Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials began the journey south Thursday toward the state of Alabama. The deadly tornadoes that moved through Alabama, Missippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia have left more than 290 people dead, with the body count still rising, and more than a million people without power.
President Obama declared a state of Emergency for Alabama on Wednesday after reports of the massive storms and devastation were made clear. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said the storms were so powerful that little could be done to plan for the massive damage and loss of life.
“People were very much aware of what was going on yesterday,” he said during a news briefing Thursday. “It’s very difficult to move everyone out when a tornado comes through that’s a mile wide.”
No doubt Bentley was thinking back to the immense destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the harsh criticism that was volleyed back and forth between state and federal governments at that time.
In the aftermath of Katrina, then New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin claimed that FEMA was unprepared to deal with such an emergency. Meanwhile, FEMA stated that Nagin had plenty of time to order an evacuation of the area and should have done so before having to be urged by members of the federal government.
In light of this new disaster, FEMA is heading to the South again to show the country that is better prepared to deal with an emergency of this magnitude. No doubt officials will look to the lessons learned during Katrina.
In response to heavy criticism post-Katrina, then -FEMA Director David Paulison published an editorial pointing out some of the failures and improvements the agency had made in hindsight.
Improved Overall Preparedness
FEMA now has enough food, water and ice to care for as many 1 million people for a week already stockpiled and ready to be moved. The agency can now register up 200,000 daily disaster victims, which is double the ability back in 2005. Most importantly, maybe, is that now the agency can inspect up to 20,000 houses daily after an emergency, which will greatly reduce the amount of people stranded and trapped in their own homes during Katrina.
Better Communications, Better Leaders
The agency now has a much-improved satellite and communications system and digital alert system. This allows for a more fluid victim management program and better communications between local, state and federal rescue and management crews. Also, FEMA went on a hiring (and, undoubtedly, firing) spree to ensure that the agency was equipped with the best, quick-decision-making managers who were in such high demand but hardly available during Katrina.
In a highly touted idea, the agency also created a debris contractor registry. This is a web-based registry program that allows contracts to enter the abilities they possess for clean-up and repair procedures. This will lead to all levels of government and emergency responders to better react and plan a recovery operation.