FEMA

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Posted by motoman 04/06/2009 @ 15:11

Tags : fema, insurance, business, federal emergency management agency, disaster, us

News headlines
Judge rules against FEMA in hurricane repair case - Houston Chronicle
US District Judge Hilda Tagle of Brownsville issued the order Wednesday in a lawsuit against FEMA brought by Rio Grande Valley residents whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Dolly last summer. The agency used the same system to determine who qualified...
FEMA tricks out new trailers for next disaster - The Associated Press
FEMA sent thousands of mobile homes into the region only to learn later of high levels of formaldehyde, a chemical used in the glue for building materials that can lead to breathing problems and is also believed to cause cancer....
FEMA Donates Millions To Quick Start Schools - WDSU
“The recovery of the public school system in Orleans Parish is an ongoing process and involves not only the RSD and FEMA, but the cooperation of the LRA, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency...
Counties getting help from FEMA - Post Searchlight
The federal government will contribute 75 percent of the costs to restore damaged infrastructure to its pre-disaster condition, said Fred Rounsaville, a public assistance coordinator with FEMA who is leading a team of six federal officials who will be...
FEMA assistance expanded | kxnet.com North Dakota News - Reiten Television KXMB Bismarck
AP BISMARCK, ND (AP) The Federal Emergency Management Agency says disaster assistance has been expanded to include homeowners, renters and businesses in seven more North Dakota counties. They are Benson, Cavalier, Eddy, mclean, Pembina,...
FEMA Tours Love County Damage - KTEN
Friday, FEMA and state emergency crews were back in southern Oklahoma, touring damage in love county. KTEN's Meredith Saldana reports. "Oh, we've seen a lot of damage just a tremendous amount of damage," says Love County Commissioner Michael White....
FEMA to fund work on six flood-damaged Cedar Rapids buildings - Gazette Online
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay $5 million for temperature and climate control for six unoccupied, flood-damaged Cedar Rapids city buildings from June 1 through Nov. 30. Munters Corp. Moisture Control Services, Amesbury, Mass.,...
Fugate confirmed as FEMA chief - United Press International
Vitter stalled action on Craig's nomination for 12 days, complaining that FEMA is slow on hurricane rebuilding projects, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported Wednesday. Vitter dropped his hold Tuesday after receiving a letter from FEMA's acting...
FEMA officials assessing Ky. storm damages - Kentucky.com
AP JACKSON, Ky. -- Federal officials are in eastern Kentucky to conduct damage assessments after massive flooding carried away homes, snapped water lines and blocked roadways. Volunteers continue to bring in food, water and supplies for people washed...
FEMA dollars begin to flow - Baxter Bulletin
A reimbursement of $140000 from the Federal Emergency Management Administration to the Mountain Home Street Department was approved by FEMA monitors on Thursday, according to Amon Tilley, street department superintendent. Tilley told The Bulletin on...

FEMA trailer

FEMA trailer in front of formerly flooded house

The term FEMA trailer, or FEMA travel trailer, is the name commonly given by the United States Government to many forms of temporary manufactured housing assigned to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA trailers were used to house thousands of people in South Florida displaced by Hurricane Andrew in August 1992, for as long as two and a half years. They provide intermediate term shelter intended to function longer than tents used for immediate shelter after a disaster. They serve a similar function to "earthquake shacks" erected to provide interim housing after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

FEMA trailers have become part of the cultural landscape and language of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities, along with MRE's, toxic mold, Katrina refrigerators, Flood Insurance, and Levee Failure. Throughout the city of New Orleans, they have been the only habitable dwellings in some neighborhoods which received extreme flood damage from the recent storms. FEMA trailers have become a common sight, even in neighborhoods that received moderate flood or wind damage, such as Jefferson Parish.

FEMA trailers remain the property of the U.S. Government and are to be returned after use; however, in 1995 some Florida residents after Hurricane Andrew "bought their FEMA trailers for an average of $1,100 each." On March 25, 2006, FEMA issued a news release requesting residents to call the FEMA Trailer Hotline to schedule removal of unneeded FEMA trailers after use. Surplus FEMA trailers are sold via online public auctions conducted by the General Services Administration (see: GSA website).

For homeowners, FEMA trailers are intended to provide temporary housing until they are able to gut and repair or rebuild their homes. Because of the extensive destruction to residential neighborhoods by winds, flooding and tornadoes in 2005, many of these disaster areas were suffering from an extreme housing shortage. The widespread extent of the rebuilding effort caused a shortage of building contractors and materials throughout the region, which further delayed the construction of new housing, and required existing apartments or motels to house the incoming construction workers.

