Tuesday, November 25, 2008


WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at http://www.DemocraticConventionWatch.com

Let's start with the poll to get your initial view.

A few days ago, Matt sent me some information about the possibility of FEMA being divorced from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He asked what I thought, and I think it's a fantastic idea, one of those "small" decisions which once again proves that the smart adults are coming back in charge.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, used to be an independent agency which took care of supporting citizens during disasters, normally natural disasters. After 9/11 the Bushies moved FEMA to be under the control of DHS. This was a bad idea, but except for a few of us ranting that this was wrong, no one really cared, because most people were so stunned by 9/11, that they just wanted "the government" to do something. Anything. (As an aside, that's how we got the Patriot Act, which means I have to mention again how much I admire Russ Feingold.)

The reasons that putting FEMA under DHS was so wrong are:

1. Most disasters are civil (e.g. flood, fire), require a civil response (e.g. food, shelter, clothing), and can be easily coordinated with military action if need be (e.g. bringing in National Guard troops to disperse supplies, direct traffic, and patrol for looters).

2. Putting FEMA under DHS sends a message that the neo-cons are in charge. It sends the message that civil action must be subservient to the group created to protect us from invasion as opposed to being equal in response to a situation. Thus, re-active instead of pro-active.

This may appear to be unimportant, but it isn't. It is, however, subtle.

The failure of DHS/FEMA to adequately respond to Katrina was an avoidable tragedy. It wasn't just that the leadership was absent, it was that what was left of FEMA didn't think in terms of ice, water, shelter, pre-movement of citizens, medical care and state/local coordination. And a "pre-response" was off the radar because the top down direction was "protect from our enemies".

Response to a weather event was not something that ever crossed the consciousness of Chertoff or Brownie. By that point, the rank and file FEMA employees were discouraged and demoralized.

One of the things that make people good at what they do is training. If one is well-trained enough, he/she can undertake those tasks as second nature. The thrust of training is also important. Simplisticly, if you bake a pan of brownies every week, you can select your ingredients from the pantry on auto-pilot. If you make brownies once a year, you need to pull out the recipe book to remember the proportions.

Similarly, if your job is "natural disaster" you think in terms of water, ice, clothing, tents, medicines, toys, pet food, cell phones, databases to reunite people, and other services. If your job is "invasion" you think in terms of military response, troop mobilization, MREs, and people are secondary.

The training given to FEMA people after the cuckolding was a response to nuclear attack, biological attack and other man-made events. The trainings involved a lot of medical triage, and NOT a situation as occurred at the Superdome.

Disasters happen. And now we're going to be ready.