FEMA Cannot Handle Emergency Housing Alone, FEMA Head Testifies

By Matthew Harwood

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) told lawmakers today that his agency cannot handle the demand for temporary housing after a catastrophic disaster, during a hearing on post-Katrina disaster response.

"While FEMA is certainly prepared to provide a large number of temporary housing resources following a disaster," Craig Fugate, FEMA's administrator, told a subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, "the sheer size, scope, nature, and duration of the sheltering needs after a catastrophic event require us to look at alternatives, and will require the coordinated involvement of federal agencies, state, local, and tribal governments, the private sector, and voluntary and faith-based groups." 

Fugate, who was confirmed as FEMA's head in May, told lawmakers that although FEMA cannot solve the problem itself, it can provide the necessary leadership.

Fugate's pledge follow's last week's release of a report by  Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (IG), in which the IG criticized the DHS member agency for its negligent handling of formaldehyde-contaminated trailers given to hurricane victims.

"Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials, in our opinion, did not take sufficiently prompt and effective action to determine the extent of the formaldehyde problem in the emergency housing units once they were aware that such a problem might exist," according to the 85-page report.

Fugate's written testimony outlined several catastrophic disaster scenarios to underscore his argument that FEMA cannot provide disaster sheltering in extreme situations. An earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone in the heart of the Midwest or catastrophic hurricanes in Florida or Hawaii would render hundreds of thousands to millions of survivors homeless, he said. Complications such as aftershocks, fires, or seasonal weather conditions could further compound the need for emergency housing.

"The bottom line is that neither the federal government nor the manufactured housing industry has the capacity to address all the anticipated housing needs in a timely manner in these types of situations," Fugate said, telling lawmakers that FEMA will never be able to house a half-million or more survivors.

Survivors may have to be relocated to entirely different regions, especially if there's contamination, when it will take months or years before survivors can return, he said.

When this happens, according to Fugate, FEMA's mission is simple: help survivors regain a sense of normalcy in temporary communities while their homes are rebuilt.

♦ This article was written from publicly available witness statements, found here.

♦ Photos of homes in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward destroyed by the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina by Ed_Yourdon/Flickr


temporary solution

Consider creating temporary buildings quickly, cheaply, and using mostly local labor and materials.  After the 1988 Armenian earthquake FPM Inc. sent a team, with USAF logistics support, to create shrinkfilm buildings for relief workers.  Many shrinkfilm buildings have been made around the world for a variety of purposes. 

After any disaster, nearly any framing material (including down timber) can be used to support a structure for wide shrinkfilm buildings of almost unlimited lengths and widths, with doors, partitions, wings, skylights, and much more.  You can insulate them, make them last for several years, modify them, wire and plumb them, and remove them within hours.  And they are MUCH CHEAPER than tents, while allowing for a wind, rain, snow, and ice resistant structure.  Because they are drum tight after heat shrinking, they often can survive hurricane force winds.  They can serve as living quarters, cooking and community areas, play areas, walkways, personal goods and vehicle storage areas.  Logistically, enough material can be airdropped into a devastated area to create shelters for thousands of people.  Only a small number of instructors are necessary to teach locals how to build the structures themselves.

I've tried since 9/14/01 to get FEMA interested in this concept but no one would return calls.  Maybe new blood at the top will think outside the box.  At the time I tried to get FEMA to use our anticorrosion shrinkfilm to protect all the recovered material from the World Trade Towers.

Randy Dutton


VP FPM Inc.  360-249-5833 PST,

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