incapable of effectively managing it's day-to-day operations, regardless of how extensive a reorganization it has undergone or who is at the helm.