After Hurricane Sandy, all eyes on FEMA

Yesterday, the devastating Hurricane Sandy made landfall along a swath of the Northeastern seaboard of the United States, sending surging tides across coastal areas of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. At a stunningly low 943 millibars, it broke the previous record low barometric pressure set in 1938 by the Long Island Express Hurricane (946 millibars).

Already fires are beginning to erupt in the wake of the storm, with 80 homes destroyed in a Queens, New York neighborhood.

But while millions are reeling from widespread electrical blackouts and loss of utilities in the stricken areas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency — head by Craig Fugate — has said it remains in response mode, while merely hinting at the political fallout that may ride along with a disaster so close to election day:

“We are anticipating that, based on the storm, there could be impacts that would linger into next week and have impacts on the federal election,” Fugate said on a conference call with reporters.

But any potential tinkering with Election Day would bring a bevy of legal issues.

“Our chief counsel’s been working on making sure that we have the proper guidance,” he added. “We’re going through the regulatory policy and making sure all that’s in place and we can support it.”

Fugate did not address whether the election could be delayed — a question that federal officials said last week is up for states to decide.

President Barack Obama has responded by cancelling several campaign trips to key swing states. Included in the cancellations was a flight to Orlando, Florida where the president decided against being seen campaigning — Air Force One ended up landing, Obama ate some pizza with campaign volunteers and then returned to Washington (dubbed the most expensive pizza delivery in history).

Mitt Romney for his part has also remained low-key, cancelling several campaign appearances and adopting a wait-and-see approach to gauge whether FEMA will be able to manage a disaster without too much embarrassment.

So far the only major hiccup has been in insisting on sending people without power to the internet:

When President Barack Obama urged Americans under siege from Hurricane Sandy to stay inside and keep watch on ready.gov for the latest, he left out something pretty important — where to turn if the electricity goes out.

Despite the heightened expectation of widespread power and cable television failures, everyone from the president to local newscasters seem to expect the public to rely entirely on the Internet and their TVs for vital news and instructions.

[...] “With these types of storms, you get a lot of this is going to be carried out through the traditional TV and radio media,” Fugate told reporters on a conference call. “But we’re using a lot more social media, we’re using everything from Facebook to Twitter. I think there’s a higher degree of awareness that people have of the storm is coming and what the impacts are going to be.”

Fugate also talked up battery-operated or hand-cranked radios during interviews on morning news shows.

A call to FEMA’s news desk, however, found even they didn’t have any non-Internet information readily available beyond suggestions that people call 911 in an emergency. When asked where folks should turn for information if they have no power, a FEMA worker said, “Well, those people who have a laptop with a little battery life on it can try that way. Otherwise, you’re right.”

Back in 2006 we pointed out FEMA’s fraud and waste in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina’s disaster in New Orleans (or at least cited the Government Accounting Office):

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found at least $1 billion in disaster relief payments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were improper and potentially fraudulent because the recipients provided incomplete or incorrect information when they registered for assistance. (GAO report)

Oddly enough, our least favorite former FEMA chief Michael “heck of a job” Brown was quick to weigh in with political advice:

“Right now,” Brown maintains, “both campaigns need to let the first responders and governors do what they need to do. Basically say, ‘If we can help in any way, let us know.'”

Since Hurricane Sandy has dominated headlines in recent days, 2011 comments from Romney saying that FEMA should be shut down and power should be given to the states have resurfaced. His campaign has clarified that Romney believes states should have more authority, but he does not think FEMA should be abolished.

Brown agrees. “It’s more of a statement of fact…. This has always been my theory. The stronger you make the federal government, the weaker you make local governments…. State and local responders need to be as robust as they possibly can…. What FEMA should be doing right now is coordinating, [telling governors and mayors], ‘What do you need? How can we help?'”

He adds, “Everything that really needs to be done is a state and local issue…. The feds are more about helping financially.”

But some refugees wary of FEMA’s checkered history may have some hope when dealing with the federal aid-givers. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of marching into a designated “FEMA camp” that has been rightly or wrongly maligned, you can actually bring your guns and ammo with you.

From a 2005 article on the Boston Globe:

Gun rights groups had sought the change, saying the original policy violated Second Amendment protections for gun ownership. Kinerny said FEMA made the change after consulting with lawyers.

FEMA said it has been general policy for several years to prohibit guns at such parks anywhere in the country. But two gun rights groups — the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment Foundation — said they found out about it only this month as a 600-trailer encampment opened near Baton Rouge.

Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, praised the change. ”It is wrong to force citizens to give up their constitutional rights in order for them to get a needed federal benefit,” he said in a news release.

We here at Hammer of Truth wish the victims of Hurricane Sandy a speedy recovery, and we certainly hope FEMA won’t get in the way of their recovery and rebuilding this time.

posted by vforvandyke · tags: , , , , ,