Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Problems in Emergency Management

QandO has compiled a list of FEMA criticisms. Some of these criticisms are legitimate, but others really don't work for me. For instance:
The agency dispatched only 7 of its 28 urban search and rescue teams to the area before the storm hit and sent no workers at all into New Orleans until after the hurricane passed on Monday, Aug. 29.
You don't move resources into an area about to be devastated. You move them in afterwards. Otherwise the storm knocks them out and you just make the problem bigger.

The problem is that this storm took out infrastructure on a massive scale. Moving them in afterwards was slow going. Not just transportation, which is important to consider, but other forms as well. I'm willing to bet that the inability to get gas and other fuels in the crisis area was a huge impediment. I'm willing to bet that this is part of FEMAs reasoning for turning away help. There is no point to moving helicopters in if you can't fuel them. I'm also willing to bet FEMA's planning didn't account for this sort of catastrophic damage, which is their fault.

I have a healthy skepticism about some of the other criticism . For instance it was my understanding that many of the airports had essentially hit maximum operational capacity. Sure they had lots of people waiting for planes, but you can only fly so many planes and helicopters into and out of an airport safely. With the current death toll only in the hundreds, a medivac C-130 would have elevated that significantly.

A lot of state and local governments have based their disaster planning on FEMA showing up and taking the problem off their hands. Now the locals and states are actually doing the proper planning themselves, like they should have done in the first place. Still, FEMA should have done better. I think the blame resides most heavily with the states, compare Louisiana to Mississippi and you will see what I mean. But FEMA deserves some too and there is more than enough blame to go around.

It seems like local authorities have learned "don't count on FEMA" from this storm and FEMA has learned "don't count on the locals". Good.

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