By: Michael D. Jacobsen
Hurricane Florence is due to make landfall on Friday, and already people are taking what precautions they can to prepare for the storm. Meanwhile, in many locations along the East Coast government officials that are part of FEMA are getting ready to organize relief efforts, evacuate people, and seize control of the areas that are effected. Yes, you did read that right: seize control.
Already FEMA has ordered the evacuation of over one million people, and as usual for FEMA when people went to them for help, the website FEMA provided for evacuation maps crashed. This is so far the latest in the many failings of the organization known as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
FEMA is currently part of the Department of Homeland Security. It has existed for 39 years, having been brought into existence initially by Presidential Reorganization Plan Number 3 of 1978, and implemented by two Executive Orders on April 1, 1979. It did not really gain much attention, however, until the events of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. After that, many of the failings of the agency have come to light. And while we keep hearing promises of making the agency better, almost every disaster we have still shows off just how inept (intentionally or otherwise) FEMA really is. So why does our government keep throwing money(13.9 billion as of 2016) at an agency that constantly shows it is not capable of handling the task it was made for?
For the answer to that, you need to look at the broad amount of power that is granted to FEMA in the event of a declared emergency. It is supposed to work with federal and state agencies to try and help people affected by disasters; in practice, however, it tends to hamper efforts to assist people and cause chaos for the people that need help. To “help” people FEMA is allowed to replace government in the affected area. This means that what FEMA says, goes. It can, with no one else able to object, declare martial law. This power is absolute, and supersedes even the Constitution of the United States. A great example of this was when the National Guard was told to strip citizens of weapons who were defending their homes from looters during the Katrina crisis. The following video shows just that, and apparently the willingness of the National Guard to shoot a fellow American if their demands are not met.
This power also makes FEMA almost immune to its failures and huge amount of waste. Famous examples include once again during Katrina when 100 million dollars was spent on ice, and most of it went to waste because FEMA mishandled its distribution so badly that it never reached the people it was meant to help. Also during Katrina, 900 million dollars of trailers sat unused, because while FEMA purchased the trailers to help people on the flood plain, they could not use most of them due to a FEMA rule that does not allow trailers on a flood plain. In all, at least 2 billion in aid was wasted in relief efforts to help afflicted citizens.
You might think that FEMA learned its lesson from the Katrina disaster, but you would be sorely mistaken. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy touched down, and many had thought this was a chance to prove that FEMA had corrected its many past mistakes. At least 40 million was spent in fraudulent aid to various people and agencies. In addition, 250 million dollars was made in duplicate payments. This is due to the poor tracking ability of the agency. While FEMA did manage to lose less money in material aid, there was still a fair amount of waste.
And last we need to look at Hurricane Maria, which struck the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in October of 2017. In this disaster, many problems were revealed with how FEMA responds to an emergency. One of the more troubling situations was how FEMA emptied a warehouse full of supplies just days before Maria hit. There were power outages that FEMA was in no way prepared for. It took nearly 11 months to restore power in Puerto Rico. That alone is quite shocking; also that over one million bottles of water were left on an airstrip for over a year, rather than going to help people in need. What is truly shocking is that recently President Donald Trump called the 3000 deaths and severe mishandling of supplies and aid to be an incredible unsung success. If that is a measure of success in Puerto Rico, then I hate to imagine what “success” will be for mainland USA.
Here’s some food for thought: Executive Order 12418,l signed into effect by President Jimmy Carter on July 20th 1979, states that if a national emergency is declared by the President, it allows for the transfer of power of many government agencies and their unused budgets to FEMA, under the sole discretion of the Director of FEMA. Examples include the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce, as well as nearly every other agency that deals with the infrastructure of the United States. For more details about this order click here.
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