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Can FEMA and the Feds Serve as Disaster 911?

They are biting off more than they can chew.

Is it the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) role to rush to every disaster, no matter the size, to help a state or local community? See this article: “Last Year’s ‘Relentless’ Disasters Challenged Fed Response.”

It would appear that we have been on that path for some time and, as illustrated in the above article, it would appear we are revving the engine to get there faster and with more help.

I’m thinking that all those “red states” would not want federal interference into their state responsibilities. The fact of the matter is that most states are not prepared to help people, local governments or businesses in a post-disaster environment. Disaster recovery is a federal program, that is why states will ask for a presidential disaster declaration even for relatively small disasters. If the feds are taking care of their citizens, they don’t have to lift a finger or pen to write checks.

The next step in the evolution of the above is that FEMA becomes not just a checkbook for disaster recovery, but the national 911 for disaster response. It is a well-intentioned goal, but I don’t think it is achievable — at least not with the resources that FEMA has today.

The number of disasters is multiplying and FEMA will need to triple or quadruple in size just to manage that level of effort. Other federal departments will also have to step up with increases in staffing to manage and provide all the resources needed.

This is a slippery slope that will only dig FEMA into a deep accountability hole they will not be able to crawl out of. Promising and doing less would help other governments become more self-sufficient.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.