Friday, November 2, 2012

FEMA and Hurricane Sandy

It’s truly amazing what the East Coast communities are dealing with! It looks like FEMA is doing so much better than it did after Katrina. Not only is FEMA currently dealing with a much larger geographic area but with a much greater number of affected people.

My one and hopefully only experience with FEMA was only positive. The Northridge earthquake on January 17, 1994 marked the event that connected me to FEMA. Although our house seemed intact, the walls throughout the house were cracked or were missing hunks of plaster. We were without power and heat for only three days.

But when the rains started, we had to put pots and bowls around the house to collect the rain water. At that point, not certain that our house was really safe, we contacted FEMA. A FEMA inspector came out right away and gave us a green tag. We continued to experience good-sized aftershocks for months. Thus FEMA’s inspection of our house and the inspector’s assessment that our house was safe was very comforting.

With this latest disaster, I began to think about FEMA and wondered when it was started.  It must have been established sometime after I became an adult as I had not heard of FEMA when I studied civics in high school and American government in college.  FEMA has a website that includes a brief history.

As I thought, FEMA was established after I reached adulthood. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter merged several disaster related federal governmental entities into the Federal Emergency Management Agency by Executive Order 12127. Prior to FEMA, various aspects of disaster preparedness and relief were handled by several departments that included the General Services Administration (GSA), Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Defense Department. By the time President Carter established FEMA over 100 federal agencies had been involved in some part or another with hazards, emergencies or disasters.

It’s a bit ironic that a Democrat president was the one who consolidated all of these functions into a single agency in order to make emergency management by the federal government more efficient and more effective. For as long as I can remember, I had heard that Democrats equal big government; Republicans equal small government.

It seems to me that over the last several years Republicans holding federal office also want big government. The differences seem to be more about what areas should be larger. As I listen to many of the Republicans who hold office, I am reminded of “Big Brother” from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four. And it alarms me. These people certainly don’t represent the Republican Party that I remember.

I never believed that Democrats want big government while Republicans want small government. Instead, I believe most people want the right-sized and an efficient federal government. I hope we can return to a time when regardless of which party an office holder is a member that he/she is willing to work with and compromise to create a win-win situation for all the nation’s people.

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