WASHINGTON—AFGE, the union representing workers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), today raised questions about the preparedness of the agency for the 2006 hurricane season.
Leo Bosner, AFGE local president at FEMA headquarters, explained that experienced staffers have quit FEMA as the agency’s budget and authority have been stripped from it under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Many FEMA jobs today are filled by newly hired staff members who have received little or no training. Bosner said the exodus of seasoned employees hastened in the months following last year’s hurricane season. After Hurricane Katrina, many FEMA employees worked 7 days a week for two months or more without a day off, often working 12 to 18 hour days.
“Whether or not FEMA is ready for the hurricane season is a three-part question: are the staff ready; are there adequate supplies such as emergency food, water, and medicine; and are the top leaders at FEMA and DHS up to the job?” said Bosner. “The experienced staff who have worked through many disasters are ready, however there are fewer and fewer of them.”
“FEMA’s experienced staff were ready when Hurricane Katrina struck. We sent strong warnings to FEMA and DHS leaders 48 hours before landfall. The lack of adequate supplies and the lack of decisive, capable leaders at FEMA and DHS undermined our ability to assist the Americans whose lives were upended by the storm,” said Bosner.
Bosner pointed out that DHS still has the same leadership as a year ago. R. David Paulison, a former fire chief, now heads FEMA, as more experienced disaster response managers have turned down the job. Meanwhile experienced mid-level and senior managers continue to leave FEMA.
“FEMA employees have been assured there will be more supplies on hand this year. We hope that is true. But are DHS and FEMA leaders ready for hurricane season? Let’s hope so,” said Bosner.