!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

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

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event September-November 1989: Officials Criticize FEMA’s Response to Hurricane Hugo. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

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

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known best as a relief agency for victims of natural disasters, spends the majority of its budget on secret “doomsday” preparations. Since its creation, FEMA has been secretly dedicated to the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to keep the government functioning in times of national emergency (see April 1, 1979-Present). Over a 10-year period, from 1982 to 1991, FEMA spends $2.9 billion—about 78 percent of its total budget—on classified national security programs. As Cox News Service will later note, “That’s roughly 12 times more than the $243 million FEMA spent during those 10 years preparing for natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods.” [Cox News Service, 2/22/1993]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management 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

Retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran, classified security expert, and whistleblower Fred Westerman is hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and unable to find work in the field he knows best. Beginning in 1985, Westerman headed a security firm that worked on the highly classified Continuity of Government program, which is designed to keep the government functioning in times of disaster (see 1985). The program is predominantly run by the clandestine National Program Office (see (1982 -1991)) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA—see April 1, 1979-Present). Westerman reported several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within the classified program to the FBI, the Army, and the inspector general’s office within FEMA (see 1986-1987). Westerman’s contract with the government was subsequently canceled (see December 1987) and the Justice Department launched an investigation of Westerman and his company when he attempted to file a lawsuit against the government (see November 1988 and November 1988). For the past three years, Westerman has been living in what CNN describes as an “intelligence twilight zone… unable to clear his name, unable to resolve his legal cases… caught in an unwinnable struggle with the powerful secret National Program Office.” Westerman has lost his security clearances, government contracts, and reputation (see 1990). “What assets I did have, have either been sold off or have been mortgaged to the hilt,” he tells CNN. “I am in financial disrepair. I am unemployable in the profession that I know best.” David Mann, a security consultant who served with Westerman, tells CNN: “I think what is happening to him particularly is that the federal attorneys and whoever is driving them to do their job are attempting to ruin the man through legal means.… It is a type of modern McCarthyism if you will.” [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: National Program Office, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Systems Evaluations Incorporated, Fred Westerman, US Department of Justice, US Army Corps of Engineers

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

The Clinton administration reorganizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), shifting resources away from secret projects and into disaster relief programs. During the previous two administrations, FEMA’s resources were overwhelmingly geared towards the highly classified Continuity of Government program, meant to keep the government functioning in times of extreme national emergency (see April 1, 1979-Present). The changes to the disaster agency are prompted by strong criticism of FEMA’s response to Hurricane Andrew (see August-September 1992). The secret COG programs are scaled back, but not totally discontinued. The newly appointed director of FEMA, James Lee Witt, eliminates FEMA’s secretive National Preparedness Directorate and shifts its responsibilities to other sections of the disaster agency. FEMA’s budget shows a dramatic drop in funding for secret projects, from about $100 million in 1993 to only $7.5 million in 1994. “What [Director Witt has] done is put FEMA in an all-hazards approach and put it aboveboard,” says FEMA spokesperson Morrie Goodman. “There are, of course,” Goodman adds, “certain areas that can’t be discussed or even acknowledged. That’s just the nature of the beast.” Indeed, uncertainties remain regarding the true extent of FEMA’s reformation. As Mother Jones magazine notes, the reduced classified budget “reflects only a fragment of FEMA’s investment in doomsday preparations, given that many former projects have been redesignated as ‘dual-use’ responses for both natural disasters and national security emergencies.” According to Mother Jones, “much of the doomsday bureaucracy remains intact, parts of the fifth floor are still restricted, and there has been no concerted effort to declassify the underground command posts.” Government officials will claim in 1994 that the COG program is coming to a total end (see April 18, 1994), but FEMA will continue to pursue its secret agenda for years to come (see April 1, 1979-Present). [National Academy of Public Administration, 2/1993 pdf file; Gup and Aftergood, 1/1994; New York Times, 4/18/1994; Sylves, 5/1994]

Entity Tags: James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Preparedness Directorate, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known best as a relief agency for victims of natural disasters, is preoccupied with preparations for a nuclear doomsday, according to Cox News Service. FEMA employees planning for natural disasters are outnumbered more than three-to-one by those working for the agency’s National Preparedness Directorate, which is responsible for overseeing preparations for nuclear war. Since its creation, FEMA has been secretly dedicated to the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, meant to keep the government functioning in times of national emergency (see April 1, 1979-Present and 1982-1991). Cox News Service finds: “Only 20 members of Congress—those with adequate security clearance—know that rather than concentrating on natural disasters such as last year’s Hurricane Andrew, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been gearing up for Armageddon. While a small group [of FEMA employees] is responsible for helping victims of natural disasters, most of the agency is preoccupied with developing high-tech gadgets for a nuclear doomsday.” [Cox News Service, 2/22/1993]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Preparedness Directorate

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Vice President Dick Cheney on television, May 8, 2001.Vice President Dick Cheney on television, May 8, 2001. [Source: CNN]In a brief statement, President Bush announces that Vice President Dick Cheney will oversee a “coordinated national effort” aimed at integrating the government’s plans for responding to the use of a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapon within the United States. Bush declares, “Should our efforts to reduce the threat to our country from weapons of mass destruction be less than fully successful, prudence dictates that the United States be fully prepared to deal effectively with the consequences of such a weapon being used here on our soil.” Bush says a new agency within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known as the Office of National Preparedness, will be “responsible for implementing the results of those parts of the national effort overseen by Vice President Cheney that deal with consequence management.” The Office of National Preparedness appears to be a reincarnation of FEMA’s old National Preparedness Directorate (NPD), which was disbanded by the Clinton administration in 1993 (see January 1993-October 1994). During the 1980s and early 1990s, the NPD secretly spent billions of dollars preparing for nuclear war and other national emergencies as part of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see February 1993, 1982-1991, and April 1, 1979-Present). [Cox News Service, 2/22/1993] Under the Bush administration, the Office of National Preparedness (ONP) will apparently take over where the National Preparedness Directorate left off. According to Bush, the ONP “will coordinate all Federal programs dealing with weapons of mass destruction consequence management within the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies.” Cheney, who played a central role in the COG program during the Reagan administration (see 1981-1992 and 1980s), informs CNN, “[O]ne of our biggest threats as a nation” could be “domestic terrorism, but it may also be a terrorist organization overseas or even another state using weapons of mass destruction against the US.… [W]e need to look at this whole area, oftentimes referred to as homeland defense.” According to FEMA, the ONP will be up and running as early as the summer of 2001. President Bush says he “will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.” [CNN, 5/8/2001; White House, 5/8/2001; New York Times, 7/8/2002] Cheney is meant to head a group that will draft a national terrorism response plan by October 1. [Chicago Sun-Times, 5/5/2001; Insight on the News, 6/18/2001] But, according to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, “Neither Cheney’s review nor Bush’s took place.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) later implies that Bush assigned this specific role to Cheney in order to prevent Congress from enacting counterterrorism legislation proposed by a bipartisan commission he had co-chaired in January (see January 31, 2001). [Salon, 4/2/2004; Salon, 4/6/2004] In July, two senators will send draft counterterrorism legislation to Cheney’s office, but a day before 9/11, they are told it might be another six months before he gets to it (see September 10, 2001). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Cheney’s “National Preparedness Review” is just beginning to hire staff a few days before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). [Congressional Quarterly, 4/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Gary Hart, George W. Bush, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Office of National Preparedness, National Security Council, National Preparedness Directorate, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike