Fauquier County first responders recently held an emergency preparedness drill called “Epic Freeze” to simulate how they would respond to a sudden winter storm. As the Boy Scouts say, it’s always better to be prepared.
The recent super storm Sandy demonstrates the need for preparation at all levels of government. At the federal level it’s FEMA – Federal Emergency Management Agency.
I recently came across two articles about FEMA. One was in a newspaper that reported FEMA was running out of money. The other was in last week’s “The Weekly Standard”. The article, by Mark Hemingway, acknowledged the need for an organization such as FEMA but pointed out some problems.
Congress created FEMA in 1979 to help citizens in the event of a nuclear attack. Thank God we never needed it for that purpose. In 1988 Congress tried to clarify the duties of FEMA passing the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.
It said “federal emergency declarations – and the FEMA money accompanying such requests – should be based on a finding that events are of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments.”
This broad language has led to frequent use of FEMA and to many political appointees being placed in the organization. As an example “Following a California earthquake in 1994, FEMA sent out 47,000 unsolicited checks – a total of $142 million to homeowners for no other reason than they lived in supposedly affected Zip codes.”
During the Clinton administration on average a federal disaster was declared for some area of the country almost every week.
This heavy use of the federal disaster declaration continued with the Bush and Obama administrations. Last year FEMA was involved in more than 200 disaster declarations. The declaration allows state and local authorities to request federal funds through FEMA.
Katrina and Sandy were true disasters but according to Mark Hemingway the vast majority of the disaster declarations were “pork dressed up as compassion.” For example, the federal government through FEMA now routinely pays for snow removal in upstate New York a place where snow removal is a normal winter exercise.
The use of FEMA has strayed far from its intended purpose. “President George W. Bush in early 2009 had his successor’s inauguration declared an emergency, thereby allowing FEMA funds to help cover the costs of the festivities to local governments.”
It will be interesting to see if President Obama declares an emergency for his upcoming second inauguration.
No wonder FEMA is running out of money.
We can’t allow FEMA dollars to be used as pork for political payoffs. Fauquier residents should contact their respective Congressmen and tell them to tighten the rules.
We need FEMA and the associated money to be preserved for real disasters.