Football season is here again. That is, "political football." And the politicians have picked FEMA as their football. They have kicked it every way possible in an effort to score politically. One of the casualties is FEMA director Brown who has been carried off the playing field.
As a temporary FEMA worker during the terrible 2004 hurricane season, I saw the inside workings of FEMA at the ground level, and I was positively impressed with their efficiency and compassion for the relief applicants. While more than one million applications for relief were received last year, the organization I saw worked like a well-oiled machine.
At the disaster relief center where I worked, 17 federal, state, local and voluntary relief organizations were brought together. An applicant was interviewed to determine his needs, and then was routed to the various organizations that could assist him. It was like "one-stop-shopping" of all the relief organizations in just minutes. When that was completed, an exit interview was conducted by a FEMA worker to determine if the applicant was well served.
When I conducted the exit interviews, I heard many positive compliments, like, "You (referring to the relief organizations) are truly a godsend." People in the community were deeply grateful and expressed it freely in numerous ways.
The FEMA money I saw that was dispersed to the applicants was very much controlled and scrutinized by FEMA district headquarters.
FEMA is not a first-response organization, but assists in follow-up relief and rebuilding. They are not organized to replace city and state responsibilities such as evacuation prior to a disaster and operating disaster centers such as the Super Dome. Nor are they in control of school buses operated by the city, or the National Guard operated by the state.
Yes, we need to answer questions such as, "Why aren't first-response organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army allowed into the Super Dome area for four days?" And, "How can each organization do better?"
So, when politicians are painting FEMA as a nonresponsive, noncaring bureaucracy, it is easy to see that they are just playing political football in their foul-smelling Super Dome. They have become part of the problem and not the solution.
Roger Kreimeyer, Payson