I traveled to Baltimore this week to attend a National FEMA conference. I was there representing the best state emergency response team in the nation. FEMA invited two representatives from each state to attend at their expense and I was one of the two Florida representatives.
A lot of the many voluntary agencies active in disaster were at the conference.There was an extremely large contingent of American Red Cross employees from around the nation. We even had state representatives from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. Finally, there was considerable FEMA representation from the various FEMA Regions and National Headquarters.
The new FEMA was very much on display at the conference and I was impressed with the quality of the FEMA employees that I met. Of course, I don't think the old FEMA was as bad as they were painted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In fact, I strongly believe that FEMA was unfairly maligned by individuals and organizations who were ignorant of emergency management and the expected role that FEMA would play in a disaster.
FEMA is a small organization designed to support and not supplant state and local governments in a disaster. In my emergency management career I have worked on eighteen hurricanes. In the memorable 2004-2005 hurricane seasons, when eight hurricane struck the state of Florida, I requested and received considerable resources from FEMA. The support that I received from FEMA during this period was excellent. I was pleased with the support that I received from FEMA because I was very specific in the type and quantity of my requests and I had reasonable expectations of when these requested items would arrive.
We need to stop beating up on FEMA. The snide comments and drumbeat of negative media stories is not only demoralizing to the FEMA workforce but it has driven many veteran professionals to retire or leave the agency. We need FEMA. We will need FEMA not just in the everyday disasters but especially when the next catastrophic event strikes our country. Whether it is a major hurricane, a large earthquake or a devastating terrorist strike, the state and local governments will be overwhelmed and will need effective assistance from the federal government.