Is FEMA Ready for the Next Katrina?
Everyone remembers the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and all of the deaths and issues that followed. While it’s impossible to stop hurricanes and other natural disasters, it is possible to improve the way that the government responds to and handles them. Without a doubt, they handled #HurricaneKatrina poorly. The country and FEMA vowed that they would not let something like that happen again by putting in place a better infrastructure and better logistics to ensure that it doesn’t. They started to develop a new and better system in hopes to improve their response time and start getting help to victims as quickly as they can.
FEMA Still Floundering
The new system was supposed to take care of issues they faced a decade ago. They’ve had 10 years to work on the problem with other disasters to test them along the way. Yet, they admit that the new system is still undergoing work. There’s the chance that the new system might not work as well as hoped.
Thus far, they’ve spent close to $250 million on revamping the plan, trying to make sure they have enough supplies and a fast enough system of getting help to people to reduce the effects if a disaster-sized Katrina occurred again. Now it’s said they’re not certain their plan will be effective. This comes directly from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.
FEMA, part of the Department of Homeland Security, was the center of controversy after Katrina. They couldn’t handle the amount of help required of them for residents in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Their new system was supposed to automate and make the distribution of relief easier. The hope is that they will be able to deliver emergency supplies faster, which can help to save lives and make survivors’ lives a little easier.
The system tracks more than just supplies that are coming from FEMA though. The system will track those from other agencies as well as state, local, and even tribal governments. It can even track supplies from nongovernment organizations and those that come from the private sector. Ideally, this would give them an idea of what they had and where it was going at all times. In theory, it would make handling larger disasters easier.
Here’s the rub though. The officials from FEMA said that the system was up and in place, and even running smoothly in January of 2013. The auditors who looked into this did not find that. In fact, they saw that the system was close to 19 months behind schedule – more than a year and a half!
It doesn’t do anything that they claimed. Namely, it isn’t able to work with the logistics management system of those aforementioned partners, so they have no real-time information about supplies nor where they might be.
The system is still not up and running. This means if another disaster the size of Katrina happened, or even a smaller one, they will not be able to handle it. Chances are they’ll need more money in order to complete the project.
You Might Be on Your Own
When you’re facing a disaster, there’s a chance you’ll be on your own for a while. Help from the government might be some time in coming, and maybe it just won’t come at all. You need to be ready to fend for yourself and your family. After Hurricane Iniki, many people in Kauai swore they’d never live like that again after a disaster, so they built bomb shelters with weeks of supplies and generators.
When you’re saying your prayers during and after a disaster, don’t forget the part where it says, “lead us not into temptation.” It seems too many folks are led into temptation when it comes to thinking they can get more money out of the federal government in times of disaster. In my book, I talk about ways people have tried to put one over on me and other inspectors. I also provide details about what you can and can’t use #FEMAfunds for. (Hint: You can’t use it to have a diamond embedded in your tooth.)
Don’t think you can get more money from FEMA by exaggerating the extent of your damages or working a deal with a CFI. Fraud from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita totaled more than one billion dollars. Even with the established penalties of a quarter-million dollars in fines, jail time, or both, fraudsters still take chances. Because of the enormity of the fraud in these hurricanes, the National Center for Disaster Fraud was started. This group relentlessly pursues open cases, and it may take them years but someone who made a fraudulent claim will be pursued to the greatest extent possible. You might not even know you’ve been discovered until you file annual income tax and receive a letter informing you that all future tax refunds are being withheld.
The fallout from Hurricane Sandy is still being painfully felt by New Yorkers who are being faced with demands for the return of their FEMA money. See more in this NY Post article from the last quarter of 2014.
And check out this NJ woman’s story.
Don’t find yourself delivered into evil. Fraud hurts everybody but no one worse than yourself.
God Bless America.
After Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in September of 1992, there were many families left homeless because their homes had been entirely destroyed. Many of these folks spent months in temporary spots and then in tents. They were forced to use outhouses and eat from campfires or at the disaster relief centers. And believe it or not, come December, I was still going to visit tent cities to search for people in order to complete FEMA inspection paperwork. This is how I found myself at the Hanamaulu Park tent city one morning. It had been raining for days and days and 100 or so households remained at this site because they had nowhere else to live.
I was walking around meeting up with folks when suddenly it occurred to me that these families would be in this tent city come this Christmas without anything. “Great,” I thought sarcastically to myself, “they’ll all have a delightful holiday season down here!” Suddenly, my inner Klinger-O’Reilly sprang to life. I could do something to improve their Christmas. I just knew I could! The wheels started to turn, and that was the first time it set in motion what would eventually develop into the idea for my C4DR organization.
Along my way, I have crossed paths with a few people who have tons of cash and charitable hearts. It was these people I reached out to in December of 1992, and they were willing to help me put together a Christmas for the families in #HanamauluPark. You can read more about this special Christmas (it is probably my favorite Christmas ever!) in my book.
