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The Secret History of FEMA

Now the "not so secret" history of FEMA.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is getting plenty of press these days with Hurricane Harvey drenching Texas and now Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida and Miami.

David Maack, who had his own bout with flooding in Wisconsin earlier this year, shared this article, The Secret History of FEMA.

It is a fairly long and comprehensive article. My involvement with FEMA began in 1984 so I wasn't in the delivery room, but I was there when it went to kindergarten. I think the civil defense nature of the organization is good to understand in these days when we could swing back in that direction — once the hurricanes are in our collective rear view mirror. 

A few tidbits not mentioned — that I recall. Julius Becton, a former three-star general, was the first FEMA director. There was no mention of James Lee Witt's emphasis on disaster mitigation and Project Impact (the program's name at the time). The swing to "terrorism all the time" following the transfer of FEMA to the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is covered, but not to the degree that the organization gutted FEMA's capabilities and all-hazard focus. 

Reference the Mount Weather underground facility. I slept in it a couple of days in the 1980s. It was like stepping back in time to the 1950s. 

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.