In New Orleans, the failure of the levee system inundated the city with standing flood water for several days after the storms. Even one inch of standing flood water is enough to cause an outbreak of toxic mold throughout an entire dwelling. This is especially true because the storms took place in the heat and humidity of the New Orleans summer, ideal conditions for mold spores to flourish. Residents were prevented from returning home and gutting their houses for weeks by local government officials, until basic infrastructure for water and electricity were restored to the city. This gave mold colonies time to expand and cover sections of wall that were not flooded. Concentrations of indoor mold spores pose a serious health hazard and can even cause illness in people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly and young children.

Flood damage of this type requires the complete removal and replacement of carpeting, flooring, insulation, and sheet rock. Flood damage beyond a few inches may also destroy furniture, appliances, and other personal belongings. Almost all of these homes also received additional water damage from roof damage, so that roofs also needed to be replaced or repaired.

In coastal communities, such as Gulfport and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, buildings were entirely demolished by storm surges. Similarly, many apartments and public housing buildings were closed due to storm damage. Large buildings that sustained significant water damage, including apartment complexes, often require extensive rebuilding and a mold-removal process known as "mold remediation" before they can be rendered safe enough for habitation. With the housing shortage, leasing rates for apartments have become so prohibitively high that most working class storm victims cannot afford them. Without FEMA trailers, some people who do not own or rent homes would be unable to find any form of housing within the disaster area.

Extensive flooding in the summer of 2006 in parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey also led to FEMA trailers being made available in the region. Trailers were installed relatively quickly, about a month or six weeks after the flooding, and response times from FEMA for repairs has been extremely quick.

Many FEMA trailers are installed on the private property of homeowners, usually on lawns and sometimes in driveways next to the house. However, there are also numerous FEMA operated trailer parks where many storm victims are currently living. Although several types and sizes of manufactured structures have been installed throughout the Gulf Coast region, most are mass-produced one bedroom travel trailers. These typical FEMA trailers are designed to accommodate two adults and two children. There are larger trailers and other manufactured structures that can accommodate larger families.

The typical FEMA trailer consists of a master bedroom with a standard size bed, a living area with kitchen and stove, bunk beds, and a bathroom with shower. Each trailer is equipped with electricity, air conditioning, indoor heating, running cold and hot water, a propane-operated stove and oven, a small microwave oven, a large refrigerator, and a few pieces of fixed furniture attached to the floor, usually a sofabed, a small table, and two chairs. Again, most FEMA trailers are identical mass-produced travel trailers. There are only a handful of FEMA trailer designs, so that nearly all trailers have the same general layout.

Each trailer is elevated about two feet above the ground on concrete supports. There is only one door on the side of the trailer accessible through a wooden or aluminum stairwell. There are also long ramps for wheelchair-bound occupants. Electrical service to the FEMA trailers is installed by the local power company, which is the Entergy Corporation in most of the Gulf Coast region. Each trailer has its own power meter, separate from the power meter of the house. These trailers do have ports for telephone access, cable, and Internet access. However, these services are not handled by FEMA, and a trailer occupant must arrange to have these services installed by a local provider.

The typical FEMA trailer has two propane tanks on the front of the trailer behind the master bedroom, which provide the hot water, indoor heating, and gas for the stove and oven. Running water for the trailer is usually provided by some sort of water source on the property, usually through a garden hose. Sewage is piped directly to an underground sewage main on the property. Most trailers have several windows which can be opened, as well as small light fixtures in each room.

The trailer parks operated by FEMA range from small lots, consisting of a dozen trailers in the parking lots of office buildings and supermarkets scattered throughout the region, to several massive parks occupying large plots of land with hundreds of trailers. The larger parks are typically surrounded by a chain-link fence and brightly lit at night. FEMA has also provided police security and controlled access to the larger parks.

While occupying FEMA travel trailers or mobile homes, residents are responsible for maintaining their trailers, such as keeping the trailers clean, changing lightbulbs and smoke-detector batteries, and making sure propane fuel tanks are refilled with fuel.

Travel trailers and mobile homes are inspected once a month for the occupant's safety and convenience: if a travel trailer or mobile home requires maintenance beyond basic upkeep, residents should call the appropriate travel trailer maintenance hotline for their parish or county.

Storm victims throughout the disaster area are eligible to receive a FEMA trailer. Storm victims must complete a FEMA application form, after which they will be interviewed by a FEMA adjuster, who is similar to an insurance claims adjuster. If the storm victim owns or rents a house in the disaster area, the adjuster will determine if the damage to the home warrants temporary housing until the home is repaired. Victims who do not own or rent a home will be assigned a trailer if they were living in the disaster area before the storm.

