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Context of 'September-November 1989: Officials Criticize FEMA’s Response to Hurricane Hugo'

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known best as a relief agency for victims of natural disasters, is secretly dedicated to the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of national emergency. Upon its establishment, FEMA absorbs the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (DCPA) and the Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA), which were previously responsible for the top-secret plans (see April 1, 1979). During the 1980s and into the early 1990s, FEMA’s budget and workforce are overwhelming geared towards the COG program (see 1982-1991 and February 1993). FEMA remains in charge of overseeing the government’s continuity plans up to present day. According to FEMA’s website, the agency’s Office of National Continuity Programs (NCP) is currently the “Lead Agent for the Federal Executive Branch on matters concerning continuity of national operations under the gravest of conditions.” [fema.gov, 6/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Office of National Continuity Programs, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, Federal Preparedness Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Hurricane Hugo, shortly before making landfall in South Carolina.Hurricane Hugo, shortly before making landfall in South Carolina. [Source: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,]The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is strongly criticized for not providing adequate relief to the victims of Hurricane Hugo, a Category 5 storm that hit near Charleston, South Carolina. The storm causes billions of dollars in damage, displaces tens of thousands, and leaves hundreds of thousands jobless and without power. After the storm passes, FEMA is slow to take action. The first FEMA relief office opens a full week after the storm hits. Once the agency moves in, red tape, minimal resources, and poor management bog down the relief efforts. Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) bluntly describes FEMA’s hierarchy as a “bunch of bureaucratic jackasses” that should just “get the hell out of the way.” Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. criticizes FEMA for not bringing enough people or resources to his city. The relief system established by FEMA, he says, “is not designed to cope immediately and urgently with a major disaster.” Robert Hoffman, the mayor of St. Stephen in Berkeley County, says: “I really had more faith in our government.… We’re in serious trouble if FEMA is going to be the [lead] organization in the event of a nuclear war.” Unbeknownst to most of the public and government, the majority of the disaster agency is preoccupied with developing plans for a nuclear doomsday as part of the highly classified Continuity of Government program (see April 1, 1979-Present). [Associated Press, 10/1/1989; Washington Post, 10/4/1989; National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center, 8/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Ernest F. Hollings, Joseph P. Riley Jr.

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Damage from Hurricane Andrew, in Dade County, Florida.Damage from Hurricane Andrew, in Dade County, Florida. [Source: Greenpeace]Approximately three years after facing harsh criticism for its response to Hurricane Hugo (see September-November 1989), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is denounced for not providing adequate relief in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. The storm, which devastates regions of southern Florida and Louisiana, claims dozens of lives, leaves up to a quarter million people temporarily homeless, and causes more than $26 billion in damage. [National Hurricane Center, 12/10/1993; National Hurricane Center, 8/1/2005] Nearly a week after Andrew passes, local officials and citizens in the hardest hit areas are still waiting for assistance from the federal government. Days after the storm, the New York Times reports it is still “unclear just who is in charge of the Federal relief effort.” [New York Times, 8/27/1982] “Blame for the government’s delayed response to Hurricane Andrew is being placed squarely at the feet of the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” the Associated Press reports. Even after FEMA moves in, relief is delayed by a lack of resources and bureaucratic red tape. [Associated Press, 8/29/1992] In some cases, the agency brings equipment designed for a nuclear war instead of basic supplies. When the city manager of Homestead, Florida, requests 100 hand-held radios, FEMA is only able to provide high-tech mobile command vehicles (see 1982-April 1994). As Cox News Service will later report: “FEMA sent high-tech vans, capable of sending encrypted, multi-frequency radio messages to military aircraft halfway around the world.… FEMA equipment could call in an air strike but Homestead never got its hand-held radios.” Franklin, Louisiana, which is reportedly “flattened” by the storm, is similarly offered a communications vehicle instead of basic relief. “They offered a mobile communications unit and I told them that was unacceptable,” says Representative Billy Tauzin (D-LA). Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) says the government’s response to the storm is “seen by many of Hurricane Andrew’s victims in Florida as a disaster itself.” Unbeknown to most of the public and government, FEMA is secretly preoccupied with preparations for a nuclear doomsday (see April 1, 1979-Present). [Associated Press, 8/29/1992; Cox News Service, 2/22/1993]

Entity Tags: W.J. (“Billy”) Tauzin, Barbara Mikulski, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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