There is an old adage in emergency management that one is always ready for the previous disaster -- but FEMA, our Federal Emergency Management Agency, has not even been that well-prepared -- not when Hurricane Floyd struck many years ago, nor when Hurricane Katrina devastated the GulfCoast and New Orleans a few years ago, nor even today. The recent severe flooding in the State of Georgia and surrounding states once more demonstrates that shameful unpreparedness, resulting in needless loss of lives and property.
As a subscriber to most FEMA email notification services, I've been watching for an adequate set of such notifications about, first, the oncoming severe thunderstorms and rain, followed by the various detailed flood warnings for various rivers and streams here. The actual notifications which I have seen have been insufficient at best, and lacking at worst. Little information which would be useful to residents in flood plains and near raging waters has been provided by FEMA. Those same failures caused unnecessary damage from such earlier storms as Hurricanes Floyd and Katrina, and other emergencies as well.
As a result of these shortcomings of FEMA, Congress in 2006 passed the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, which provides, among other things, for a new National Advisory Council of volunteer experts and specialists in the field of emergency preparedness and response. I applied for a spot on the NAC after a call for new members was issued early in 2009. My February application was supposed to receive action in time for a summer NAC meeting, which did not occur. In August, with the application pending, I wrote to the NAC and after several ignored emails, was finally told that no action had yet been taken. In September, the story has been the same, still no action.
If it takes FEMA eight months to appoint new members to its own National Advisory Council, perhaps it is not surprising that our Federal Emergency Management Agency also fails to provide timely and necessary advisories on such emergencies as incipient flooding down here in the Southeast, particularly in Georgia. FEMA was unprepared for major past emergencies, and remains unprepared for the present severe flooding event. Perhaps the agency's motto should be: FEMA: Asleep at the Emergency Management Switch. A full Congressional investigation would be a good start to wake up FEMA.
(Eugene F. Elander is a retired FEMA Disaster Assistance Employee, former hazard mitigation consultant to the New Hampshire Office of Emergency Management, and former emergency management coordinator in Vermont)