Symposium 2012: Superstorm Sandy—Do we need to shore up FEMA?

Cartwright: Shore it up? Hell, we need to get rid of FEMA. Let’s see, they didn’t do much with Katrina, and now we’re finding out that they haven’t done much with Sandy. It’s real hypocritical that the liberal media crucified President George W. Bush in the aftermath of Katrina, but Obama has gotten a free pass with Sandy.

Obama went on national TV and said the government was going to cut the red tape and the bureaucracy to get the recovery underway. In fact, no of that was done. Just ask the people who have been displaced. Ask the thousands of people who didn’t have power for weeks and didn’t have heat when the blizzard hit the same areas. And remember all those long lines for gas? And how about the people getting in fights over food and water and gasoline? FEMA didn’t do a damn thing for those people just like it didn’t do a damn thing for the people of New Orleans after Katrina.

You know, there is a bit of poetic justice here. The same liberal elitists in New York who moaned and groaned and bitched and complained about New Orleans and who looked down their noses at the South whenever there have been hurricanes got a big helping of humble pie with Sandy. They didn’t give a damn about us down here in the South anytime we’ve had a storm. Hell, the liberal media would hardly mention it and then move on. But, oh my God! Poor New York and New Jersey! God help us! What are we going to do? The poor people of New York and New Jersey! We’ve got to help them! It’s sickening to see how they’ve poured so much sympathy out for these people. Didn’t they go through something similar on a smaller scale about a year ago? Didn’t that teach them to get prepared? No, they didn’t do a damn thing to get prepared. So, I’m sorry, but I don’t have much sympathy overall. Oh, and how about the unions in New York turning away the volunteers from the South who were going to try to help restore power? Yeah, if you were cold and in the dark for weeks, thank the unions.

But back to the question at hand regarding FEMA. I think the organization is totally dysfunctional. Take the $6 billion budget that we give to FEMA, create a special trust fund, and let Red Cross take over the responsibilities in the aftermath. If there’s a terrorist attack or something cataclysmic, let the federal government send in the military to help out. Otherwise, the federal government shouldn’t be involved. Let the governor of each state call up the National Guard in the aftermath of something like Sandy and let them handle it. The last thing anyone should want is for federal workers to show up to ‘help.’ That’s just asking for problems. Name one thing that the federal government has done efficiently.

RMC3: I too think it’s time to get rid of FEMA. It’s just another inefficient, dysfunctional government agency that is plagued by waste and fraud. Let’s have each state create a special disaster contingency fund and take FEMA’s budget and divide it up amongst each of the state contingency funds based on some type of risk assessment. Obviously, places like Florida and Gulf Coast states would probably get more proportionally given the high occurrence of hurricanes. California might get a bit more than some places given the probability of earthquakes. There are a lot of flood prone areas in other portions of the country. And how about places where they have devastating tornadoes? So perhaps disaster prone states get more than someplace like Alaska or North Dakota or Vermont. You don’t really hear too much about disaster relief in these places, so maybe their trust fund is relatively small. In the event they do have a disaster, the government can provide supplemental support to the trust.

Of course, these funds need to be protected in the trust so that they can’t be raided by the state legislatures for use on other projects. But if they were to do that and did have a disaster, they’d just be out of luck. If they’re given the money and the responsibility to protect it for disaster relief then they go and squander it, the people of that state would be out of luck or would have to ask another state for help.

I’m a big believer that local city and county and state responders and emergency management or preparedness are better equipped to handle disaster relief than the federal government. We’ve seen twice now that FEMA has failed. How much more money do we pour down the black hole before we decide that enough is enough? With the exception of the military, I don’t think there is anything that the federal government has done more efficiently than the states…with the exception of squandering trillions of dollars in taxpayer money that had yielded little or no results.

Let me make it perfectly clear that what I’m proposing is something completely different from a privatization of FEMA or disaster relief. I’m still saying that disaster relief should be a function of government but at the state and local levels as opposed to the federal level. And let me also be perfectly clear that the only role I believe these governments should have is disaster relief in the aftermath of a disaster. Now, that means ensuring access to water, food, and shelter for those affected by the disaster. That means working to provide for the protection of the disaster area, protecting people’s property from looting, ensuring a swift and efficient clean up of the disaster area, making sure power is restored, the highways and roads are clear and accessible, and things of this nature. What I do not support is using taxpayer money to buy people new houses or build new houses for people. That’s what insurance is for.

So let me make a few comments about insurance. You know, most policies are hard to read and full of legal stuff that is intended to protect the insurance companies. I venture to say that most people don’t even know what their policies cover. And a lot of people think their policies cover things that they don’t. Flood damage may not be covered. Damage from wind and hail may not be covered. The insurances companies are just a big scam. They’re looking to make as much money as they can without paying out very much, so they have all these exclusions and you better believe they’ll find a way to not pay a claim. So let’s say you had a homeowner’s policy that did cover flooding but not damage from wind and hail. You better believe the insurance company is going to fight to say the loss on your house was from wind and hail. It’s not right, but that’s the way they do things. So, I think we need a much tighter way of doing homeowner’s insurance or find some way to clean it up and help protect people in the event of a disaster. If you’ve been paying insurance on your home and it suddenly gets destroyed by a hurricane, it shouldn’t matter whether it was from the wind or the water. You should be able to collect on the policy without having to fight for it. This is just common sense, right?

Michigan: The government should not shore up FEMA. In fact, I think the program should be abolished. FEMA was funded as an agency whose core objective is disaster preparedness, mitigation, protection, disaster response and recovery support. At that time, we were preparing against an attack from the U.S.SR. This threat may be over. 2013 proposed funding for FEMA is $13.5 billion. Of this amount only about 6% is spent on response and recovery support. The rest of the money is going where? If people want to build on the ocean, river, mountain side or known fault line they need to provide their own insurance. We cannot continue to pay for natural disasters.
Sydney: The approximately 120 deaths caused by Superstorm Sandy and the many billions of dollars of damage it caused have led many people to the conclusion that FEMA is under resourced and may be ill–equipped to deal with future emergencies similar to Sandy (something worth thinking about given the reality of climate change). It is true that FEMA has experienced budget cuts over the past couple of years but we must also remember that its purpose is to coordinate disaster relief rather than act as a frontline responder. As such it might be better to focus on how FEMA can communicate better with State and local authorities to ensure damage, and more importantly, loss of life, is minimized during future events such as Sandy. It is very possible that this will require more resources.

From a political viewpoint it is interesting to consider how much political capital President Obama gained from his fast response to Sandy and how much George W. Bush lost through his response to Hurricane Katrina. As mentioned above FEMA’s job is to coordinate. It must be adequately resourced to act in that capacity regardless of the size or location of the storm. FEMA’s operational decisions, in most situations, should not need to be overseen by the President.

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