Disaster Zone

Blog Reader Commentary on my FEMA Blog Post

Someone with experience with FEMA provided the comments — but no attribution.

by Eric Holdeman / April 10, 2018

I did a blog post recently on FEMA, FEMA Moving to Change Its Service Delivery Methods for Disasters and their proposals to make changes to how they administrate disaster recovery. A reader provided some thoughtful commentary on what I wrote. I'm sharing his remarks below — that follow sections of my blog post. His remarks start with << notations.


They are looking to streamline their many automated systems and make them interoperable (Tip for FEMA: Beware the contractors!) That task has more threats and can be more of a money pit than almost any other task in government.
<<Many programs/projects are tied to contracts that do not easily allow for the combination of data files. Not just a file structure issue but legal contracts. Can’t get the FEMA employees to have no less than 2 databases to gather their training data needed to complete task books and that an easy on. Adaptation of new technology is slow and there are too many people to go through.

Most government contracts are written for people who have problems doing a statement of work. The contracts, once set, are very difficult to revise.
FEMA is looking to physically do less with disaster recovery and have the states and local jurisdictions pick up the slack — the DHS inspector general (IG) is going to have fun with this! Be prepared to give back lots of federal recovery money when the IG doesn't interpret their regulations like you have.
<<The number of PA [public assistance] audits continue to rise. Findings continue to rise and claw-backs are up too. PA needs to have more full timers and fewer reservists working on these projects. The issue is in the long term recovery phase not the time when the JFO [joint field office] is open.

The problem FEMA will have is "past practice" in decades of disaster response and recovery. Citizens and then their federal elected representatives are not going to look favorably on FEMA saying, "We don't do that anymore. The states are now responsible. We just write the checks." It won't sell!
<<The “best practices” from years gone by were never best and are based mostly on one of 2 things: People claim [to their friends and the press] they got lots more than they did because they want to show off OR complain they didn’t get what they wanted because in the end they were not eligible for some of the things they wanted.

Most states have some expertise — but not at the level that FEMA staff has.
<<The states are much smarter about the area inside their borders than FEMA will ever be.

Overall, I see FEMA saying, "While the frequency and size of disasters are ramping up, we are going to be ramping down our agency's role." How they do that in the public sphere will be interesting to watch.
<<Not sure that the number of disasters are really ramping up. More people and communities are participating in risky behavior. They are building in known flood areas, ignoring basic zoning concepts and allowing developers to bully the local planning and zoning board. Once things are in place, there is no way [in today’s environment] to right the wrong.
<<Ramping down the role and appointing more external agencies to run the ESF [emergency support function annexes] has been going on for a while. Yes, it’s a perception issue, but that’s what got the government into this issue in the beginning.

I foresee lots of turmoil coming once FEMA begins to implement their new concepts for operating. It will be internal turmoil, and then more turmoil on the people and organizations being served — if you can call it that.
<<There will be internal turmoil. There is when any change is made. The reality is the full-time workforce is aging and retiring at a rapid rate. The Reservists I started with are aging too. Many have already decided to stop working or died. The average age of the Reservist workforce is lower than ever, but there is little knowledge base or discipline.

Way back when, there was a made-for-TV disaster movie that lowered the FEMA director into a deep hole in order to set off an atomic bomb to prevent a series of earthquakes in California. If everything proposed in the linked article happens, I expect that there will be plenty of people suggesting that FEMA Administrator Brock Long be volunteered to perform the function in real life. Long is entering a real danger zone. Sometimes reformations have the leaders burned at the stake.
<<What he is proposing is not really different than his predecessor. The past administration seemed to encourage more involvement with little regard to taxpayer costs.

Other notes:
<<When you have Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) As of March 27: Total TSA applicants checked in: 5,252 Total TSA rooms occupied: 6,119 Total hotels utilized: 906, You have issues. This number is down significantly, but the end is near. For many, the hotel room is the nicest place they have ever lived, it doesn’t cost them and they are in no hurry to move.