Boggles the Mind

DailyKos is keeping a tally of some of the disaster assistance that FEMA (U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency) has ignored, refused, or impeded. The comments contain additional items, and I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Can FEMA Do Anything Right?

Of course everyone has a theory as to how this could happen. What little I know of history suggests that it’s never just one thing, but more likely a combination of ignorance, incompetence, negligence, turf wars, intent, and manipulation from outside. I’m not sure which of those is scariest.


9 comments on “Boggles the Mind

  1. deb says:

    Evidently some of those things are more frequent causes than others. In “Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America,” Ted Steinberg writes: “Calling such events acts of God has long been a way to evade moral responsibility for death and destruction.” He shows in the book how countless politicians over the past one hundred years have done their best to evade this moral responsibility when preventable disasters struck. Our current leaders are no different.
    plan.” [that's via
    Forgive me while I beat this subject further. It seems to me that the root of the cause is buried in the city/state's weak evacuation plan or lack of planning. And the botched FEMA efforts just made it worse. If wunderground is right, “Even if the evacuation plan had been launched 72 hours in advance, it almost certainly would have failed. A local New Orleans news station,, reported in 2002 on the evacuation plan thusly:
    In an evacuation, buses would be dispatched along their regular routes throughout the city to pick up people and go to the Superdome, which would be used as a staging area. From there, people would be taken out of the city to shelters to the north.
    Some experts familiar with the plans say they won't work.
    “That's never going to happen because there's not enough buses in the city,” said Charley Ireland, who retired as deputy director of the New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness in 2000. “Between the RTA and the school buses, you've got maybe 500 buses, and they hold maybe 40 people each. It ain't going to happen.”
    The plan has other potential pitfalls.
    No signs are in place to notify the public that the regular bus stops are also the stops for emergency evacuation. In Miami Beach, Fla., every other bus stop sports a huge sign identifying it as a hurricane evacuation stop.
    It's also unclear whether the city's entire staff of bus drivers will remain. A union spokesman said that while drivers are aware of the plan, the union contract lacks a provision requiring them to stay.
    So, if one does the math, 500 busses times 40 people per bus yields 20,000 people that could have been evacuated in a best-case scenario. Only 20,000 out of 100,000. [end of quote]
    Choose all that apply: ignorance, incompetence, negligence, turf wars, intent, and manipulation from outside, and over 50 years of national and local administrative bungling, and bad math.

  2. Sylvia says:

    Thanks very much for that book title, I'll have to check it out. Apart from the federally underfunded levees (and underfunded FEMA), it's true that NOLA did not have a realistic plan for getting everyone (and their dog!) out of the city. One might chalk that up to the general American “every man for himself” attitude, I don't know.
    It seems some third world countries do a better job at disaster preparedness (this article mentions Cuba, Jamaica, and Bangladesh). I know in Mexico, around the two big volcanoes near Mexico city, they have very detailed evacuation plans and even have evacuation maps painted on the sides of buildings in the villages. They have also dealt with scorpions by having ordinary people in every neighbourhood trained and equipped to treat scorpion stings 24/7, as well as teaching people to plug up their houses and clean up debris that scorpions like to hide in. As a result deaths from scorpion stings have plummetted to almost nothing.
    I wonder if the state of collective disaster preparedness is a reflection of how socialistic/collectivistic the people are? Are they more organized and prepared where people feel more united and have a sense that they're all in it together? Does it help if there is one dominant religion and culture, rather than the diversity and regionalism there is in the US?
    And do you feel comforted now that W is going to lead the (coverup) investigation into what went wrong himself? I hope the people don't fall for that.

  3. Stefanie says:

    There's a lot that can be said about what went wrong, but I think it is systemic. Not only do we have the American individualism thing embeded in the culture, but we also have a government that helps only the wealthy and a populace that thinks that's okay because “someday” it might be “my turn” and I'll win the lottery and be rich and enjoy all the perks. And I could go on and on, but I feel my blood pressure rising.
    Oh, and I feel so much better knowing that W is going to lead the investigation into the poor disaster response.

  4. Sylvia says:

    I think high blood pressure makes the blogosphere go 'round!
    Oh, and apparently legislators (from both parties) are raking Chertoff and co. over the coals right now. Heh heh heh. Apparently there are still “reality-based” politicians out there.

  5. deb says:

    “And do you feel comforted now that W is going to lead the (coverup) investigation into what went wrong himself?”
    I'm learning the words to “O, Canada.” Can I bring my dog with me to Canada?

  6. Michelle says:

    I've been thinking about this aspect of the American individualism being at fault too but my brain has been too foggy to think it through. But as I've read about Cuba's evacuation plans, where doctors from the neighborhood evacuate with his neighbors so he knows things like, say, who needs insulin shots, I can't help but think that indeed our neo-Social Darwinian approach to life in American is ultimately to blame. LOL if I don't watch out, I'm going to turn into some socialist — if I haven't already.
    I'd like to think that Americans wouldn't fall for Bush leading the cover-up investigation, but then again, they've fallen for so much the last few years that I never thought they would that nothing seems impossible anymore.

  7. deb says:

    Just so it doesn't look like I'm blaming W. for everything, this news has just come to my attention:
    The Fox News Channel's Major Garrett was just on my show extending the story he had just reported on Brit Hume's show: The Red Cross is confirming to Garrett that it had prepositioned water, food, blankets and hygiene products for delivery to the Superdome and the Convention Center in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but were blocked from delivering those supplies by orders of the Louisiana state government, which did not want to attract people to the Superdome and/or Convention Center. Souce: go to
    and more on state and local officials at
    It seems the mayor has some explaining to do, too.
    My husband and I were wondering last night if Canadians are more able to prepare to survive because weather is harsher up there in most of the country–i'm geographically challenged, so forgive me if that's a generalization. To be able to survive for three to five days on your own in or near your home seems like a reasonable and responsible plan. N'est pas?

  8. Sylvia says:

    I guess that was a lame attempt to compensate for the lack of a realistic local plan for getting everyone out. It probably reflects an attitude that poor people are just trying to get what they can get (talk about projection!).
    We are learning now why some people (rich & poor) didn't (and still don't) want to leave, and it's not because they think they'll get free food! It's because they don't want to leave everything they own, and know, and love.
    Jane Eyre sums it up well:
    Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!

  9. Sylvia says:

    Oh ya… I would say Canadians are probably somewhat more prepared than Americans, just because we are so outdoorsy in general. Wilderness is part of our national identity. There probably aren't too many homes without a tent, sleeping bag, and camp stove lurking in the attic or garage. Heck, even us immigrants get the bug. I met a guy from Turkey once (while camping of course) who hadn't been here that long and already had a dream of living in a cabin in the woods. It's infectious.
    And I think you're right about the harsh climate. People know that if the power goes out in January you had better have an alternative heat source or you are going to freeze PDQ. However I think there are plenty of urban people who are not outdoorsy and haven't thought about how they would survive without a modern infrastructure. These people are as vulnerable as anyone.

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