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  • Morning Bell: When Catastrophe Strikes

    Workers pour into the streets alone 1st street after their buildings where evacuated after a earthquake sent tremors from the nation's capital to New York City and New England Tuesday afternoon, the result of what officials said was a 5.8 magnitude temblor based in Virginia. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call)

    Yesterday at 1:51 p.m. Eastern Time, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck near a small town outside Washington, D.C., the strongest such tremor in 67 years. The geological event, which affected the eastern third of the United States, sent thousands of workers in our nation’s capital (and in New York City) scurrying into the streets waiting for news of what to do next. Fortunately, the quake resulted in only some minor injuries and minor damage to buildings, a shortened workday, and gridlock on the streets of Washington, but it is a reminder of America’s vulnerability to natural disaster—and that the United States must be prepared to ensure its homeland security.

    The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano explains that when an earthquake strikes, “virtually every category of local emergency responder will be required” to help cope with physical injury, fire fighting, hazardous materials, ensuring public safety and restoring infrastructure, and providing shelter, food, and water for displaced persons, if necessary. Where a disaster is severe—earthquakes included—the federal government may deploy assistance.

    But the federal government has taken on an increasing role in disaster response. In the new paper “Homeland Security 4.0,” Heritage reports that America has over-federalized disaster response in a way that threatens the resiliency of the nation’s communities. In his two and a half years in office, President Obama has issued 360 declarations without the occurrence of one hurricane or large-scale earthquake. That continues a 16-year trend during which declarations tripled from 43 under President George H. W. Bush to 89 under President Bill Clinton to 130 under President George W. Bush. As a result, Heritage notes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is becoming distracted by responding to routine natural disasters instead of preparing for catastrophic natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, which could have a national impact:

    The federalization of routine disasters requires FEMA to become involved with a new disaster somewhere in the United States every 2.5 days. This high operational tempo is affecting FEMA’s overall preparedness because it keeps FEMA perpetually in a response mode, leaving little time and few resources for catastrophic preparedness. With staffing levels and budgets only nominally above pre-1993 levels, it should be no surprise that FEMA is not prepared to handle a catastrophic disaster.

    The federal government’s increased involvement in natural disaster response is having an effect on state and local response, too. Heritage homeland security expert Matt Mayer explains that FEMA ” has been responding to almost any natural disaster around the country, be it a contained three-county flood, or a catastrophe of near-epic proportions like Hurricane Katrina. As a result, many states and localities have trimmed their own emergency-response budgets, often leaving them ill prepared to handle even rain- or snowstorms without federal assistance. This leaves FEMA stretched far too thin and ill prepared to respond to grand-scale catastrophes.” What’s needed is an overhaul of the process for declaring federal disasters and dispensing homeland security grants.

    Disaster response, though, isn’t the only area where America’s homeland security needs improvement. Fortunately, since September 11, 2001, the United States has thwarted at least 40 Islamist-inspired terrorist plots aimed at the United States. But the very fact that so many attempts have been made illustrates that defending the homeland is still a challenge. In the “Homeland Security 4.0″ report, Heritage finds that “effective homeland security requires a more federalist, decentralized approach of working with state and local government and the private sector.”

    Heritage’s proposals include establishing a framework for empowering state and local authorities to meet their responsibilities for disaster response and domestic counterterrorism operations; adopting a fair, honest, and realistic approach to immigration enforcement that recognizes state and local authorities as responsible partners rather than an “amnesty first” strategy; maintaining the use of key counterterrorism tools, such as those authorized under the USA PATRIOT Act; and rethinking the Transportation Security Administration and restructuring its mission.

    Whether it’s earthquakes or terrorist attacks, the United States must be prepared for threats to the homeland. But getting the nation’s homeland security systems and responses right is among the most difficult challenges in Washington. Over-centralization, pervasive complacency, and entrenched politics stand in the way to more effective homeland security. Now is the time for Washington to make sure it gets it right instead of waiting for a catastrophe to strike.

