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Reform Senator calls FEMA Irene response ‘heartening’

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT)

One of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s biggest past critics said the agency’s response to Hurricane Irene showed the agency had been reborn.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who had called for the agency’s dissolution seven years ago, said its performance under the pressure from the largest hurricane to strike the east coast of the U.S. in 100 years showed it wasn’t the same organization that mishandled the response to Hurricane Katrina.

“[FEMA] Administrator [Craig] Fugate and the rest of his team showed this weekend that we have a new FEMA, as envisioned in the Post-Katrina legislation which Senator Susan Collins and I coauthored to address the problems laid bare in the response to Hurricane Katrina,” said Lieberman in an Aug. 28 statement. “This new FEMA is much stronger than the one we had during Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “The full extent of Hurricane Irene's damage is still unknown but on the eve of the sixth anniversary of Katrina’s landfall, it is heartening to see FEMA and the country as a whole has learned many important lessons from that tragic chapter in American history. So far the job has been well done, but we are far from finished and must make sure that we continue to get resources to hard-hit areas so people can recover as quickly as possible.”

Hurricane Irene struck the east coast, on Aug. 28 -- almost six years to the day that Hurricane Katrina began its devastation of New Orleans in 2005.  Lieberman called the agency’s response to Katrina “a joke” and a “four letter word” to Americans, particularly those affected by Katrina’s wrath. Reform legislation drafted by Lieberman and committee ranking member Susan Collins (R-ME) was enacted into law in 2006.

In an Aug. 27 statements marking the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 27,  Lieberman, Collins and Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery Chairman Mary Landrieu, (D-LA) said the agency has evolved significantly since then.  Even though some families along the Gulf Coast continue to struggle to recover from the storm, said Lieberman, “FEMA has made tremendous progress since 2005 and is evolving into a competent, professional emergency management organization.”

“FEMA must improve its preparedness to assist in future recoveries after a large-scale disaster,” he said. He called for the agency to complete the National Disaster Recovery Framework.

 “In the days following the [Hurricane Katrina’s] swath of destruction, it became clear that our nation had been woefully unprepared for a disaster of such an historic magnitude,” said Collins. “Along with Senator Joe Lieberman, I led the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s in-depth investigation to examine what went wrong with the government’s preparedness and emergency response at all levels: federal, state, and local.  Our committee conducted 24 hearings, interviewed more than 400 people, and examined more than 838,000 pages of documents, she said. The investigation led to publication of a seminal 732-page report, ‘Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared,’ in which the Committee detailed its extensive findings and set forth the often inexcusable failures of leadership by local, state, and federal officials, she said.  “Our Senate investigation documented massive systemic problems, such as communications systems that prevented emergency responders from talking to one another and confusion over who was responsible for what at all levels of government,” she said.



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