To date, almost all applications for FEMA trailers have been approved, even in two-story homes with slight flood damage on the first floor. This is because any amount of standing floodwater requires extensive repairs, during which the house may not be habitable. Large families may apply for larger trailers or even multiple trailers for a single property. After approval, the applicant is placed on a waiting list. The time between approval and actually receiving a trailer can vary from a few weeks to several months.

FEMA subcontracts the installation of FEMA trailers to numerous private contractors. First, a subcontractor installs the trailer itself. After this, other contractors install the access stairs or ramps, furniture, appliances, and water. Next, the trailer occupant must contact the power company to install a power line and power meter for the trailer. Finally, a FEMA inspector will inspect the trailer for safety compliance. Only after this lengthy process, will the occupant receive the keys for their trailer.

FEMA originally stated that residents could live in their FEMA trailers for 18 months.

In general, most Katrina Victims appreciate their trailers and commend FEMA for creating the trailer program. So far, all FEMA trailers have been issued to storm victims without charge. FEMA trailers are manufactured from plastic, aluminum, and particle board. As such, they are somewhat flimsy and require more maintenance than a permanent structure. They are also poorly insulated, offer little sound insulation, and are known to sway in high winds.

Nevertheless, most FEMA trailer occupants had been living in their cars, tents, FEMA subsidized hotels, partially gutted homes, or sharing the crowded homes of relatives before receiving their trailers. As such, the relative personal privacy of a trailer is seen as a vast improvement. FEMA trailers are considered surprisingly spacious, although they have very little storage space for personal belongings.

Many trailer occupants consider their trailers actual homes, and have affectionately personalized their trailers with curtains, paintings, and houseplants. During the Christmas season, many FEMA trailers have been elaborately decorated with Christmas lights. FEMA trailers have been similarly decorated during Halloween, Easter, and other holidays. Trailers have also been decorated with political statements, sometimes praising and other times satirizing local government officials and FEMA itself.

FEMA trailer parks have developed into small communities. In New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities, extended families often live near each other in the same neighborhoods, and several trailer parks are located near the same neighborhoods. As such, many members of the same family live in different trailers in the same parks. Neighbors frequently convene to have barbecues, crawfish boils, and parties for watching Saints Football.

There have been accusations of health problems caused by high formaldehyde levels in the trailers, produced by formaldehyde emissions from manufactured materials used in construction of the trailers. Residents have reported breathing difficulties, persistent flu-like symptoms, eye irritation, and nosebleeds. Tests on a number of FEMA trailers by the Sierra Club showed some 83% had levels of formaldehyde in the indoor air at levels above the EPA recommended limit. Congressmen Henry Waxman and Charlie Melancon have requested FEMA test trailers and address the issue.

In July 2008, researches conducting a federally-funded analysis reported that the toxic levels of formaldehyde in the trailers probably resulted from faulty construction practices and the use of substandard building materials.

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FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force

A FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force (US&R Task Force) is a team of individuals specializing in urban search and rescue, disaster recovery, and emergency triage and medicine. The teams are deployed to emergency and disaster sites within six hours of notification. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created the Task Force concept to provide support for large scale disasters in the United States. FEMA provides financial, technical and training support for the Task Forces as well as creating and verifying the standards of Task Force personnel and equipment.

There are 28 Task Forces in the United States, each sponsored by a local agency. In the event of a disaster in the United States, the nearest three Task Forces will be activated and sent to the site of the disaster. If the situation is large enough, additional teams will be activated.

Each Task Force is capable of deploying as a Type I with 70 personnel or a Type III with 28 personnel. This deployment configuration is increased if the Task Force mobilizes for a ground transport.

The search and rescue personnel are organized into four Rescue Squads, each composed of an Officer and five Rescue Specialists, and are capable of working 12-hour alternating shifts. The medical personnel include two task force physicians and four Medical Specialists.

The canine rescuers are a critical element of each US&R Task Force as their keen sense of smell allows them to locate victims that might go undiscovered. The majority of the dog-handlers on the Task Forces are civilian volunteers. The dogs are usually considered to be family pets by the handlers when the dogs are not on duty.

The canine rescuers will become dejected if they are unsuccessful in locating victims as they consider search and rescue to be a type of game. To keep the spirits of the canines up, one of the Task Force members will hide in the rubble so the dog will have a successful 'find'. In most instances, the dogs do not wear any safety equipment while working a debris pile as they need to be able to splay their paws to obtain maximum traction. Because of the distinct possibility of injury from broken glass and metal, the medical unit maintains supplies for the canine rescuers.

