The Evolution of Federal Emergency Management Agency during Hurricanes

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According to the Emergency Management textbook, Rubin wrote how the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA was founded on April 1 1979. When President Jimmy Carter enacted one of his executive orders in 1979 he merged, essentially all disaster related organizations into the oversight of FEMA. This gave FEMA an enormous amount of responsibility, not only as an organization, but at the federal government level as well. The issue at the inception of FEMA was that until 2003, it was an independent federal administrative agency, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but its overall power was slightly limited. On March 1, 2003, FEMA became a part of the Department of Homeland Security, broadening its reach to all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement and disaster management agencies (p. 116).

FEMA’s Transformation

It was not until the devastation of Hurricane Katrina that the U.S. government and FEMA realized the exact nature of the outreach that would be required in emergencies. The Department of Homeland Security adopted the Post-Katrina Reform Act of 2006, which “gave FEMA clear guidance on its mission and priorities, and provided the legislative authorities needed to better partner with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments before, during, and after disasters” (FEMA Outlines a Decade of Progress after Hurricane Katrina). Once the PKEMRA of 2006 was enacted, it gave FEMA the outreach for wide spread training opportunities to all of the aforementioned agencies. This helped to create one unified action plan and command structure for individual emergencies, whether natural disasters or terrorist threats and attacks.

What Changed?

The intention of the merger of FEMA with the Department of Homeland Security was to make sure that “all of our nation’s first responders were trained and prepared to handle weapons of mass destruction” (FEMA Outlines a Decade of Progress after Hurricane Katrina). Along with this, making sure that there was a centralized training plan in place so that all of these agencies were on the same page when disaster struck. I do not believe that the Department of Homeland Security had any idea of how closely related FEMA would be to the White House, and what reach the President would have as it pertained to FEMA and the resources within. A good example of this is the President’s Disaster Relief Fund, which is administered by FEMA. I believe that the White House’s involvement in FEMA was an unintended outcome from the merger into the Department of Homeland Security.

Total Preparedness

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, all emergency management was inadvertently focused on terrorism. This makes complete sense seeing as 9/11 was, at the time, the greatest act of terrorism the United States had ever seen. Therefore, all disaster management training provided by FEMA was all centralized around terrorist activities. The main goal of FEMA was post 9/11 was to make sure that all first responders were trained in procedures following a terrorist attack. Fast forward to 2005 and enter Hurricane Katrina. This natural disaster struck with ferocity and affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals. Relief from Hurricane Katrina came in many different forms, whether monetary assistance, search and rescue efforts, or sheltering for those who lost their place to live. This was a difficult task for FEMA and the agencies under the guidance of FEMA as they had been teaching and training for terrorist events from 2001 until this disaster.

Hurricane Sandy

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Based on the emergency response and recovery during Hurricane Katrina, they learned a lot moving forward to future emergency disasters such as the one of Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Katrina was almost like a trial and error period where they worked all their kinks out after failing on almost all levels. In the Journal of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, Earle says: “One of the specific Post-Katrina Act reforms addressed the need for deployable strike teams, which FEMA established in the form of Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT). As described by FEMA, IMATs, an expansion on the former Emergency Response Team concept, are full-time, rapid-response teams with dedicated staff able to deploy within two hours and arrive at an incident within 12 hours to support the local incident commander, which are to ‘support the initial establishment of a unified command and provide situational awareness for federal and state decision-makers to help them determine the type of immediate federal support required” (Earle, 2018). One of the major issues during Hurricane Katrina was not only the period of time people had to wait for help to get to them, but also, the lack of trained staff that was supposed to be equipped to help recover. By forming this, it helped ensure there are more qualified people with an earlier response time to minimize the damage done.

Disasters Declarations

According to the textbook, Presidential disaster declarations are important, and “stand as milestones in American history because they demonstrate how the federal government relates to its people and governments in times of emergency or disaster. They unlock a host of resources, most importantly money, which aid in disaster relief and rebuilding” (p.122). After Hurricane Katrina, the lessons learned that contribute to presidential disaster declarations are that now, the President is required to ensure federal agency with NRP responsibilities have capabilities to: “meet operational responsibilities of the national preparedness goal, including retaining personnel with decision making authority, creating organizational structures that meet NRP missions, holding sufficient resources, and maintaining command and control communications; comply with NIMS; develop, train, and exercise response personnel; and develop operational plans and corresponding capabilities to respond to all-hazard incidents to ensure a coordinated federal response” (Congressional Research Service). Disaster declarations have shifted to the President not just doing it for a publicity stunt to impress the people, but to centralize on recovering from the disaster that just occurred, and that is what is important. Unfortunately, we have learned from experience, and it has taken disasters to get us to the level of where we are at today.

Locally Trained

This was the entire reason for the Post-Katrina Reform Act of 2006. While looking at the after action reports of all those involved in the efforts resulting from Katrina, it was apparent that change needed to take place. This change came in the form of unified training, and a unified command structure. While speaking with local law enforcement from my hometown of Covington Kentucky, I was advised that FEMA training is now a crucial part of the training process for police recruits in the academy. Once graduated and in the field, these officers are mandated to take a multi-test training course provided by FEMA that outlines every range of disaster known to be possible. This training includes everything from natural disasters, to terrorist attacks. This was clearly seen with the Hurricane Sandy mitigation assessment. FEMA was better prepared for this disaster with the help of unified first responders, engineers, healthcare specialists, and even architectural specialists (FEMA Outlines a Decade of Progress after Hurricane Katrina). This is a crucial point to certify and recertify to make sure people in this field are aware of what to do when a disaster strikes, and that they are qualified to handle a disaster.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the evolution of Federal Emergency Management from the formation of FEMA through the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, and Hurricane Katrina were discussed while going over the Presidential disaster declarations, Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, and terrorism. Emergency response measures have changed over the years, and will continue to change as new technology is developed, and new leadership steps up. Most importantly, FEMA is affecting now local and state levels to help mitigate and prepare from the bottom up to help ensure we are ready for the next disaster.

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