The Post-Sandy FEMA Clusterfark

Here we are, six days after the superstorm Sandy hit the east coast, and the federal government’s response is about what you’d expect after a big disaster — unless your name is President Bush and the disaster was Hurricane Katrina. If that were the case, it would have been expected that the entire city of New Orleans would have been rebuilt — or something.


In truth, it is difficult to compare the two storms and the FEMA response. Katrina was much worse. About 80% of New Orleans was literally underwater, there were 25,000 stranded residents at the Superdome (moved to Houston 6 days after the storm made landfall), and looting was a huge problem.

For failing to address the crisis in a timely manner, President Bush and FEMA were criticized heavily — and demonized in the media. This despite the impassable roads, the downed bridges, and the wretched cooperation between state, local, and federal authorities.

The similarities between FEMA’s response to Katrina and Sandy are obvious; a disaster is called a “disaster” because infrastructure vital to the smooth running of civilization has been destroyed. Normal conduits to government aren’t working. Power is off. Streets are flooded or impassable due to downed trees. There are shortages of food, fuel, and water. Most of the things we take for granted that make life bearable were either impossible to get or broken and needed fixing.

We knew all of this in 2005 and yet, the narrative was quickly established (almost before the hurricane winds died down) that the federal response was inadequate and it was Bush’s fault. By the sixth day after Katrina, Bush’s presidency had been emasculated. I’m not surprising anyone reading this when I say the criticism was not really about FEMA’s response to an impossible situation, but rather a cutesy shorthand was created to tar President Bush and his administration as incompetent.


How’s FEMA working out for Staten Island residents:

FEMA’s vaunted “lean forward” strategy that called for advanced staging of supplies for emergency distribution failed to live up to its billing in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

In fact, the agency appears to have been completely unprepared to distribute bottled water to Hurricane Sandy victims when the storm hit this Monday. In contrast to its stated policy, FEMA failed to have any meaningful supplies of bottled water — or any other supplies, for that matter — stored in nearby facilities as it had proclaimed it would on its website. This was the case despite several days advance warning of the impending storm.

FEMA only began to solicit bids for vendors to provide bottled water for distribution to Hurricane Sandy victims on Friday, sending out a solicitation request for 2.3 million gallons of bottled water at the website. Bidding closed at 4:30 pm eastern.

Yep. Sounds like they’re on the ball, alright.

But the narrative for Sandy has been set already; Obama did a great job, it might even win him the election. Is this true?

Facing questions about his campaigning for re-election while millions of Americans still await government relief efforts from Superstorm Sandy, President Obama said Saturday that one of the disaster’s positive results was “leaders of different political parties working together to fix what’s broken.”

“It’s a spirit that says, ‘We’re all in this together,’ ” Mr. Obama told about 4,000 supporters in a high-school gym in northeast Ohio. “We rise and fall as one nation and one people.”


Really? I don’t recall any Democrats saying anything positive at all about bi-partisan efforts to deal with the crisis — despite the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana being Democrats. I guess we’re only “all in this together” on some disasters.

Besides, everyone knows this has been a smooth running relief effort from the start, right?

Perhaps nowhere was the scene more confused than at a refueling station in Brooklyn, where the National Guard gave out free gas – an effort to alleviate the situation. There, a mass of honking cars, desperate drivers and people on foot, carrying containers from empty bleach bottles to five-gallon Poland Spring water jugs, was just the latest testament to the misery unleashed by Sandy.

“It’s chaos; it’s pandemonium out here,” said Chris Damon, who had been waiting for 3 1/2 hours at the site and had circled the block five times. “It seems like nobody has any answers.”

Added Damon: “I feel like a victim of Hurricane Katrina. I never thought it could happen here in New York, but it’s happened.”

Uh-oh. He used the dreaded “K” word. Does President Obama know? One thing is certain, there won’t be a peep from the media comparing Katrina and Sandy FEMA responses. This can’t happen 2 days before the election. It might cause people to think that Obama’s response to Sandy isn’t any better than Bush’s response to Katrina.


And they’d be right.


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