Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 25, 2009

FEMA and the Continuum of Care

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Philip J. Palin on March 25, 2009

Monday afternoon DHS announced that management oversight of the Mississippi Long Term Recovery Office (LTRO) in Biloxi, Miss. will be moved to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional office in Atlanta, Ga. 

DHS news release quoted Secretary Napolitano for a justification, “This signifies all of the progress that has been made in Mississippi. Office consolidation will lead to faster decision making and smoother and more efficient operations as we move forward. It’s an important step in finishing the rebuilding effort and getting residents back on their feet even faster.” 

FEMA regional offices typically manage post-disaster recovery operations, but following Hurricane Katrina, LTROs in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas were created under the Gulf Coast Recovery Office. Offices in Texas and Alabama have already transitioned back to regional management. FEMA continues to operate its Louisiana office.

On March 5 and 6, Secretary Napolitano visited Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf coast  promising “to speed up some projects that have been in the works for too long,” according to MSNBC.  On March 11, DHS announced the creation of the Unified Public Assistance Project Decision Team that, according to a news release, is “designed to facilitate the decision-making process between FEMA and the State of Louisiana.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune explains there has been a  “protracted struggle between FEMA and state and local officials in Louisiana about how much rebuilding work qualifies for FEMA dollars under the federal Stafford Act…”

In a September the GAO told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that, “While receiving millions of dollars in federal assistance, state and local governments bear the main responsibility for helping communities cope with the destruction left in the wake of major disasters.” (The complete GAO testimony on Disaster Recovery is available from the GAO website.)

Which begs the question, is FEMA best suited for managing long-term recovery?  This has certainly become one of its many roles.  Despite recent efforts by Secretary Napolitano to say otherwise, FEMA is widely perceived as the institutional equivalent of the paramedic  responding to a 911 call, the acute care team caring for a crash victim in the emergency room, the physical therapist providing long-term rehabilitation, and the insurance provider processing  financial claims for all this care.  And, oh by the way, FEMA is supposed to play primary care physican, diet counselor, and  exercise coach in its prevention, mitigation and preparedness roles.

In private life I would  be skeptical of a single medical office that attempted this full range of care.  At the very least, I would want to be sure that each of the functions were carefully organized, well-funded, supported with state-of-the-art technology, and staffed by the very best specialists proudly displaying certificates of their regular engagement in high-level professional education.  I would want to be served by the Mayo Clinic.  Does the analogy hold?

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 25, 2009 @ 9:15 am

I think the analogy holds. PERI (Public Entity Risk Institute) has sponsored a new academic look at long-term recovery with distinguished authors. May be found on the PERI website. Hoping wide circulatio of that study is accomplished.

As identified before by me on this blog, the STATES and LOCALs (Grantees and subgrantees)really are GAMING the system for all they are worth. In many ways natural disasters are caused by the negilgence or worse of STATE and LOCAL governments in allowing unwise development in some areas that allows those orgs and private interests to escape the full costs of that occupancy. Combined with NFIP maps that understate the flood risk (and ignore meterology)by u to 40% and the problem just keeps accelerating. There should be almost NO declarations of disasters for inland/rivering flooding until STATES have passed some appropriate dollar threshold unless feds can help with immediate lifesaving and technical property protection with limited funding. In coastal areas there are both technical and financial factors that means the FEDS should stay involved with mapping and inducements to wise development. Disaster relief has evolved since Hurricane Andrew into a two tier effort with the tiers being those who had resources before the disaster, including insurance, and those who did not. No evolution of policy has occurred reflecting that development so no the first tier just continues to see that its “right” to be bailed out for its mistakes continues. Another not so hidden subsidy to the federal system. Aggravated by States continuously creating new forms of local governmental units that now exceed over 90,000. In 1940 state and local governments and their contractors were less than 3M. Now over 30M. These are claimants on resources no doubt. Many of these 30M administer federal activites and programs. And through OMB Circular A-87 STATES continue to rake off excess fees for administrative costs that are never audited by the FEDS. And as always NO (NADA) Congressional oversight of these issues.

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