Skip on over to my C4DR page and see if you’re not inspired to give to those suffering during disaster recovery.
After a disaster, the FEMA inspector at your door might be inexperienced, incompetent or impaired.
I spend a lot of my book talking about how a contract #FEMAinspector (CFI) is a real human being taking time out of their real life to help you, most often with the best intentions and the most professional demeanor. But it is true, (as we saw in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy) that the inspector at your door might sometimes be a bit more human than it is in your best interests.
You need to know that if you are worried about a FEMA inspector’s behavior or professionalism, if you fear you received a “kitchen inspection,” if your inspector seems to be lost through the process, you may be right. You have recourse. You can always appeal your inspection.
I encourage you to ask a few questions about the FEMA inspector’s background. “Did you do tornado (or relevant disaster) work in the past?” “How long have you been inspecting?” You have every right to know the truth about your CFI, and it is up to you to figure out whether or not they are doing the best job possible for you.
One of the major contractors had trained more than 90,000 CFIs and yet when Hurricane Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey, only 3,000 showed up. The high turnover rate for CFIs is a problem, and in the wake of each disaster, rookies have to be trained to handle the number of inspections. Many of the inspections done after Hurricane Sandy, for example, were done by rookies, and may have been substandard and are probably valid candidates for appeals from the applicants. I don’t know how many of the applications were appealed, but I doubt it was anywhere near the number that could have been easily challenged.
If you’d like to learn more about what to expect and what to watch out for when you open the door to a FEMA inspector, I have a chapter in my book devoted to this.
Back in 1993, my friends and I used to drive up to the end of the Wailua River where there was a deep pool to swim in and have fun. It’s also where one of the canals for the sugar cane water system starts. This canal diverts water from the river into the canal right there and goes around the corner of the mountain into a cave and comes out the other side back into the canal. It was real scary but we wanted to try to float through the cave and come out the other side. We thought a lot about how we could do it without drowning. So we floated a tennis ball at the mouth of the cave and had our friends look for it on the other side. When it came out on the other side of the mountain, we floated a bigger ball to see if it would make it through. We put a soccer ball and a beach ball through, and they all made it. Once in a while the ball would have some dirt or slime on it, so we knew it was hitting the ceiling or the walls as it floated through the cave. The really scary part? Rain in Kauai would raise the river really quickly as it rushed down the mountains.
Finally, the day came when I put all my scuba gear on and tied a rope around my waist and went for it. I had an underwater light with me. We picked a day when there wasn’t much rain, and luckily I made it to the other side of the mountain and lived to tell the tale! We thought we could get rich selling this ride, but our business plan kept getting shot down. We made it through the cave, but were dead in the water as far as making some money sharing this awesome ride with other people.
We were daredevils back then. They were still growing sugar cane in Kauai and someone still owned those canals. It was too risky!
But since then, they quit growing sugar cane and someone else managed to get the idea approved and that person is making money off of this awesome tubing adventure. Now, you can float in peace with no worries of drowning. It is all kosher and insured as far as I know.
“Witness Kauai’s spectacular engineering feats as you float down the tropical waterway consisting of open ditches, tunnels and flumes all of which were engineered and hand dug around 1870.” See more at this discount ticket site. #traveltips
Okay, more for the hikers: The Grand Canyon of the Pacific – Waimea Canyon is the actual name, but this is a ten-mile long and 3,000 foot deep canyon that sits along the western cost of the island. The name means “reddish water” because of the soil and the way it erodes along the canyon walls. It is the result of the Waimea River that passes through the canyon and which is the result of the presence of Mt. Wai’ale’ale (a bit more on that below). You can enjoy this spot when you visit Waimea Canyon State Park and a drive along the edge. There are a lot of hiking trails and wilderness areas along the way, and at the farthest end is Koke’e State Park.
The road to the canyon has many scenic overlooks, and if you are lucky enough to enjoy a clear day, you can get a wonderful perspective of the canyon on one side and a clear view of the private island of Niihau on the other.
Mt. Wai’ale’ale – The wettest spot on the planet, it is technically a shield volcano. This means that it is the volcano that formed the island but which is missing a large portion, blown away during an eruption and from erosion over time.
This mountain is actually the second highest point of all of the Hawaiian Islands and it receives at least 451″ of rain every year.
If you take the trail to the top of the ridge (which is a “moderate” climb), you get to see the famous sign that indicates you are on the wettest spot on the planet. However, if you want to be sure you are in the truly wettest spot, you may need to hop over to Maui where the “Big Bog” actually received more rain than the mountain.
