HSNW conversation with Aden Hogan Jr."Burying" FEMA in DHS was "huge structural and operational mistake"

Published 5 October 2011

Homeland Security NewsWire’s executive editor Eugene K. Chow recently had the opportunity to interview Aden Hogan Jr., the city manager of Evans, Colorado and the former assistant city manager of Oklahoma City during the 1995 terrorist attack; in their interview, Hogan rates FEMA’s response during the recent spate of natural disasters in the United States, problems the agency has had since it became integrated in DHS, and steps that local governments and residents should be taking to better prepare themselves for major disasters

HomelandSecurity NewsWire: This year the United States has been hit particularly hard by several major natural disasters including the record tornado season that ravaged much of the Midwest and South, the devastating floods along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and most recently Hurricane Irene which inundated vast portions of the East Coast. Given the spate of disasters, how would you rate the federal government’s response? As a follow up, in what ways could it have done more or improved its performance?

Aden Hogan:  I would rate the federal government’s response as fair to poor. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) still hasn’t found its feet since being placed in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), instead of being a cabinet level office. The United States needs an agency that, like in many local governments, is connected to the chief executive official. Burying FEMA in the DHS was a huge structural and operational mistake. The core mission of DHS, and most of its current agencies, is definitely not the same as FEMA’s. I think this has led to the string of mediocre to poor response performances over the past several years.

An organization’s key public safety providers need to be quick, flexible and adaptive to effectively deliver a quality emergency response. A huge federal bureaucracy rarely does any of these things well. FEMA has had difficulties since the downgrade to an agency among over twenty other federal agencies. The focus was shifted for all the DHS agencies to one of combating terrorism. This is certainly critically important to the United States. From my experience in Oklahoma City I know this first-hard. However, this is not FEMA’s role. All the other threats of natural and technological disasters didn’t go away. With the rampant turf wars, that should have been anticipated when this many bureaucracies are forced together, FEMA’s main mission of preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery has been blurred or completely derogated. As a country we must do better in this area.

HSNW: What have been some of the key lessons that emerged from this summer’s disasters?

AH: I would say that first is the recognition that all disasters are local! Those of us in municipal and county government are the front-line in response and recovery. Certainly we can depend on ultimate assistance from our state, and much later from our federal government, but on the day of the disaster we are on our own. We must