    Quick Hits:

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    47 Responses to Morning Bell: When Catastrophe Strikes

    1. MJF, CT says:

      "….sent thousands of workers in our nation’s capital (and in New York City) scurrying into the streets waiting for news of what to do next….."

      Kudos to all who exited the high rise buldings, although most used the elevators, but at least they got out. Now they are on the street and……..

      It's sad to see that people have become so dependent on the government that they can't even figure out what to do or where to go when something happens. Instinct and common sense have been erradicated in most people ( ala Katrina ravaged LA). I know where to take my family and what to do when disaster strikes – I do not need the government to direct me – how about you?

    2. RG Schmidt says:

      I had no idea FEMA had been involved in so many non-catastrophic events under this administration. That said, I do believe the floods we had earlier in the year needed more than local involvement. Brownfield's point, however, that the feds need to back off until there's a legitimate need and that local and state emergency systems need to ensure they're prepared is well taken.

    3. J. S. Bryan says:

      Describing Mineral as a "small town outside Wshington DC" is a stretch at best.
      How about "small town 40 miles west of Richmond and Fredericksburg VA"?

    4. Whicket Williams says:

      Unless the American people Change their elected representatives, and CUT federal GOV at least in half, Remove all these intrenched bureaucrats, when we have a real problem, the paralyzed gov will compound the problem 100 fold.
      THE GOV cannot get out of its own way. WE ARE WAY PAST THE TIPPING POINT>

    5. JRCancio says:

      What a crock and this article fails to mention the United States responses to every major world disaster also. We fund the operation, we provide the man power and equipment, we provide medical supplies, shelter, food, water and electrical power….all outside the U.S. and in nations that can well afford their own emergency management and care and fail to do so….you want better management of FEMA and emergency preparedness stay in America and take care of our own….one source I read said at any giving time up to 1/4 of our emergency services personnel are out of country….gee that sure makes me feel safe!

      In the nations we help the monies saved by them not preparing for disaster is swept away by the greed of its rulrs and government elite. They even take the aid monies we provide them to help their peoples and they steal that too.

      In the 50-s and 60's we were a nation prepared with civil defense, FEMA, and many other State and Federal programs, locally too all steeped in 'Be Prepared" and accept the disaster and move on with your life…Today, people don't even know how to tie their shoelaces if they had to….and people accept this responsibility.

      If people don't prepare for emergencies let it be there problem, they are as much a disaster as the natural disaster…self reliance and individualism reins over stupidy and purposeful ignorance…

      I was amazed when Katrina hit New Orleans, was on its way, watching a news cast, the newscaster warning of the coming huricane and the black male adult behind him outside the sports doom shooting up with his dope….but hell no he has no money for disaster prepardness you and I are expected to pay for that.

      I heard 38 people were killed/murdered during Katrinia — sure sounds like in New Orleans some one was prepared. Oh and by-the-way, if you were a law abidiing citizen you had to turn in your weapons…well actually the police were kicking in doors and confiscating your weapons…so much for allowing American citizen the ability to be prepared.

    6. RogCol says:

      You are kidding me, right. This was a catastrophe? This was a tremblor, and a small one at that. All went well and it was just a temporary distraction from the monetary crisis facing our nation. Look at the real catastrophes we have endured in past decades and how we recovered and thrived. We will survive any climactive or terror attack and move on. Our biggest enemy is our own politicians, NOT the Tea Parties as some loons would say.

    7. Dr. Henry Sinopoli says:

      The only real catastrophe for our country was the election of Obama and the continued sucking sound of the life-long politicians draining the spirit and revenue from our country.

      Heritage needs to begin separating from the life-long politicians.

