My Experience with FEMA


Written on 4:30 PM by Jack B.

FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency) has been rightly criticized for its (lack of) response to Hurricane Katrina and how it has effected New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Here is the experience I had with them just this week:

My college is (like many other schools) doing fund-raising for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The fund-raising is for just that, funds, dough, money. However some people wish to give food or clothing or other material good to the victims who have lost so much. The college has no direct means to get this stuff to the victim so we needed to find an outside organization who could handle it. I volunteered to do some calling around. I called the Salvation Army (but their pick-up number was closed for the day and anyway I was told that what the SA and the American Red Cross was really looking for was cash), I called Catholic Charities USA (but they couldn't do it), I called the NYS number for disaster relief and was told to call local social services, so I called NYC Social Services (but they weren't accepting clothes) but Social Services told me to call FEMA.

So, for the last phone call of the day (I was still on campus) I called the FEMA Hotline. This was the only way I could talk to an actual person instead of a pre-recorded message and it was the same line victims of disaster used as well as other people...and I was put on hold. First, they said it would be 15 minutes. So I waited while music played on the other line. Every several minutes after that a computerized message came on saying it would be only 5 more minutes before someone could answer my call and to "please continue to hold". After 20 minutes on hold I was still waiting and got yet another message that it would be "five minutes" longer. Well I couldn't hold on any longer. I had places to be. One would think 20 minutes would be enough for an operator to become available. One would think that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the worst disaster in modern US history they would have hired more operators (at least temporarily) for their hotline number. It's not like FEMA doesn't have the funds. What if I had been stuck in my house in New Orleans or had my home destroyed in Alabama and desperately needed help. Do those people have 20 minutes or more to spare when their very existence is on the line? After all, FEMA didn't know what I was calling for.

What a way to run a government agency! No wonder the head of FEMA had to resign, but it seems to me he's hardly the only person at that agency whose head should roll! And in the meantime we still have food and clothes ready to give to those who need it and its just going to no good use.

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