Each of the canines is categorized as either Type II Disaster Search Canine (Basic certification) or Type I Disaster Search Canine (Advanced certification).

The origins of the FEMA Task Forces goes back to the early 1980s when the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and Metro-Dade County Fire Department created search and rescue teams to deal with rescue operations in collapsed buildings. The State Department and the Office of Foreign Disaster Aid requested the help of these teams to assist with rescue operations in the 1985 Mexico City, the 1990 Luzon and the 1989 Leninakan earthquakes.

Seeing the value in having a network of such teams in the United States, FEMA created the National Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Response System in 1989. In 1991, the concept was incorporated into the National Response Plan. FEMA sponsored 25 national urban search-and-rescue task forces. The number of teams has expanded to 28 since 1991.

The 28 teams of the US&R Task Force program are spread throughout the United States. The teams are identified by the official two-letter U.S. Postal Service state abbreviations followed by the letters TF for Task Force and a sequential number for the number of the task force for that state. For example, the newest task force in the state of California, the San Diego Task Force, is identified as CA-TF8, being the 8th task force to be created in California.

The U.S. Army's 911th Engineer Company, modeled on a FEMA USAR Task Force, provides additional response to the National Capital Region.

FEMA has created a standardized list of equipment that each Task Force maintains. The 16,400 pieces of equipment are cached and palletized for quick access and transportation. The complete load of equipment weighs 60,000 pounds (27,215 kg) and is designed to be transported by tractor trailer or in the cargo hold of one C-141 transport aircraft or two C-130 transport aircraft.

The equipment cache allows the Task Force to operate independently for up to four days. The cache contains five categories of equipment: Medical, Search and Rescue, Communications, Technical Support and Logistics.

The medical portion of the cache includes medical treatment and tools to provide sophisticated medical treatment for victims and task force members, including limited treatment of disaster search canines. The treatment materials are designed to be enough to handle 10 critical cases, 15 moderate cases and 25 minor cases.

Items included in the medical cache are medicines, intravenous fluids, blankets, suture sets, airways, tracheal tubes, defibrillators, burn treatment supplies, bone saws and scalpels. On site, the "durable" medical equipment will stay with the Task Force when patients are transferred to other medical facilities. The local medical facilities must provide their own medical equipment as the equipment may be needed again by the Task Force.

The Search and Rescue portion of the cache contains all the equipment that the Search and Rescue teams will need to extricate victims from debris.

Construction type equipment such as concrete saws, jackhammers, drills and rope. Technical rescue type equipment such as lifting airbags, shore systems, and hydraulic rescue tools. Non-reusable shoring material such as lumber and pipe is not included in the cache and is to be found or acquired at the disaster site.

Snake-like cameras, fiberscopes, sensitive listening devices, measuring devices such as laser rangefinders, strain gauges and levals; audio-visual equipment such as still and video cameras, LCD projectors; haz-mat equipment and support equipment for canines such as kennels, harnesses and sleeping pads.

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FEMA photo library

The FEMA Photo Library is an online gallery of photos compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the United States, containing approximately 16,100 disaster related photographs taken since 1980. The majority of the collection is of declared disasters and there are also photographs from significant public events that have occurred on or near the National Mall in Washington DC. Since August 30, 2005, 6,098 images have been added to the collection; Hurricane Katrina has the most photographs in the collection with around 3000 images.

The photographs are of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, typhoons, fires, avalanches, ice storms, blizzards, terrorist attacks, earthquakes, and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

These photographs are in the public domain and are not copyrighted, and the collection is added to during declared disasters when multiple additions occur daily.

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Federal Emergency Management Agency

FEMA seal before 2003

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, initially created by Presidential Order on April 1, 1979). The best-known purpose of FEMA is to coordinate the response to a disaster which has occurred in the United States and which overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities. The governor of the state in which the disaster occurred must declare a state of emergency and formally request from the President that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster. FEMA also provides these services for territories of the United States, such as Puerto Rico. The only exception is when an emergency or disaster occurs on federal property or to a federal asset, for example, the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, or the Space Shuttle Columbia in the 2003 return-flight disaster.

While on-the-ground support of disaster recovery efforts is a major part of FEMA's charter, the agency provides state and local governments with experts in specialized fields and funding for rebuilding efforts and relief funds for infrastructure, in conjunction with the Small Business Administration. FEMA also assists individuals and businesses with low interest loans. In addition to this, FEMA provides funds for training of response personnel throughout the United States and its territories as part of the agency's preparedness effort.

In an article some years ago, The Economist referred to FEMA as "A shadowy agency responsible for the survival of the U.S. Government", but provided few additional details. This comment probably pertains to the lesser-known missions of FEMA's National Continuity Programs Directorate, some details of which are of necessity classified.

