The hurricane which became tropical storm Irene ended up doing more damage with its precipitation than it did with its winds. In parts of the East Coast, August was already the rainiest month on record prior to the storm. So the waterways were swelled and more prone to flooding. Apparently Vermont got some of the worst of it, with much of the state flooded. And the storm knocked out power to millions of residents as well. The death toll is at least at 21, and that could rise.
So even though the storm dissipated as it moved up the coast, it was still a powerful and destructive force that required a strong federal response, something that would be unquestioned unless your name is Ron Paul. And chief executives of both parties praised that emergency management effort from FEMA.
When asked by ABC’s “This Week” host Jake Tappper whether there’s anything that New Jersey needs from the federal government that it hasn’t been getting, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) replied, “Not at this point.”
“We have FEMA representatives here at the Regional Operations and Intelligence Center [who have] been working with us. I’m going to be calling [Homeland Security] Secretary Napolitano in an hour or two to make a further request of additional needs. But so far, FEMA has been very responsive,” said Christie.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-Md.) also had nothing but praise for the federal response [...]
“Craig Fugate and the people at FEMA, Secretary Napolitano and President Obama — they have been excellent,” said O’Malley. “They have been with us since day one, and actually, before the storm arrived, they were here, and it’s worked really, really well. This is a much better FEMA than the olden days.”
O’Malley was referring to the “olden days” of the Bush administration, when FEMA became a national joke under Michael Brown, who oversaw the agency during Hurricane Katrina. Brown — who embellished his resume to get the high-profile job — and other Bush administration officials were harshly criticized for failing to respond to the devastating storm.
It’s early in the recovery and rescue effort, so this is obviously subject to change. But FEMA has become a very functional agency over the last few years under the direction of Craig Fugate. It never should have unraveled, given the simplicity of the task – provide resources, distribute resources, help the state and local responders. But what we know is that emergency management has not given way to sloth or corruption, and they are performing their duties competently. This is about the least we can expect from our government, but they are passing the test.
A few more things to say about that. For FEMA to keep up the response, they will probably need emergency funding to help out states devastated by the storm, and Eric Cantor has already signaled a fight on that, demanding cuts elsewhere to pay for hurricane relief. Next, the fact that our infrastructure is so brittle that a storm of any type knocks out power is a serious problem, and shows that the money “saved” from not addressing infrastructure is invariably spent later, at a higher cost. Finally, whether you think this Administration is doing a good job or not with emergency management may hinge on whether you think emergencies of this type are growing more frequent with the increase of climate change. Since we’ve made little movement on addressing that challenge over the last few years, it stresses agencies like FEMA that much more.