Schooled In Disaster

, Lance Nation, Leave a comment

In the recent Senate Hearing, the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs attempted to establish whether the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina were effectively implemented along the gulf coast when Hurricane Gustav and Ike hit Louisiana and Texas this past summer.

“I have some good news about the federal response,” stated Houston’s Mayor Bill White in his opening testimony. “President Bush, Secretary Chertoff, Administrator Paulison, and the most senior members of [the Federal Emergency Management Administration] and the Corps of Engineers have all been accessible to direct requests made by state and local officials.”

Cedric Glover made a similar observation following Mayor White’s remarks. Glover, the mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana, explained, “Communication between FEMA and the State of Louisiana appeared to be much improved over Katrina and Rita. FEMA did not appear out of touch, as they had three years ago, but rather were on the ground before the storms arrived.”

Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas (Galveston, Texas) testified:

“Had it not been for FEMA, the city would not have recovered as well as it has to allow me to leave only ten days after the storm. Our representative, Jaime Forero, was at our side from day one, facilitating our response and recovery. His resourcefulness and ability helped to coordinate men and machinery, secure generators, [Point of Distribution Sites], [Disaster Medical Assistance Team], fuel and a Disaster Recovery Center, to mention a few.”

Even on the state level, improvements in the preparation and effectiveness of FEMA were seen. Louisiana State Senator Reggie Dupre, Jr. (Democrat, District 20) testified:

“In terms of what went right, I should point out the improvements over hurricanes Katrina and Rita. FEMA and Corps officials were embedded in my area early to work with local and state officials. At the state and local level, evacuations and matters such as traffic contra-flow also generally succeeded. The conducting of necessary search and rescue operations should also be commended.”

Although, these state and local officials commended FEMA and the Corps of Engineers for their improvements in preparing and responding to hurricane disasters, these officials were not short of criticism.

Particularly, FEMA’s method of allocating funds is of concern. Mayor White of Houston asked Congress to:

“Please give the FEMA Administrator the direction and discretion to allow advances in the segregated accounts for funds needed to meet local obligations rather than relying on a cumbersome reimbursement procedure . . . Advancing the funds early helps us reduce delays. And any delay is very costly. A delay in patching a roof can result in the permanent loss of the structure, raising the federal cost.”

Mayor Thomas explained how Galveston needs billions of dollars for infrastructure repair that has not been allotted.

“We will require billions of dollars to rebuild all our infrastructure which took a terrible beating, strengthen our Port and repair and shore up the University of Texas Medical Branch, its hospital, medical school, research labs, and especially the Galveston National Laboratory . . . The citizens of Galveston have suffered severe losses. One whole section of town north of Broadway may be uninhabitable. An estimated 10 to 20,000 citizens lost their homes and possessions. We need help—lots of it.”

Lance Nation is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.