FEMA not ready for next hurricane

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is not fully prepared to respond to a major natural disaster due to staffing shortages and does not expect to be fully staffed until sometime in July, officials said Wednesday. A continued lack of coordination with state and local officials on evacuation procedures and a levee system not ready for another hurricane compound the problems.

Previously, FEMA had said it expected to be at 95% of staffing levels by mid-May. Then earlier this week it said it would hit the 95% target by June 1. And on Wednesday, a Congressional committee released a report saying that FEMA would not be 95% staffed until July — or later.

“Senior posts at FEMA and DHS remain unfilled, in part because experienced emergency managers are unwilling to work in an organization they perceive as broken,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the [House Government Reform] committee’s ranking member. — Government Executive

Meanwhile down in Louisiana, an evacuation drill was canceled Tuesday after FEMA and state officials couldn’t agree on who had responsibility for evacuating FEMA trailer parks set up after Hurricane Katrina last year. The evacuation drill, which was to have taken place in the FEMA trailer park in Baker, La., was canceled due to a communications breakdown, according to JoAnne Moreau, director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

“We were unable to get any information from the state or federal government on what policies or procedures were for evacuating those sites — whose jurisdiction it was,” Moreau said. “We’re very disappointed we didn’t get to work with the people who live on the trailer site.”

After the parish canceled the drill, FEMA asked park management to drive around the park with bullhorns and simulate an evacuation notice, according to Tony Robinson, response and recovery director for FEMA Region 6, which includes Louisiana. — Associated Press

They did manage to stick a few people on a bus in New Orleans, but it’s not clear how well officials will be able to evacuate the city again in the event of a real hurricane. But they’ll need to figure it out fast; it’s not likely that even the rebuilt levees will hold in the event of another hurricane.

Most of the major breaches in the New Orleans levee system during Hurricane Katrina were caused by flaws in design, construction and maintenance — and parts of the system could still be dangerous even after the current round of repairs by the Army Corps of Engineers, according to a long-awaited independent report to be published Monday.

“People didn’t die because the storm was bigger than the system could handle, and people didn’t die because the levees were overtopped,” said Raymond B. Seed, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and the chief author of the report, in a weekend briefing for reporters here. “People died because mistakes were made,” he said, “and because safety was exchanged for efficiency and reduced cost.” — New York Times

That’s right! The government took a few shortcuts, shaved off a few bucks, and people died. And there’s nothing you can do about it. If the levees had been privately built and owned, then people affected might have some legal recourse, but all we get under the current system is more FEMA.