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St. Tammany having FEMA issues; Prez wanted four-times rent

CNN reports in "Parish president: FEMA still fumbling" that the Prez of St. Tammany Parish, Kevin Davis, is not satisfied with FEMA's endless red tape:

...Davis cited as an example his request for trailers to house parish residents and emergency workers currently living in shelters and tents.
"I've met with so many FEMA officials outside of my liaison officer; it's just I can't get a response," he complained...

Only at the 12th paragraph of the story do you get this:

...FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said the agency expects to have more than 1,000 housing units in the area up and running shortly, but that Davis himself has been part of the problem, recommending to the agency that his construction company be hired to develop a property to which he has personal ties.
Davis also asked that FEMA pay $7,000 per acre per month for the property -- more than four times its value, FEMA's Andrews said in an e-mailed response.
Since then, Davis dropped his lease rate "to a reasonable monthly amount," and federal officials have nearly finalized a deal to put housing on the site, which can accommodate as many as 1,000 units, she said.
In addition, FEMA has already installed more than 120 mobile homes in the parish, she said...
...Davis did not immediately return a call seeking further comment...

Mayors re-whine about FEMA response to Rita

The Boston Globe article "Texas, La. officials give FEMA mixed reviews" is longer than the K-R article discussed in "Mayors, lawyer whine about FEMA response to Rita", but it has some of the same mayors reiterating their whining about FEMA, as well as that agency once again offering its side of the story. And, as with the other article, it turns out that there's some confusion over that agency's role. Let's consider this thread:

First, hospital patients were airlifted out of Beaumont hours later than they expected, and by then some patients were weak and vomiting at the airport, said Judge Carl Griffith of Jefferson County, which encompasses the city...
Griffith, the chief elected official in Jefferson County, called this week for a presidential commission to investigate the emergency responses of federal, state, and local agencies, and investigate how to improve their performance in the future. He recommended that FEMA be elevated to a Cabinet department whose secretary would have direct access to the president.
''They're being called on to be the 911 of America in disasters," Griffith said. ''They've got a process that's very bad. And they don't have the resources to deliver the job tasks that they're given."
...Even Griffith, one of FEMA's most ardent critics, acknowledged that it was not FEMA's job to airlift patients out of Beaumont before the storm, but he said his proposed commission should determine whose job it should have been.
After a storm, local governments are supposed to file requests for aid with state officials, who then turn them over to FEMA.
''To point the finger at FEMA is not fair," said Mayor Glenn Johnson of Port Neches. ''We don't know where the breakdown is."

Mayors, lawyer whine about FEMA response to Rita

The Knight Ridder article "FEMA red tape persists after Rita, Texans say" doesn't make me very sympathetic to the Texans quoted. Perhaps that's me, or maybe it's one kind of media bias or another, or maybe not:

Sulphur, La., lawyer Jim Hopkins said he was told that the wait for a temporary roof from FEMA was two weeks.
"This isn't Phoenix, Arizona," Hopkins said. "It's going to rain within two weeks."

I have to ask: why can't you make temporary repairs yourself?

[...a mayor wants generators, gets a portable shower instead...]
David Passey, FEMA spokesman in Texas, yesterday defended the agency's efforts.
"Part of the whole week has been an understanding process for many of these mayors - understanding how the emergency-management system works," he said.
Requests go to the state and then to the federal government, he said, and some requests for generators may not have been passed to FEMA.
In addition, he said, before installing a generator, a team must make sure that the building is safe and that the generators are appropriate.
The mayors of Nederland, Port Arthur and Port Neches, all in Jefferson County, said they had encountered too much bureaucracy while trying to obtain basic supplies from FEMA...

It sounds like at least two things could have been done to avoid some of this:
1. Better computerization of requests and making sure possible requests are in a database somewhere and have been approved or similar,
2. Making local officials do their homework instead of finding out how things work only when they need to know.
The first might not be possible without a billion-dollar program to update FEMA's computers, but you never know how little it might cost.
The last could be almost free, although one can see the possibility of someone proposing a multi-billion dollar awareness campaign, and that would need to be guarded against.
Another needed program might be to teach some people about self-reliance and how the residents of their area did things a century ago.
See also the Boston Globe article discussed in "Mayors re-whine about FEMA response to Rita". From the article itself:

...Griffith protested that FEMA-supplied generators sat unused at the Ford Park arena in Beaumont for several days. The city of Nederland could not get a generator for its emergency operations center.
''We didn't get the damn thing," said Nederland Mayor Dick Nugent, who said the city had to buy four generators to power the emergency center and other services after his request to federal officials did not come through...