When #HurricaneIniki hit in 1992 and I headed over as a CFI with #FEMA to Kauai for the major relief effort, I used the local #radio station, KONG radio, to establish myself there on the island. I called in to the show and secured myself a guide and a driver from the airport (cool!). Accommodations were less than stellar— we were jammed ten to a room and sleeping on cots in a hotel conference room (not cool)!
I guess KONG liked my radio voice, because I was invited to the radio station to deliver disaster relief news and advice, which I did gladly. I gave praise to the Red Cross and told listeners about MARS units of portable phone banks that the military would make available.
I talked about some of the things the National Guard’s men could do to help. I informed people that they didn’t have to just sit and wait for help. We had Disaster Assistance Centers that could give them all of the basics—food, water, sleeping bags, lights, MREs and a hot meal at the center. I reminded people about the dangers of candles and the danger of ingesting contaminated tap water.
I consistently used the broadcasts to help the islanders be safe, get support and to get their inspections done. But it was hard for us inspectors to live like sardines, and we were growing more and more fatigued.
The radio broadcasts brought attention from other media outlets, and when I ended up on CNN, I used my airtime to tell the media they were hogging all of the available accommodations and not contributing to the relief effort (You can read more about this in my book).
FEMA heard about this broadcast and told me to stop being a part of any broadcast. They said I had no business giving out information. FEMA wanted to control everything that had their name associated with it, and directly attacking the media was not something they would endorse.
Well, now I’m back on the air, taking a chance and delivering the disaster preparedness message to an audience of over 10 million so far. And telling my stories.
If you haven’t heard my show in your market, you can listen to one of my interviews here, and get a copy of my book. I now have another book out, Disaster Manual for Financial Recovery which includes what you need in case of a disaster to get the most financial assistance from the government. Buy it here for your ebook reader or in paperback.
Have you visited me on Facebook? I’ve got my radio and personal appearances listed there, and there are a bunch coming up. Come say Hi!
Hanalei River Kayaking is a very laid-back adventure. #traveltips Make sure you have some strong arms, because on the way up the river you will be paddling against the current, but it’s smooth kayaking on the way back, when you’re good and tired.
There are no rapids here, but one of the things you’ll see besides a lot of taro farms and birds along the way are dozens of buffalo. The biggest buffalo ranch in all of the islands is along the river here. The owner ships buffalo burger, steaks and jerky around the world from this farm. He is an awesome person! While you are paddling up the river, you will be passing by the buffalo farm and most of the time the buffalo will come down to the river’s edge to check you out just as much as you are checking them out. It’s a great photo opportunity if you have the right kind of water-resistant camera or camera case!
I found out about this ranch when I was in Kauai working and had been the inspector for the owner’s property after Hurricane Iniki (You can read more about my adventures in Iniki in my book). After I did my inspection, he invited me to come back to witness the birth of a buffalo calf. It was an awesome experience.
We were in a jeep only 20 or 30 feet from a mother giving birth to her calf and some of the other buffalo seemed to be guarding her. The rancher wanted to show me how protective the herd is, so he got just a little close and one of the males charged our jeep. Thank goodness the jeep was well outfitted with tubular bumpers all the way around so it didn’t do any damage to the jeep or to us, but the male buffalo let us know we were off limits.
Within minutes, the calf was up and walking around. Shortly after that we were turning to go back to the ranch house, when we startled the herd and damn if that new born calf wasn’t running with the herd. Wow—what a sight! I learned some interesting facts about buffalo, like the fact that a newborn calf must be able to run within only a few minutes of birth or else the wolves in the great plains of America would eat it.
Now, I don’t think you will get to experience something like that while you’re kayaking the Hanalei River, but you never know. Please stop by the HOKUKANO RANCH and buy some buffalo meat or jerky.
PS: Now that I’m figuring out more of this social media stuff, I’ve moved my Travel Tips to Tuesday. #traveltipstuesday
It’s impossible to say what is “normal.” My Real FEMA Disaster Stories emphasize this fact. What’s normal to you might be bizarre to me, and so I won’t go there. Where does “Cyber Monday” fit? I won’t go there either, but in “honor of” the new National Holiday Cyber Monday, my Kindle edition is just $4.99. And you can “gift” an e-book version same as a print book if the person you need to buy for always has their tablet device nearby. This is a deal that will entertain and inform.
If you buy my print book, you can get the Kindle version for under $2! New to e-books? Try a free Kindle reading app and discover “the new normal.”
When I go into people’s homes for inspections and notice evidence on their walls that they or a member of their family served in the US Military, I always make sure to thank them for their service and thank them for my freedom before I leave their house. Sometimes they seem surprised. I guess it’ something not enough people do.
To honor the veterans this Veteran’s Day, I’m offering 50% off on my ebook.
Go here, select the ebook format you need, and when you check out, use this 50% promo code: CZ36L
(coupon expires after 11/12/14)