Blame the @#$%&

Washington, DC, May 20, 2009 -- The FEMA logo ...
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“We know that FEMA will be issuing some deadlines of their own pretty soon when they will stop reimbursing the city after a set date for debris collection,” Hopkins-Glascock said. “In anticipation of those FEMA deadlines we set our own deadline for today for residents to put their items out.”
City Paper

I found myself chuckling this morning at the article on the City Paper website about the transitions in debris removal by the Public Works department for it seemed like the city was falling into the “blame the @#$%&” mode of public spin. This mode is familiar to anyone that has ever talked to someone who beats his wife, the refrain that “…yes I beat her, but she was asking for it.” Many women I have known over the years have shared how they have become the focus of blame because they are an easy target for scorn and abuse. And as I read the story this morning, I wonder if FEMA isn’t ultimately going to fulfill that role for the city.

The quote above is an interesting shift of responsibility on FEMA since FEMA officials were some of the folks who were raising their eyebrows when they heard that debris removal was ending (which, as we’ve since learned, isn’t really ending but moving into a different mode).  FEMA is very careful that about attempting to make demands of a city in recovery efforts, believing that ultimately the local governments have the final say, so they would never tell the city directly that it is too soon to end debris pickup, but in the back rooms of the Joint Field Office at Hickory Hollow officials are more willing to question whether the decision is premature.

There is no doubt that FEMA has its issues, and that there are indeed all sorts of random and restrictive regulations that place limits on what both individuals and a city can do. On the flip side, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the responsiveness of FEMA in this disaster, as well as the level of concern and compassion shown by FEMA staff toward survivors of this flood event.

But in either case it will be interesting to watch whether FEMA becomes the focus of blame by city leaders for unpopular decisions going forth into the future. Recovering from a disaster such as the one we’ve experience involves making tough decisions, ones that don’t always endear you to those who are suffering and in need of help. It’s easy in those cases to shift the blame to FEMA to avoid the political repercussions of difficult decision making. And as we move into the hard part of recovery, expect to see FEMA blamed for everything from the floods to the losing streak of the Nashville Sounds.


One thought on “Blame the @#$%&

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  1. Your comments ring true, unfortunately. When the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana, and the USACE all failed in their responsibilities to the people of that area during Katrina/Rita, it wasn’t Mayor Nagin or then-governor Blanco who took the heat. They blamed FEMA. As did many in the media.
    Now we’re seeing a call from the Gulf Coast states for FEMA to take over the response efforts in the face of this BP-induced environmental and economic disaster. Such a move would be incomprehensible to any person who has worked in emergency response and recovery. It would just place FEMA, and by extension, the Federal Government, in a position where many would be able to critisize them, rather than keeping the fingers firmly pointed at BP.

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