WaPo: FEMA let reserve force dwindle

The WaPo says in "FEMA Let Reserves Wither, Hurting Response, Some Say" that FEMA let its reserve force dwindle, prefering instead to subcontract disaster work. Those reserves are called upon to do much of the ground-level work during disasters. Bureaucratic foul-ups also appear to be involved:

At one point, [one of the only reservists they spoke to] said, she had even received a call telling her that FEMA had decided to deactivate her, as well as 2,000 more reservists who had received training around the same time. The agency later said that had been a mistake and that she was eligible to serve, though it still failed to get her a credit card.
Meanwhile, FEMA has had delays in dispatching many of the reservists now serving in the Gulf Coast. In previous years, reservists were sent directly to the scene of the disaster. This year they were sent to a few centralized staging areas such as Atlanta and Orlando to get refresher training, receive assignments and move on to the Gulf. But Mann said that took several days in some cases, wasting valuable time. "It was a hindrance," he said...
One former reservist who is heavily involved in the Katrina recovery said that is the danger of using contractors instead of reservists: "The contractors are scrambling to fill the slots, but you don't know if the people they hire are going to be qualified," she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to speak publicly on the issue. "When you use [reservists], at least you know that they're trained and they have the skills."

CBS: Firefighters used as backdrop for Bush visit

On the CBS Evening News, a firefighter from Texas made the claim that when they were sent to Atlanta to be part of a FEMA team they spent their days as follows:
Day 1: filling out paperwork
Day 2: attending a sexual harrasment and diversity class (previously posted here)
Day 3: serving as a backdrop for a visit by Bush (that would be Monday, Sep. 5)
Video link or report when available...

Is your local FEMA director competent or a political hack?

The Seattle Times reports that "Local FEMA chief had little disaster experience". While I'm not expecting much, due to partisanship perhaps they'll shine a similar light on the FEMA directors and staff in their areas. From the article:

John Pennington, the official in charge of federal disaster response in the Northwest, was a four-term Republican state representative who ran a mom-and-pop coffee company in Cowlitz County when then-Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn helped him get his federal post.
Before he was appointed regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Pennington got a degree from a correspondence school that government investigators later described as a "diploma mill."
Pennington, 38, says he worked for his degree and he is qualified for the FEMA job...

FEMA uses firefighters as flyer distributors

From "Frustrated: Fire crews to hand out fliers for FEMA":

ATLANTA - Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down for eight hours of training, the whispering began: "What are we doing here?"
As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta.
Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.
Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.
On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.
Federal officials are unapologetic.
"I would go back and ask the firefighter to revisit his commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country," said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak...

Administration inventing statistics?

From "Administration's figures on response don't appear to add up":

In an effort to show the world that it's finally on top of the catastrophe unleashed by Hurricane Katrina more than a week ago, the Bush administration is producing a seemingly impressive battery of statistics...
...But a closer look at the administration's claims shows some of the most important numbers seem to contradict each other, including assertions made as recently as Tuesday afternoon about the number of people rescued from life-threatening situations...

"FEMA fumbles": Charleston WV or Charleston SC?

CNN reports that a planeload of evacuees were delivered to Charleston, West Virginia.
Just one problem: officials in Charleston, South Carolina were told by FEMA that the plane was headed for them, and they had made all the necessary preparations:

A call seeking comment from FEMA was not immediately returned.
"We called in all the available resources," said Dr. John Simkovich, director of public health for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
"They responded within 30 minutes, which is phenomenal, to meet the needs of the citizens coming in from Louisiana," he said.

Note also the first sentence of the article:

Add geography to the growing list of FEMA fumbles.

"Offers of Aid Immediate, but U.S. Approval Delayed for Days"

WaPo:

Offers of foreign aid worth tens of millions of dollars -- including a Swedish water purification system, a German cellular telephone network and two Canadian rescue ships -- have been delayed for days awaiting review by backlogged federal agencies, according to European diplomats and information collected by the State Department.
Since Hurricane Katrina, more than 90 countries and international organizations offered to assist in recovery efforts for the flood-stricken region, but nearly all endeavors remained mired yesterday in bureaucratic entanglements, in most cases, at the Federal Emergency Management Agency...
..."There has been that common thought that because [offers of aid] are not tapped immediately, they're not prudently used," [FEMA spokeswoman Natalie Rule] said. "We are pulling everything into a centralized database. We are trying not to suck everything in all at once, whether we need it or not..."
...In an open letter released yesterday, though, Ambassador John Bruton, head of the Delegation of the European Commission to the United States, wrote:
"Perhaps one of those lessons will be that rugged individualism is not always enough in such a crisis, particularly if an individual does not have the material and psychological means to escape the fury of a hurricane in time..."

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