FEMA Directors’ Actions During Major U.S. Emergencies and Crises

 Various parties have called it the ‘secret government’ of the U.S. Despite the fact that it is not an elected body, it has a budget that runs into billions of dollars. It has more power than the President of the United States or even Congress. It also has the power to suspend various laws, arrest or detain people and relocate entire populations. It can also seize properties and hold people without a warrant. It also has the power to suspend the constitution. This is despite the fact that the Constitutional law was not used in creating it. This organization is referred to as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA was originally created constituted by administration of President Richard Nixon. President Jimmy Carter helped in refining the agency whereas Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush gave it more powers. The original purpose for the creation of FEMA is to ensure that the U.S. survived a nuclear attack. Its major roles are coordinating the activities of the federal government during domestic disasters, which include earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. FEMA wields enormous powers despite the fact that very people know even about its existence. FEMA was constituted by a series of Presidential Executive Orders. Presidential Executive Orders become automatically regardless of whether they are constitutional or not. They simply become law after being published in the Federal Registry. In so doing, they bypass Congress, the law making organ according to the constitution. FEMA has had many directors. Joe Allbaugh and Michael Brown are some of the past directors of FEMA (Ripley, 2007).

Joe Allbaugh became the director of FEMA in February 2001. Allbaugh was deeply involved in President George W. Bush campaigns. He helped in solving the dispute on the Florida ballot counts during President’s Bush’s first term in office. His political connections enabled him to be confirmed as the Director of FEMA by a unanimous vote of the Senate. However, he was not elevated to cabinet like his predecessors. Allbaugh helped in tackling the Tropical Storm Allison, which hit southwest Texas in June 2001. This was only a few months after he had ascended to office. The tropical storm originated from the Gulf of Mexico in early June and thereafter hitting the coast of Texas. It then entered the Gulf of Mexico briefly before hitting land in Louisiana. In so doing, it led to heavy rainfall, which reached as much as 1000 mm in Texas. It led to the worst flooding ever experienced in Houston. Flooding made about 30,000 people to become homeless after the storm destroyed more than 70,000 homes. The tropical storm also led to destruction of more than 2,500 homes and the death of more than 20 people. Damage due to the tropical storm was estimated to be around $9 billion.

Allbaugh worked with various local governments to help in mitigating the impact of the tropical storm. He helped in the purchase of thousands of homes across the entire state. This enabled people who were on the path of destruction of the tropical storm to find new homes that were outside the path of destruction. Despite the fact that the buyout process usually takes several years, Allbaugh’s collaboration with local governments enabled the process to be completed within less than 6 months after the tropical storm. Allbaugh also collaborated with local governments to improve their disaster preparedness. FEMA provided approximately 75% of the costs of removing debris due to the tropical storm and other disaster related costs. It also helped in repairing or replacing facilities that were damaged by the tropical storm. A few weeks after the end of the tropical storm FEMA opened several recovery centers in Texas. The centers provided valuable information to people who required disaster assistance. The flooding resulted in a mosquito outbreak across all the states that were affected by the tropical storm. This prompted FEMA to provide the affected states with aid to help in controlling the problem (United States Department of Commerce, 2001).

Brown was FEMA director during Hurricane Katrina. Brown had little experience in disaster management. He joined FEMA as a legal counsel to Joe Allbaugh, who was his close friend. When Allbaugh quit FEMA in 2003, Brown took over the highest position in FEMA. Brown’s inexperience in handling disaster management prompted him to write a letter to Cindy Taylor, the deputy director of FEMA’s public affairs on the morning hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. mainland. In addition, despite the problems FEMA was facing the impact of Hurricane Katrina, Brown still found time to exchange emails on irrelevant topics. He wrote an e-mail on the problems he was facing in trying to find a dog-sitter. Brown also wrote e-mails to his press secretary, Sharon Worthy, asking the attire he should wear. This showed that Brown was not serious in handling the impact of the hurricane. Worthy advised Brown to roll up his sleeves when dealing with the crisis.

This would create a perception that he worked hard to deal with the crisis. Worthy advised Brown to adjust his sleeves to above his elbow since even the President rolled up his sleeves. However, Brown continued to joke about his attire. Brown later resigned amid accusations that FEMA reacted slowly to hurricane Katrina. This increased the negative impact of the hurricane. The hurricane led to the death of more than 1,200 people. Despite the visible failure of the government in dealing with the impact of the hurricane, Brown defended the government’s action in dealing with the impact of Louisiana. Instead, he blamed local Louisiana leaders for failure to tackle the impact of the hurricane effectively. Brown also acknowledged that FEMA had made certain mistakes. However, he claimed that FEMA is not a first responder in the event of disasters. He claimed that state and local governments had the obligation of being first responders. Brown took days to respond to emails on how to help certain people during the hurricane (Anon, 2005).

Allbaugh’s decision to collaborate with the affected states and local governments helped in changing the course of Tropical Storm Allison. He acknowledged the fact that it was the duty of FEMA to help in mitigating the impacts of the tropical storm. In addition, he availed funds to help states cope with the impact of the tropical storm. FEMA provided approximately three quarters of the funds needed in cleaning up debris, and repairing or replacing facilities and amenities that were destroyed by the tropical storm. This enabled cash strapped states and local governments to cope with the impact of the tropical storm more effectively. Unlike Brown, who succeeded him he was actively involved in the recovery efforts in the aftermath of the tropical storm. In so doing, Allbaugh exhibited efficient crisis management skills. FEMA’s deep involvement in solving the problem encouraged volunteers to help in recovery efforts. To prevent another tropical storm from having similar devastating impacts FEMA collaborated with States and local governments in the creation of a plan that would help mitigating the impact of future crisis in the future. It also ensured that the local governments and states participate in a FEMA community rating system. This system helped in determining the disaster preparedness of the local governments and states.

Brown’s failure to take seriously the impact of Hurricane Katrina is the decision that changed the course of the recovery from the disaster. He was sending irrelevant messages to people who may have helped in the recovery efforts from the hurricane. In addition, he took long to respond to emails on recovery efforts that FEMA should undertake. He claimed that the states were the first responders of crisis that affected them. In so doing, he shifted blame to other parties. This did not help matters as the hurricane continued to have devastating impact on people. Brown’s decision delayed the recovery efforts, which increased the negative impact of the hurricane. In so doing, he displayed poor crisis management skills. If he had acted promptly, he may have helped in reducing the impact of the hurricane. His reluctance led to the deaths of many people with other people losing their livelihoods. Upon realizing his mistakes, Brown used the ostrich approach to solve the problem. He was willing to resign when thousands of people needed his help to help in mitigating the impact of the hurricane.

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