In President Barack Obama’s first two years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) averaged 108 disaster declarations per year. In less than six months, FEMA already has issued 100 declarations in 2011.
The record year remains 1996, when President Bill Clinton issued 157 declarations. If FEMA maintains this pace for the rest of the year, it will exceed 200 declarations and push President Obama’s yearly average to 139 per year. This figure would continue the trend started by President George H. W. Bush of presidential Administrations exceeding the previous Administration’s FEMA declaration total.
Bush averaged 43.5 declarations per year, which was 15.4 declarations more than President Ronald Reagan (who finished 15.9 declarations below President Jimmy Carter). President Clinton doubled that average by issuing 89.3 declarations per year. Not to be outdone, President George W. Bush finished his eight years with an average of 129.5 declarations per year, or a new declaration every three days.
Even more astonishing is that President Obama has issued 316 FEMA declarations without one hurricane or 7.0-plus earthquake striking the United States. That means that the vast majority of declarations issued over the last three years have been for natural disasters historically handled entirely by states and localities. Even more surprising is that President Obama already set the single-year record for major disaster declarations when he issued 81 in 2010—a year devoid of any nationally catastrophic disasters. These benchmarks are nothing more than federalization run amok.
And it must stop. Every routine natural disaster that FEMA involves itself in diverts finite and vital resources (people, money, time, and supplies) that should be used preparing for a truly catastrophic event that will actually overwhelm state and local governments.
Countless journalists have asked me how I thought FEMA did during the tornado strikes of the last month or so. My response has been fairly simple and straightforward: FEMA has done well, which it always does when the event is a flood slowly building on a river or a tornado that does localized geographic damage. The real test is how FEMA does when a powerful hurricane hits Miami, North Carolina, or New Orleans.
History has shown a fairly poor track record when Andrew in 1992, Floyd in 1999, and Katrina in 2005 struck the United States. Let’s hope all that time spent on those 316 routine natural disasters doesn’t leave us with a FEMA unprepared for the real deal.
By the way, hurricane season started on June 1, and the weather experts are predicting an above-average year for hurricanes—just as they did the last two years. FEMA recommends you get prepared. Let’s hope for FEMA’s sake that either the weather experts are wrong again or FEMA is as prepared as it says it is.