Federal emergency management in the United States has existed in one form or another for over 200 years. The history of FEMA can be divided into the following parts.

A series of devastating fires struck the port city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, early in the 19th century. The 7th U.S. Congress passed a number of measures in the Congressional Act of 1803 that provided relief for Portsmouth merchants by waiving duties and tariffs on imported goods. This is widely considered the first piece of legislation passed by the federal government that provided relief after a disaster.

Between 1803 and 1930, ad hoc legislation was passed more than 100 times for relief or compensation after a disaster. Examples of these include the waiving of duties and tariffs to the merchants of New York City after a fire in the mid 1830s. After President Abraham Lincoln's assassination at John T. Ford's Theatre, the 54th Congress passed legislation compensating those who were injured in the theatre.

After the start of the Great Depression in 1929, President Herbert Hoover had commissioned the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932. The purpose of the RFC was to lend money to banks and institutions to stimulate economic activity. RFC was also responsible for dispensing federal dollars in the wake of a disaster. RFC can be considered the first organized federal disaster response agency.

The Bureau of Public Roads in 1934 was given authority to finance the reconstruction of highways and roads after a disaster. The Flood Control Act of 1944 also gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority over flood control and irrigation projects and thus played a major role in disaster recovery from flooding.

This "piecemeal approach" to disaster recovery was troubled by poor interagency cooperation and bureaucratic red tape.

By the start of the 1960s, federal disaster relief and recovery was brought under the umbrella of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which created the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. This agency would oversee disasters such as Hurricane Carla in 1961, Hurricane Betsy in 1965, Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Agnes in 1972, the Alaskan (Good Friday) Earthquake of 1964 and the San Fernando Earthquake of 1971.

Many government agencies were still involved in disaster relief; in some cases, more than 100 separate agencies might be jockeying for control and jurisdiction of a disaster.

Congress met the nation’s needs for disaster preparedness and assistance somewhat reactively, by enacting various forms of legislation in response to recognized needs.

Over the years, Congress increasingly extended the range of covered categories for assistance, and several presidential executive orders did the same. By enacting these various forms of legislative direction, Congress established a category for annual budgetary amounts of assistance to victims of various types of hazards or disasters, it specified the qualifications, and then it established or delegated the responsibilities to various federal and non-federal agencies.

In time, this expanded array of agencies themselves underwent reorganization. One of the first such federal agencies was the Federal Civil Defense Administration, which operated within the Executive Office of the President. Functions to administer disaster relief were then given to the President himself, who delegated to the Housing and Home Finance Administration. Subsequently, a new office of the Office of Defense Mobilization was created. Then, the new Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization, managed by the EOP; after that, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, which renamed the former agency; then, the Office of Civil Defense, under the Department of Defense (DoD); the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW); the Department of Agriculture; the Office of Emergency Planning (OEmP); the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (replacing the OCD in the DoD); the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the General Services Administration (GSA) (upon termination of the OEmP).

These actions demonstrated that during those years, the nation’s domestic preparedness was addressed by several disparate legislative actions, motivated by policy and budgetary earmarking, and not by a single, unifying, comprehensive strategy to meet the nation’s needs over time. Then, in 1978 an effort was made to consolidate the several singular functions; FEMA was created to house civil defense and disaster preparedness under one roof. This was a very controversial decision.

Many felt the coordination of federal preparedness functions would be too challenging, and the needs of developing civil defense preparedness might lose its priority if it was included within the same organization handling natural disaster response. In the end, FEMA was created as the primary federal source for both financial and technical support assistance to victims in need of emergency aid. The controversy was not resolved by the decision, though. Those who managed the mandates of the agency still held their particular points of view concerning which function of FEMA was more important, civil defense or natural disaster preparedness, and the issue failed to resolve itself due to Congress’ prior history of placing value on policy and the budgetary concerns of the times. Eventually, these points of view developed their separate cultures within FEMA, causing a “stovepiping” within the agency, thus creating insularity and preventing a mutuality and collegial sharing of interests and resources.

Many feel that the hybrid that FEMA became never was able to meld the two separate and distinct functions, those of counter terrorism and natural disaster management. They feel that this essentially unyielding dichotomy has created the several problems for which FEMA has been criticized over the years.

Until April 1, 1979, there was no single federal agency to carry out the various functions of disaster assistance and civil defense.

FEMA was established under the 1978 Reorganization Plan No. 3, and activated April 1, 1979 by Jimmy Carter in his Executive Order 12127. In July, Carter signed Executive Order 12148 shifting disaster relief efforts to the new federal level agency. FEMA absorbed the Federal Insurance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program, the Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration and the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration activities from HUD. FEMA was also given the responsibility for overseeing the nation's Civil Defense, a function which had previously been performed by the Department of Defense's Defense Civil Preparedness Agency.

One of the first disasters FEMA responded to was the dumping of toxic waste into Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York in the late 1970s. FEMA also responded to the Three Mile Island nuclear accident where the nuclear generating station suffered a partial core meltdown. These disasters, while showing the agency could function properly, also uncovered some inefficiencies.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton elevated FEMA to a cabinet level position and appointed James Lee Witt as FEMA Director. Witt initiated reforms that would help to streamline the disaster recovery and mitigation process. The end of the Cold War also allowed the agency’s resources to be turned away from civil defense to natural disaster preparedness.

After FEMA’s creation through reorganization and executive orders, Congress continued to expand FEMA’s authority by assigning responsibilities to it. Those responsibilities include dam safety under the National Dam Safety Program Act; disaster assistance under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act; earthquake hazards reduction under the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977 and further expanded by Executive Order 12699, regarding safety requirements for federal buildings and Executive Order 12941, concerning the need for cost estimates to seismically retrofit federal buildings; emergency food and shelter under the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987; fire control, under the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974; hazardous materials, under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986; insurance, under the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968; national security, under the National Security Act of 1947, the Defense Production Act of 1950; and various executive orders under presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, H. W. Bush, Clinton, and G.W. Bush.

In addition, FEMA received authority for counter terrorism through the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici amendment under the Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 1996, which was a response to the recognized vulnerabilities of the U.S. after the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

Congress funded FEMA through a combination of regular appropriations and emergency funding in response to events.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to better coordinate among the different federal agencies that deal with law enforcement, disaster preparedness and recovery, border protection and civil defense. FEMA was absorbed into DHS in 2003. As a result, FEMA became part of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate of Department of Homeland Security, and employs more than 2,600 full time employees.

President Bush appointed Michael D. Brown as FEMA’s director in January 2003. Brown warned in September 2003 that FEMA's absorption into DHS would make a mockery of FEMA’s new motto, "A Nation Prepared", and would "fundamentally sever FEMA from its core functions", "shatter agency morale" and "break longstanding, effective and tested relationships with states and first responder stakeholders". The inevitable result of the reorganization of 2003, warned Brown, would be "an ineffective and uncoordinated response" to a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 demonstrated that the vision of further unification of functions and another reorganization could not address the problems FEMA had previously faced. The "Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina", released February 15, 2006 by the U.S. Government Printing Office, revealed that federal funding to states for “all hazards” disaster preparedness needs was not awarded unless the local agencies made the purposes for the funding a “just terrorism” function.

Emergency management professionals testified that funds for preparedness for natural hazards was given less priority than preparations for counter terrorism measures. Testimony also expressed the opinion that the mission to mitigate vulnerability and prepare for natural hazard disasters before they occurred had been separated from disaster preparedness functions, making the nation more vulnerable to known hazards, like hurricanes.

In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew struck the Florida and Louisiana coasts with 165 mph (265 km/h) sustained winds. FEMA was widely criticized for the agency’s response to Andrew, summed up by the famous exclamation, "Where in the hell is the cavalry on this one?" by Kate Hale, emergency management director for Dade County, Florida. FEMA and the federal government at large were accused of not responding fast enough to house, feed and sustain the approximately 250,000 people left homeless in the affected areas. Within five days the federal government and neighboring states had dispatched 20,000 National Guard and active duty troops to South Dade County to set up temporary housing.

FEMA had previously been criticized for its response to Hurricane Hugo, which hit South Carolina in September 1989, and many of the same issues that plagued the agency during Hurricane Andrew were also evident during the response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In the minutes after the first hijacked plane slammed into the World Trade Center towers, FEMA, as well as emergency services all over the city and state of New York, were mobilized. FEMA had activated 25 of the 28 Urban Search and Rescue teams in response terrorist attacks. Five were deployed to the Pentagon. 20 were deployed to the World Trade Center site; however, the New York City Office of Emergency Management was in charge of the WTC recovery effort. FEMA played its largest role in the appropriation of federal funds to aid local and state governments in paying for the disaster. As of 2003, FEMA had received $5.5 billion USD to distribute among local and state agencies to help offset the cost of recovery. Within the $5.5 billion, FEMA was also allotted funds to pay for its own recovery efforts.

FEMA received intense criticism for its response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in August 2005. FEMA had pre-positioned response personnel in the Gulf Coast region and was responsible for the evacuation of thousands of people who had remained in New Orleans during the storm, as well as for initial recovery work and appropriations. However, many could not render direct assistance and were only able to report on the dire situation along the Gulf Coast, especially from New Orleans. Within three days, a large contingent of National Guard and active duty troops were deployed to the region.

The enormous number of evacuees simply overwhelmed rescue personnel. The situation was compounded by flood waters in the city that hampered transportation and poor communication among the federal government, state and local entities. FEMA was widely criticized for what is seen as a slow initial response to the disaster and an inability to effectively manage, care for and move those trying to leave the city.

Then-FEMA Director Michael D. Brown was criticized personally for a slow response and an apparent disconnection with the situation. Michael Brown would eventually be relieved of command of the Katrina disaster and soon thereafter resigned.

Katrina was seen as the first major test of the nation’s new disaster response plan under DHS. It is widely held that many things did not function as planned.

Pursuant to a temporary restraining order issued by Hon. Stanwood R. Duval, United States District Court Judge, Eastern District of Louisiana as a result of the McWaters v. FEMA class-action, February 7, 2006 was set as the deadline for the official end of any further coverage of temporary housing costs for Katrina victims.

After the February 7 deadline, Katrina victims were left to their own devices either to find permanent housing for the long term, or to continue in social welfare programs set up by other organizations. There are many Katrina evacuees living in temporary shelters and/or trailer parks set up by FEMA and other relief organizations in the first months after the disaster hit, but many more are still unable to find housing.

In July 2007, ice that had been ordered for Katrina victims and never used and had been kept in storage facilities at a cost of $12.5 million was melted down.

In June 2008, CNN investigation has found that FEMA gave away about $85 million in household goods meant for Hurricane Katrina victims, to 16 other states.

FEMA came under attack for their response to the October 13, 2006 snowstorm in Buffalo, New York. Claims state that FEMA officials did not arrive until October 16, three days after the storm hit. The damage by this time included downed power wires, downed trees, and structural damage to homes and businesses. FEMA responded that as per procedure, the Governor of the state of New York had not asked for FEMA's assistance. FEMA Headquarters had been in constant contact with State congressional offices providing them with the latest information available.

Many people of Dumas, Arkansas, especially victims of the February 24, 2007 tornadoes, criticized FEMA's response, not supplying the amount of new trailers they needed, only sending a set of used trailers, lower than the needed quantity. Following the storm, U.S Senator Mark Pryor had criticized FEMA's response to the recovery and cleanup efforts.

FEMA came under intense criticism when it was revealed that a press conference on the California wildfires of October 2007 was staged. Deputy Administrator Harvey E. Johnson was answering questions from FEMA employees who were posing as reporters. Many of these questions were "soft ball" questions (i.e. "Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?"), intentionally asked in a way that would evoke a positive response giving the impression that FEMA was doing everything right. In this way, any scrutiny from real reporters (many of whom were only given a 15 minute notice) would have been avoided. Fox News, MSNBC, and other media outlets aired the staged press briefing live. Real reporters were notified only 15 minutes in advance and were only able to call in to a conference line, which was set to "listen-only" mode. The only people there were primarily FEMA public affairs employees.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino criticized the agency for the incident, stating "It's not something I would have condoned, and they, I'm sure, will not do it again." Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who oversees FEMA, said, "I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I've ever seen since I've been in government." Following the incident, FEMA's external affairs director, John P. "Pat" Philbin, lost a planned position as Director of Public Affairs for the Director of National Intelligence.

According to an article in TIME following the incident, FEMA responded exactly as it had trained to respond. Since 2003, an international PR firm has been paid to hold fake press conferences as part of simulated terrorist attacks. The government had held their last major exercise shortly before the wildfires press conference. At all of these simulations the real media have only been able to watch from afar.

Any time there is a natural disaster FEMA is trotted out as an example of how well government programs work. In reality, by using taxpayer dollars to provide disaster relief and subsidized insurance, FEMA itself encourages Americans to build in disaster-prone areas and makes the rest of us pick up the tab for those risk decisions. In a well-functioning private marketplace, individuals who chose to build houses in flood plains or hurricane zones would bear the cost of the increased risk through higher insurance premiums. FEMA's activities undermine that process. Americans should not be forced to pay the cost of rebuilding oceanfront summer homes. This $4 billion-a-year agency should be abolished.

Since Hurricane Katrina, some critics have called for FEMA to be removed from the Department of Homeland Security, saying that its position in the department badly hindered the agency's response, and that FEMA is beyond repair. Sen. Joe Lieberman called for Congress to dissolve FEMA and rebuild it from scratch, but within the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

A Senate panel has also come to the conclusion that it would be better to abolish FEMA. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was the leader of an inquiry by the Senate said FEMA was in "shambles and beyond repair". The panel called for a new agency which will be called the National Preparedness and Response Authority if FEMA is abolished. The rest of the Senate panel's recommendations included less dramatic changes, such as creating a Homeland Security Academy, which would better prepare FEMA officials.

