FEMA is still failing America
Watching people die
Chaos in New Orleans delays California team eager to enter fray
07:07 AM CDT on Tuesday, September 6, 2005
By JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News
They have been trimming one another's hair, lounging on hotel chairs, chatting on cellphones. They've been up at dawn, exercising in front of the hotel, trying to stay busy.When this all settles down, what will doom Bush is not so much the slow response as much as the inability of FEMA to manage resources well after the initial shock. And make no mistake, this makes Bull Run, Fredricksburg, Kasserine Pass and TF Smith look tiny compared to New Orleans. The scale of continuing incompetence here is astounding. It isn't just that FEMA failed in the intial rush, people might forgive that, but that FEMA is like a freaking hemaroid, blocking help to this day. They lied to the American people, which is one thing. But when the American people came to help, even Wal Mart, they were blocked by FEMA.
What they haven't been doing is dangling from helicopters over flooded neighborhoods or going into half-collapsed buildings searching for hurricane victims to rescue.
Since Friday, FEMA rescuers have been stuck in Dallas, waiting for the call to head to New Orleans. From left: John Belles, Bill Lackey and Andy Ogren watch TV reports.
Since Friday, they have been sitting tight at the luxury hotel with members of five other teams of specialists from California, Nevada and Washington state – about 500 people all diverted to Dallas on the way to the Gulf Coast.
There they have watched television reports, itching to help the stranded victims of Katrina but ordered by FEMA officials to stay idle.
"It's been horribly frustrating," said Battalion Chief Marc Hawkins, noting that he understood the reasons the team had been asked to stay put. "Keeping firefighters pent up like this is a chore."
On Sunday, the Orange County team learned where it would finally do the job it was trained to do. By the time the team arrives in Metairie, La., a full week will have passed since it was ordered to leave California.
"We've been trying like hell to get out of here," said Battalion Chief Hawkins, one of the Orange County task force leaders.
The reason for the extended holdover? Team members were told that conditions were too chaotic in New Orleans, which has been plagued by violence and reports of gunfire aimed at rescuers, and the National Guard needed more time to restore order. In addition, problems getting supplies to the rescue crews already there, as well as victims, had not been worked out.
FEMA spokeswoman Debbie Wing said teams sometimes take a few days getting to disaster areas because officials need to prepare basic infrastructure to allow them to operate safely.
"There's a strategic reason for the timing," she said. "They need incident support teams set up. They can't just go into nothing."
Seven teams similar to the crews benched in Dallas were deployed to the area Aug. 28, she said.
But the highly trained team members – most of whom in their normal lives are firefighters – cannot help but think that their wasteful detour is another example of FEMA failing to adequately plan for Hurricane Katrina's devastating aftermath.
"This is the largest natural disaster that anyone in this country has ever faced," Battalion Chief Hawkins said. "FEMA has a lot going on, but draw whatever conclusions you want from all this."
The federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina has been roundly criticized, with the brunt aimed at FEMA. Once a standalone agency known for its swift and sure response to national catastrophes, it is now buried under mounds of bureaucracy as part of the new Department of Homeland Security, which itself was cobbled together after 9-11.
"You can't send everyone at once," said Scott Brown, another Orange County team leader. "When we have to wait, it's frustrating. But we don't want to contribute to the emergency by getting shot or using up provisions that should be going to victims."
Think about, America's most irresponsible corporation has stepped to the plate in many ways, but has been stopped by the government from helping even more.
A paranoid person might think the ideologues there wanted everyone to think government was so inefficient that one would want to do away with it.
Small government kills.
posted by Steve @ 8:49:00 AM