On Monday Vice President Biden and Secretary Napolitano addressed the International Association of Fire Fighters Legislative Conference.
Given the audience, it was not surprising that Napolitano continued her constant refrain on the need for improving federal relations with states and localities . The Secretary said, “the job of Homeland Security cannot be done, nor should it be expected to be done, by one, federal department alone. We are one part of a vital and vibrant partnership that should extend across this country to every state, North, South, East, West, and to every community big and small. And those partnerships, I believe, can be made even more robust.”
A bit more surprising was the Secretary’s attention to the role of FEMA. This is at least the third time where she has gone out of her way to lower expectations – or correct expectations – of the FEMA role. She said, “FEMA is not a first responder. You are the first responders. And FEMA is there to back you up and not to be a substitute for emergency workers and fire fighters and the like.”
“FEMA’s job is to support you, and to support you in a number of ways, by providing grants, training, equipment, exercises, by helping coordinate disaster planning across the country, including pre-disaster planning; and to assist in to assist in post-disaster recovery.”
“But it is really our firefighters, our police, those are the individuals that show up at the door on the day, the hour of a disaster, the day after, and the like. And when a city or locality needs assistance, the state comes in and then FEMA is there to back it up.”
“And so one of the things that we can all do is really educate and keep emphasizing that message. You are our first responders. We are here to back you up, to support you, and to provide an important level of making sure there is national pre-disaster planning and post-disaster recovery planning going on. And that, to me, is a fundamental reassessment in the public eye of FEMA’s role.”
Got that? Secretary Napolitano’s complete remarks are available at the DHS website.
RumorWatch: The FEMA backup role is also consistent with rumors, loose talk, and alcohol-fueled speculation that this administration intends to give much more attention to policy and practice for long-term recovery. The troubled New Orleans recovery is the most common problem cited. Yesterday’s Houston Chronicle reminds us the Big Easy is not alone in finding recovery to be really hard.