Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Disaster response or stopping terrorists?

The local news is alternating between the Bengals lackluster performance and the Presidential elections. I’ve done my rant on the Bengals for now, so I thought the Presidential elections might bear some fruit.

Other bloggers are criticizing their candidate of choice based on the major issues; the economy, the war, the lack of experience of whichever candidate has caught the particular bloggers ire. Instead I tried to focus on a narrow view, what are the candidates saying about homeland security and emergency management?

On Senator Obama’s website, I found this “In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, improving our nation's emergency planning and response capacity has become a priority for Senator Obama. He introduced legislation to ensure that the mistakes witnessed before and after Katrina are not repeated in the future.” The rest is devoted to positions on homeland security including chemical plant security, transit security (subways and buses), nuclear waste and drinking water safety. I take this to mean Department of Homeland Security, and also FEMA, would continue much as they do today under his administration.

Senator Biden echoes much the same. He wants to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. After reading several books on the 9/11 commission and how it was conducted, I’m not certain these recommendations are as bi-partisan as advertised.

On Senator McCain website, he doesn’t mention disaster response or emergency management. Talking points are given for national security and border security. I was somewhat surprised not to find anything about homeland security. I’m not sure what this means for the Department of Homeland Security should Senator McCain become President. It is hard from his website to gauge the impact of his Presidency on the Federal Emergency Management agency.

Governor Palin should probably have the most experience in state emergency management issues but as yet, I have not seen her thoughts on emergency management or homeland security. Alaska does not have the types of emergencies seen in states such as California or Florida. She may not have had time in only two years to have experienced a statewide emergency.

For something different, I saw Cynthia McKinney (who is running on the Green Party platform) campaign bullets on “On The Issues” website (http://ontheissues.org) . She has perhaps the most to say on the topic: she demands the end of the rollback to civil liberties, did her PhD thesis on the role of assassination as a state political tool, and opposes the Patriot Act.

What does this all mean? FEMA, now under DHS, has to demonstrate its role in protecting the homeland from terrorist attack. The shift concerns those in the emergency management field as they see this emphasis taking away from the humanitarian role. Whoever is the next President will have to figure out if they want to continue the emphasis homeland security or go back to disaster response. The former leaves a lot of communities out of the hunt for federal grants while the latter would create more opportunities for communities to compete for federal dollars. Of course, all disasters are local and the next administration could use that axiom of emergency management to cut federal funding.


Arnold said...

Just FYI: Obama has indicated that he would take FEMA out of DHS and restore it to its Clinton Administration position. It has been reported that two of his advisers are Richard Clarke and Stephen Flynn--both who have written pieces suggesting the same course of action.

Bob Baylor said...

Thanks, Arnold! It would help if FEMA was pulled out of DHS. I don't see where stopping terrorism is related to disaster response. Because FEMA had been responsible for HAZMAT training, some concluded this would make it part of DHS. I remain unconvinced.