6/1/08 Laurel Leader Call (MS): Organization says government not ready for disaster
From the Laurel Leader Call: Published June 01, 2008 11:50 am - With Hurricane Season beginning Sunday, a watchdog group is highlighting some concerns they say indicate the government is not fully prepared for a natural disaster.
Organization says government not ready for disaster
By Eloria Newell James, firstname.lastname@example.org
With Hurricane Season beginning today, a watchdog group is highlighting some concerns they say indicate the government is not fully prepared for a natural disaster.
Citing minimum changes in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Program, a still strained military presence with the National Guard and heavy dependence on volunteers as concerns, Ben Smilowitz, founder and executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project, said more needs to be done by the government.
Smilowitz said there are gaps in the services available to victims of natural disasters.
"Despite recent assurances from leadership at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA that the Federal government is prepared for a major disaster, significant areas of concern remain that must be resolved before the U.S. disaster management system can honestly represent itself as sufficiently prepared to respond to a disaster requiring federal resources," Smilowitz said. "Right now our nation has a volunteer force set up to offer victims of natural disasters help. ... I donít feel that a volunteer force can provide the caliber of care needed after a disaster."
The nonpartisan Disaster Accountability Project provides accountability and oversight to the nation's disaster prevention, response, relief, and recovery systems through monitoring and policy research.
Smilowitz said since Katrina there has been no significant changes made in the matter in which the government handles natural disasters.
"I don't think we are in a much better position than we were after Katrina. ... There's less accountability and fewer staff," he said. "When something hits and people need assistance, it's hard to train volunteers. So, you end up with minimum-trained individuals. ... Disaster survivors deserve more than that."
Smilowitz said the needs are great during natural disasters and people are vulnerable.
"In a natural disaster, the need is great," he said. "When FEMA becomes involved that means that states are overrun and that means an emergency already exists."
Therefore more information to the public is needed, he emphasized.
Smilowitz said because of the lack of information available concerning evacuation routes for those who don't have transportation and the services that are being made available to victims of disasters, the Disaster Accountability Project is also recruiting a network of Disaster Accountability Monitors across the U.S. to help report, verify, and publicize gaps in disaster services or planning.
Smilowitz said in the event of a disaster, monitors will help publicize the Disaster Accountability Hotline (866-9-TIP-DAP) and report and/or verify reported gaps in disaster relief/response services.
"The public needs to know where FEMA's gaps exist," he explained. "You canít change things if you don't know what's broken. We have a lot of things broken out there, we have just got to make people aware of them so that they can encourage the agencies to change them."
Smilowitz said the public is encouraged to call the Disaster Accountability Hotline (866-9-TIP-DAP) with any tips on gaps in federal, state, and/or local preparedness, response, relief, or recovery systems.
Individuals with special needs that do not know the details of their local evacuation plans or believe their local plans are insufficient, are also encouraged to tip DAP by calling the DAP Hotline (866-9-TIP-DAP) or sending an e-mail to Tips@DisasterAccountability.org.