Monday, September 22, 2008

As promised, my FEMA rant

This may be an odd way to start a rant about FEMA, but I honestly don’t have any problem with my interactions with FEMA.


In fact, despite the fact that a hurricane has blown through my city, my roof sprang a leak, I had flood waters creep into my house, and I still have no electricity, I’ve had zero interactions with FEMA.


And I’m genuinely cool with that.  I don’t NEED FEMA assistance, and FEMA should be there for people who do need FEMA assistance.


But there’s the catch…  FEMA is out there trying to help in the wake of the hurricane…  somewhere…  if you’re lucky enough to know where to go and find them.


Sure, you can go online (if you have electricity) or call them (if you have phones) or even go to the PODs (if you know where they are).  And all of this is available via radio (if you know what stations to listen to) and TV (again, if you have electricity and/or cable).  But in the wake of a disaster, when you’re cleaning debris out of your yard, off your house, out of your living room, and generally trying to figure out “what the hell do I do next”, the ideal situation is not sitting in front of a radio for 20 or 30 minutes, waiting for a phone number, then calling the phone number 50 times hoping to get through to a recording that directs you to the web site, then waiting in front of the radio for another 20 minutes to find out where a drop sight is, then waiting for an hour and a half at the drop site to be told they’re out of supplies, then waiting in line another hour and a half for gas because you’re almost out of gas from waiting in line for supplies, then having to do it all over again the next day.


Part of being prepared for a hurricane is having the supplies you need before the storm hits.  That includes batteries, propane, a full tank of gas, canned food (and a can opener that doesn’t require electricity, duh), and extra water.  It also includes relief supplies and drop points and supply points for those relief supplies as well as workers who will restore services to the affected community. 


I was prepared because that’s the responsible thing to do. 

FEMA was not.


How can I say FEMA was not?  Because before the storm hit not a single person in the city of Houston knew where a Point of Distribution would be in the entire city.  Supplies were stationed nearby, but not the right supplies, nor were adequate delivery options identified and that information passed on.  It took 2 full days before ice was delivered to the city, even longer before generators were made available.  Guess how long it takes cold food to go bad without ice.

It’s not exactly complicated.  FEMA can use every federal, state, and local resource to respond to these very slow moving storms in order to be prepared for a storm, rather than reacting to when and where it hits.  High Schools can be designated as food drops.  Elementary schools can be designated as gas drops.  Middle schools for ice and water.  Every stadium can be a staging area for supplies.  Every post office is an information point—who to call, where to call, why to call, what they need, what FEMA will actually be able to help with.  Having just a few central locations may be helpful for planning logistics, but it’s a nightmare for people waiting in interminably long lines for basic provisions.  Yes, they should be prepared, and the excruciatingly long wait lines for help are good incentives to buy some freaking batteries, but sometimes during hurricanes things go wrong.  All of the well stocked pantries are worthless if a house’s roof gets ripped off and the whole block is flooded.

Once power is up and running, shut down the gas supplies and get the little kids back in school.  When water services are restored, shut down the water supplies and send the ice bags to the high schools.  Better still, once water is up and running, divert water and food supply services to hospitals, police, and fire stations or other PREDESIGNATED relief sites such as universities.  But the important thing would be to have several dispersed across the city, not a few in a few central locations.  The more sites there are, the shorter the lines and the better the service can be.

There is absolutely NO reason why these plans can’t be laid and distributed BEFORE THE STORM HITS.  Sitting on wet carpet the day after a hurricane is not the ideal place to learn about disaster recovery information.  That information should be on every news cast and in every newspaper for at least 7 days before a storm is supposed to hit.  That’s part of preparation—have your supplies, and know your recovery plan.  If FEMA wants to be a part of the recovery plan, they need to do a better job of preparing—just like the rest of us.


Blogger K said...

Amen, Joe!

We had several cars with full tanks of gas but that gas dwindled as we set out to find needed supplies 4 days after the storm.

PREpare. FEMA could stand to learn a few things, still. I believe, honestly, that while the idea of FEMA is good, ultimately, communities need to take care of themselves and being PREpared would benefit us all. If the community is devasted by the event and the PREpared plan is destroyed, then the back-up would be FEMA who would have predetermined relief sites as you spoke of...
When will you be running for President? You'll have my vote!

11:26 AM  

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