Thursday, October 25, 2007

FEMA Favoritism

Comparisons between FEMA’s response to the Southern California fires versus their response to Katrina in Louisiana are all over the place now as one might imagine. Mostly I see people voicing concerns that FEMA’s ineptitude will come to the fore before all this is done. I see others (like this article in the Christian Science Monitor) already celebrating the implementation of lesson’s learned from Katrina.

My observation is that comparing FEMA’s response between disasters is like comparing Marie Antoinette’s diet to Tiny Tim’s.

Demographically speaking, fires in Southern California are an occurrence primarily restricted to the hills. This means the primary victims are rich white people. We had the same situation when I was living in Oregon; the primary victims of landslides were rich white people (as opposed to poor white people, the only other demographic in Oregon).

The point is, the most numerous victims of Katrina were poor black people (along with some poor white people). Now I am not suggesting for a minute that accusations of racism by FEMA are founded. We all have our opinions on that and I’m not going to go there. But the fact remains, any comparison of FEMA’s response to these two very demographically different catastrophes is meaningless. Let’s compare the efficacy of diethylene-glycol in antifreeze and in children’s cough syrup.

If FEMA proves to be as bumbling in dealing with the California fires as they were with Katrina (What can Brown do for you?), we may actually be on to something. If on the other hand FEMA comes though this with high marks, we can really draw no conclusions. If we say, “well FEMA must have learned their lesson – look how well they performed,” we need to stop and ask ourselves, “or was it simply because the victims were of the kind favored by this administration?” On the other hand, if we begin with the supposition that FEMA is going to be predisposed to favoring white rich folks then we still can’t draw any conclusions from an improved response.
So ironically, we can only glean potential new understanding of FEMA today from a repeat failure, not from a success. Stories lauding success too early really are meaningless.

No comments: