Originally created 05/01/06

Scrap FEMA - permanently



A key U.S. Senate committee that spent months investigating the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disastrous response to last summer's hurricanes Katrina and Rita has concluded the agency ought to be abolished and rebuilt from the ground up, largely independent of the Department of Homeland Security.

The panel got it half right. Yes, let's get rid of FEMA. But rebuilding it as an independent agency? No way. We've been down that road before - before FEMA was folded into Homeland Security. It makes no sense to keep rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after every weather disaster.

Let's face it. FEMA, no matter what you call it, or how often you refurbish or rebuild it, has been a bust from day one. The best move the government can do to strengthen the nation's emergency disaster response systems is to do away with FEMA altogether and pour more resources - i.e., funds - into state, local and private-sector emergency management teams, such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

Why do we always look to Washington for the answers - especially when better answers can be found elsewhere?

Who's in a better position to make decisions about and deal with local or state disasters - emergency management teams in the neighborhood or bureaucrats in Washington? Last year's deadly chlorine-spilling Graniteville train accident should have taught us that trained and ready local emergency responders - and aid agencies independent of the government - are better in a crisis than anything that comes out of Washington.

Moreover, with FEMA out of the picture, it'll be clearer where the responsibility for success - or failure - lies. You shouldn't get the blame game that went on after Katrina.

Meanwhile, the private relief agencies dealt with the crisis the best - not perfectly, but better than any government agency. The private sector almost always performs better than the government.

Emergency management resources - federal, state and local - should be spent to build on strength, not weakness. And the strength in the current system lies with local and state responders and private relief agencies.

The weakness is FEMA or any agency like it. We don't need it. We can do better without it.