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Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Free-Market Flood 

Courtesy of our eldritch colleague Jeff Ford at 14theDitch (and FYI, that's one-for-the-ditch, not fourteen-the-ditch), a magnificent catch by China Mieville at Lenin's Tomb. We had not until this morning been aware that under President Bush -- who, as a former entrepreneur, is nothing if not mindful of the sluggishness and inefficiency that plague all federal bureaucracies -- FEMA has been farming out its traditional planning functions to private firms. From a June, 2004 press release:
IEM, Inc., the Baton Rouge-based emergency management and homeland security consultant, will lead the development of a catastrophic hurricane disaster plan for Southeast Louisiana and the City of New Orleans under a more than half a million dollar contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

In making the announcement today on behalf of teaming partners Dewberry, URS Corporation and James Lee Witt Associates, IEM Director of Homeland Security Wayne Thomas explained that the development of a base catastrophic hurricane disaster plan has urgency due to the recent start of the annual hurricane season which runs through November. National weather experts are predicting an above normal Atlantic hurricane season with six to eight hurricanes, of which three could be categorized as major.

The IEM team will complete a functional exercise on a catastrophic hurricane strike in Southeast Louisiana and use results to develop a response and recovery plan. A catastrophic event is one that can overwhelm State, local and private capabilities so quickly that communities could be devastated without Federal assistance and multi-agency planning and preparedness.
And the privatization of Louisiana's disaster planning has been a spectacular success, according to the (now slightly outdated) LEPA newsletter for Spring, 2005:
From July 16–23, 2004, over 300 participants from Federal, State, local, and volunteer agencies participated in the Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Planning Workshop at the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LOHSEP) in Baton Rouge. The purpose of the workshop was to develop functional plans for response to and recovery from a catastrophic hurricane striking southeast Louisiana, including the City of New Orleans.

Driven by a predetermined scenario, entitled Hurricane Pam, the participants developed 15 functional plans over the course of the week, including: pre-landfall activities; unwatering of leveeenclosed areas; hazardous materials; billeting of response personnel; distribution of power, water, and ice; transport from water to shelter; volunteer and donations management; external affairs; access control and re-entry; debris; schools; search and rescue; sheltering; temporary housing; and temporary medical care . . . .

The outcome of these workshops is a series of functional plans that may be implemented immediately. Along with these plans, resource shortfalls were identified early, saving valuable time in the event an actual response is warranted. It is because of the dedication of every workshop participant that Louisiana is much better prepared for a catastrophic hurricane.
Given the yeoman work IEM has done on behalf of the people of Louisiana, Mr. Mieville finds it odd indeed that as of this week, all mention of the FEMA contract had vanished from the company website. [N.B.: the link has now reappeared on the IEM press release page --S.]

SIDEBAR: You undoubtedly noticed the mention of James Lee Witt in the press release above. Josh Marshall reports that the former head of FEMA has been hired by Louisiana Governor Blanco to oversee the state's reconstruction efforts. See also Marshall's post on a variety of topics including the undistinguished resume of Bush appointee Michael Brown, sacked for incompetence by his previous bosses just before landing the top job at FEMA; Halliburton's new gig; and the coming multi-billion-dollar orgy of waste, fraud, cronyism and graft, already dubbed Baghdad: the Sequel.

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