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Local governments and FEMA


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The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina brought disaster relief to the spotlight, especially given the fact that the individual appointed to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the time of the storm should not have been in that position.  However, that does not excuse the actions or the inactions of governments at every level.  Most of the blame was placed on the shoulders of the federal government, but state and local governments should have taken some responsibility for the things they did not do.  For example, New Orleans and the state of Louisiana ignored advice of the federal government three days before the storm landed ashore when President Bush called for a preemptive state of emergency, and then blamed the same federal government for not giving them enough warning.  Americans remember seeing school buses sitting in flooded waters and heard the New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, blame the federal government for not doing enough.  This is one example of how governments at every level need to work together before and after a disaster.   

There are times, however, when communities have no warning of disaster.  These would include tornados, floods, storm surges, and even blizzards. In these times, states need to declare disaster areas by county and then await federal assistance.  In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government declared a disaster three days prior to the storm landing on shore which gave the governments of Louisiana the authority necessary to do everything necessary to ensure the safety of the people in the path of the storm.  September of 2008 was one of those times in Northwest Indiana.  Remnants of Hurricane Ike merged with a cold front moving over the plains to create havoc in the Midwest.  One community in Munster was devastated and is still recovering a year later.  The community banded together and showed that people come first.  While people were asking how this could have happened; it was not the first thing people thought about.  The first order of business was to ensure that people were safe.  Homes and property could be replaced, people could not.

In September 2008, Munster's northern portions suffered record flooding resulting from the impact of Hurricane Ike, which caused the Little Calumet River to overflow. A break occured in the levee located near the intersection Calumet Avenue and River Drive in the northwest portion of the town.  As a result, Munster requested the Army Corps of Engineers to elevate the levee in low lying areas.  Munster’s Town Manager Tom DeGulio said, "We've never had flooding like this."  Indiana National Guard members and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security assisted in the evacuation.  Initially, 40 Guardsmen were activated on Sept. 14 to assist the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.  Indiana Guard personnel placed sandbags, provided security, conducted search and rescue missions, and assisted local authorities. They have also provided equipment such as generators, aircraft, sandbag machines, and high-water vehicles.  In this case, the governor of Indiana activated the local Guard to assist in recovery efforts.  When FEMA set up shop at Calumet Avenue and 45th Avenue, it forced people to come to them.  People in the flood damaged region had lost a great deal and some lost everything.  It had become extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most of the victims to provide any form of positive identification.  People needed to do everything necessary to clean out their homes, yet they were forced to take time out from cleaning and work to wait in long lines for any assistance from FEMA.  In order for FEMA to be more effective, representatives could have gone into the flooded neighborhoods to visit the victims and see first-hand what each victim needed.  Authorities from Munster and Lake County aided in the recovery efforts, but the victims were still forced to wait in lines for FEMA assistance.  The point is, FEMA could, with local government permission and authority, visit the homes and asses the damages to ensure a more efficient recovery effort.

Guard wades into Indiana flooding
http://www.ng.mil/news/archives/2008/09/091708-indy_flooding.aspx

Town of Munster Resolution 1850 Declaring disaster relief
http://www.munster.org/egov/docs/1234909642_343902.pdf

Town of Munster Resolution 1851 on Flooding and Levee repairs
http://www.munster.org/egov/docs/1234992110_709197.pdf

Governor declares storm disaster in Lake, requests federal aid 
http://nwitimes.com/news/local/article_10e64ad6-532b-5662-b027-39c7fb8171fa.html
 

Comments

  • JSmith 5 years ago

    The author is incorrect in his statement that FEMA "forced" disaster victims to stop their cleanup and wait in long lines to apply for assistance. Applicants may contact FEMA by phone or through the FEMA web site to apply for assistance. With regard to the author's statement implying that applicant's are overburdened by the requirement to provide identification, it is unreasonable to expect that a federal agency, funded by taxpayer money should distribute federal assistance without proof that the applicants in fact lived in the disaster area, are United States citizens and are who they claim to be.

  • A Bogs 5 years ago

    Ok, J Smith . . . Let's just say that I am one of those affected by the flooding. My home still does not have power, I still have no phone line, sure my cell phone has coverage but my battery is dead. I am kind of stressed out because my entire home is basically at a loss right now, I was able to call work yesterday, but since a lot of us are in the same boat - I don't know when I can get to a phone and I am trying to piece together a few precious items and fight off scavengers at the same time. Oh, wait - I have to eat, take care of my kids, try to find the family pet, help/console my neighbors, and since we can't stay in our home, we have to go back to the shelter for tonight.

    I am not trying to argue with you - but while yes, there are alternate ways to apply, it was widely advised to go directly to the temporary location and it may not have been all too convenient for the alternate means of application.

  • A Bogs 5 years ago

    While the ID issue is a necessity, I do agree that there has to be some way to meet in the middle. If there is a total devastation, and you have lost everything, how do you prove it? Would it have been easier to avoid fraudulent claims by actually going into the areas affected? Would physically seeing the damage done have drawn an emotional response rather than a cool detached one by FEMA and Insurance teams? Is the government really all about frustrating its citizens, or does it just seem like it? As a citizen and a taxpayer, if I were affected, I would have appreciated taking fifteen minutes of daylight during cleanup time at what was left of my home to speak directly to FEMA, and give them a quick tour of my property. It would have been more productive for both sides. This may not be the answer, but can't we question what could be and why does it have to be a certain way?

  • JSmith 5 years ago

    The purpose of a FEMA/State DRC is not only to apply for FEMA assistance but to centralize recovery resources. DRCs always have phone banks so that applicants can register for FEMA assistance. DRCs also have additional resources, including volunteer, local and state agencies that may be helpful for recovery. In some cases, the state may have set up services that reissue birth certificates, marriage licenses and driver's licenses. Often, crisis counseling is available; sometimes clothing and food are available or referrals to agencies providing those items. In the past, water and ice have also been distributed at DRCs. Also, FEMA provides mitigation experts who provide vital information on safe cleanup and future loss prevention. With regard to home visits, FEMA sends inspectors to meet with applicants at their homes, to document the losses. I hear the frustration in your responses, however, the reason that DRCs exist in disaster areas is to address the very issues you have mentioned.

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