A cool new graphic from Foodstorage.com ranks how prepared each state is for disasters. The chart compares how much money the state has for disasters to the likelihood that state will face a disaster.
The outcome is interesting because regardless of their ranking, most states are unprepared for emergencies. One of the main reasons for this is that states know to just call in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Whenever a state is hit by any type of disaster, they know to immediately call FEMA and their costs will be covered.
This is because the 1988 Stafford Act changed how and when FEMA is called into action. The Act made it easier for states to qualify for federal aid during disasters and then the federal government would pay for at least 75 percent of disaster response costs. Thus, states asking for and receiving federal assistance rose dramatically. As a result, FEMA on average responds to a new disaster about every two and a half days.
Today, the agency is spread out thin and requires increasing amounts of funding to pay for its interventions. With this many disaster declarations, FEMA will not be prepared when the next large-scale national disaster hits the country.
The government should not send FEMA to every small disaster in the U.S. The first step in reforming FEMA should be to raise the requirements states need to meet in order to receive aid. States need to take more responsibility and provide more aid to their residents, especially for smaller, more localized disasters.
Localized responses from faith-based organization, nongovernmental organizations, and nonprofits are often the most effective way to respond. The Red Cross was ready to shelter 40,000 evacuees before Katrina even made landfall. Local and state emergency responders are effective because they know the area and have the most current information about who needs help. In contrast, FEMA, being stretched thin by its constant response to small disasters, is often slow and indecisive.
Another large problem is the waste and abuse of relief dollars. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, rather than focus funds on those in immediate need of assistance, over half of the spending was spent on preparing for the next storm or replacing federal assets. Congress may want to prepare for future disasters, but it should not abuse emergency funding mechanisms, which should be used to help those in immediate need, all while throwing fiscal discipline to the wind.
After several major national disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and more recently Superstorm Sandy, it has been well documented that the federal government is not prepared to respond to national disasters. The over-federalization of disaster response needs to be reversed before the next large national disaster strikes.