FEMA has also been the subject of allegations by conspiracy theoristswho suspect an upcoming planned genocide of the American people to be carried out by the US Government under the provisions of REX-84 and Operation Garden Plot. In February 2009, a search for "FEMA concentration camps" returned over 120,000 hits in Google with individuals and small groups filming and posting pictures of FEMA facilities which they identify as "concentration camps" or "death camps". The principal reasons for this conclusion appear to be that FEMA has broad general emergency powers, as a result of a succession of executive orders, some of which are apparently classified, which FEMA claims are issued to empower them to assist the civilian population in times of emergency.

Today FEMA exists as a major agency of the Department of Homeland Security. The Administrator for Federal Emergency Management reports directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security.

FEMA currently manages the National Flood Insurance Program. Other programs FEMA previously administered have since been internalized or shifted under direct DHS control.

FEMA is also home to the National Continuity Programs Directorate (formerly the Office of National Security Coordination). ONSC was responsible for developing, exercising, and validating agency wide continuity of operations and continuity of government plans as well as overseeing and maintaining continuity readiness including the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center. ONSC also coordinated the continuity efforts of other Federal Executive Agencies.

FEMA's Mitigation Directorate is responsible for programs that take action before a disaster, in order to identify risks and reduce injuries, loss of property, and recovery time. The agency has major analysis programs for floods, hurricanes, dams, and earthquakes.

FEMA works to ensure affordable flood insurance is available to homeowners in flood plains, through the National Flood Insurance Program, and also works to enforce no-build zones in known flood plains and relocate or elevate some at-risk structures.

Pre-Disaster Mitigation grants are available to acquire property for conversion to open space, retrofit existing buildings, construct tornado and storm shelters, manage vegetation for erosion and fire control, and small flood control projects.

FEMA's emergency response is based around small, decentralized teams trained in such areas as the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), Urban Search and Rescue (USAR), Disaster Mortuary Operations Response Team (DMORT), Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT), and Mobile Emergency Resource Support (MERS).

The NDMS was transferred from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Health and Human Services, under the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, signed by President George W. Bush, on December 18, 2006.

NDMS is made of teams that provide medical and allied care to disaster victims. These teams include doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc., and are typically sponsored by hospitals, public safety agencies or private organizations. Also, Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) teams, composed of officers of the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service, were developed to assist with the NDMS.

Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT) provide medical care at disasters and are typically made up of doctors and paramedics. There are also National Nursing Response Teams (NNRT), National Pharmacy Response Teams (NPRT) and Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMAT). Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORT) provide mortuary and forensic services. National Medical Response Teams (NMRT) are equipped to decontaminate victims of chemical and biological agents.

The Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces perform rescue of victims from structural collapses, confined spaces, and other disasters, for example mine collapses and earthquakes.

These teams provide communications support to local public safety. For instance, they may operate a truck with satellite uplink, computers, telephone and power generation at a staging area near a disaster so that the responders can communicate with the outside world. There are also Mobile Air Transportable Telecommunications System (MATTS) assets which can be airlifted in. Also portable Cellphone towers can be erected to allow local responders to access telephone systems.

FEMA offers a large number of training classes, either at its own centers, through programs at the state level, in cooperation with colleges and universities, or online. The latter are free classes available to anyone, although only those with U.S. residency or work eligibility can take the final examinations. More information is available on the FEMA website under the "Emergency Personnel" and "Training" subheadings. Other emergency response information for citizens is also available at its website.

The Training and Education Division within FEMA's National Integration Center directly funds training for responders and provides guidance on training-related expenditures under FEMA's grant programs. Catalog available at TED Course Catalog. Information on designing effective training for first responders is available from the Training and Education Division at First Responder Training. Emergency managers and other interested members of the public can take independent study courses for certification at FEMA's online Emergency Management Institute.

FEMA has led a Public-Private Partnership in creating a National Donations Management Program making it easier for corporations or individuals not previously engaged to make offers of free assistance to States and the Federal Government in times of disaster. The program is a partnership among FEMA, relief agencies, corporations/corporate associations and participating state governments. The technical backbone of the program is an online technology solution called The Aidmatrix Network which is managed by the independent nonprofit organization, Aidmatrix.

On March 4, 2009, President Obama nominated Florida's state emergency management director, W. Craig Fugate, to lead FEMA.

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Source : Wikipedia