FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate told reporters that his agency had more than 1,500 people in the field this week, and there are many more from other agencies. “The number is going up rapidly as we are able to get to these areas,” he said.
Many of those workers got to the affected areas before the storm did.
“Because of some of the work that had been done ahead of time, we’ve been able to get over a thousand FEMA officials in place, pre-positioned,” President Obama said at American Red Cross headquarters on Tuesday. “We’ve been able to get supplies, food, medicine, water, emergency generators to ensure that hospitals and law enforcement offices are able to stay up and running as they are out there responding.”
Although Autrey now works full-time on union business and talks to reporters only in his role as Local 4060 president, he is well-equipped to discuss the work of those who leave their homes and families, often on short notice, to spend weeks working in disaster areas across the country.
Autrey did that during Hurricane Katrina, which ripped through the Gulf Coast in 2005. FEMA’s reputation took a beating because of the government’s unacceptable response to that storm. Obama forcefully made it clear he doesn’t want Katrina’s performance repeated:
“I want you to cut through red tape,” he told federal agencies during his Red Cross visit. “I want you to cut through bureaucracy. There’s no excuse for inaction at this point. I want every agency to lean forward and to make sure that we are getting the resources where they need — where they’re needed as quickly as possible.
“So I want to repeat — my message to the federal government: No bureaucracy, no red tape. Get resources where they’re needed as fast as possible, as hard as possible, and for the duration.”
Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sees a much-improved FEMA. “The lessons learned from Katrina have strengthened the response to and recovery from each storm that has followed,” she said, citing legislation that she and committee Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) wrote to improve FEMA.
“The agency also has far stronger leadership than it had during Katrina, and it is encouraging to witness the greatly improved communications among emergency personnel at all levels of government,” she added. “Local and state agencies as well as first responders are the first line of defense, but FEMA plays an important role in coordinating the federal response to catastrophic storms.”