    8. Mike says:

      Actually, post 911, the Bush administration did an excellent job of auditing and ordering every piece of emergency equipment and asset in this country and established a "command center" that monitors these assets in real time. The media didn't even comment on the fact that during Katrina the Governor of Louisiana
      didn't even ask for assistance, apparently because she hadn't read the plan and didn't know what her irresponsibility was.
      Then, along comes Homeland Security, headed by one of the dumbest ex-Governors Arizona ever had and she, along with the DOJ, go on a "homegrown terrorist" hunt and forget about the system we have in place already. It should be the job of the Department of the Interior, with their 100 year history and deep infrastructure that handles disasters, not DHS.
      FEMA? Oh please.

    9. charles watson says:

      I thought that is what our national guard and military personnel are for . To respond to disasters. and provide medical aid. How about the Red cross . They receive a lot of money to take care of these things and they are local in most areas. Salvation Army is another. How would these new plans affect people's taxes at a local level? there are alot of money abuses at the local level also.

    10. Jim Patterson says:

      It is two different groups. The first, actually responding to a disaster and having the resources to do so is one thing. The second, the political, drives the first, since if the Feds don't respond fast enough, or quick enough, or respond to those events which are not "major", then the political consequences are terrible. See, Bush, George and Katrina. the politicians won't let the responders figure out what is major and what is minor,everything is major!

    11. James V. Burnette says:

      I totally agree with this report. The problems the people of this country face have become so massive in number and complicated in detail we will never get control until we take these issues out of the Federal Government's hands and put them back hands of the people, local and State levels to handle. It still all boils down to the haves and the have nots. The difference however is not financial its power and control. The Federal Government represents the haves (control and power) and the have nots are represented by the States, local governments and people that have lost their (control and power). We have all been accustomed to believing what we are told by those people in power and "assume" that what they are doing is in the best interest of the people. I learned very early in my career that you cannot "assune" anything. You must get all the facts, "true facts", of each situation and make your own conclusions. We would all be very surprised at what we find when we start digging out the true facts of how things are being handled by our (above the law and above approach) politicans.

    12. allen says:

      Mother Nature tried to put some one to work, but was not strong enough. With Irene barring down on the White House should we not place the First Family in an area that will be safe? Like" KENYA." just a thought. Have a good Day.

    13. Clearhead says:

      Most of any action taken will be remedial as one of the most dire disasters this country has ever experienced has already happened back in November, 2008, and Americans are still working on recovering from that event.

    14. Myra Brown says:

      This really goes back to the premise that as Americans we have lost our ability and even our intention to get out of our area of comfort, when something "bad" happens, in order for us to pull together as communities, to assist each other. I think the best example of community pulling together immediately after a natural disaster, was the tornado that dessimated Joplin. That part of our country has not lost their "come together" community attitude and did not wait for "government" to be their "savior". It's the same kind of sad response to our ability to cope and work on solutions, that has made us rapidly into a welfare society. It's heartbreaking and not a good sign for our future. We have our hands out instead using our hands as tools for a "hand up" approach.

    15. Robert A Hirschmann says:

      This just goes to show you. Every time the federal government gets involved, it gets all screwed up. Let the states handle the small stuff and only get FEMA involved if the states call for help. Common sense does not prevail in Washington.

    16. William F Cavender says:

      Driving from the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception when the quake hit, In the car, we felt nothing, learned of it from call to our cell phone from Virginia.
      Driving down North Capital the crowds increased, cell phones to ears or being given peculiar looks as they were not working – as we, too, knew. People milled about; no sign of panic;; traffic was growing with a few emergency vehicles already in trouble getting through.
      We beat the mass exodus from the city to home below Alexandria listening to WMAL on which no one had the slightest idea of what is advised in response to an earth quake. Stay inside, go outside, run for your life, swim down the Potomac.
      None knew on our source.
      Perhaps, all the agencies you mention know. Perhaps.
      Perhaps, they will readily tell the citizens next time. Perhaps.
      Stay calm. Perhaps.
      Have you heard the one about the hurricane? Perhaps.

    17. Glynnda says:

      I'm in agreement with Heritage's position on this matter. Each community knows it's own needs best. It is much wiser to allow them to prepare for the disasters that are most likely to happen to them periodically. We see such issues annually with the flood plains of the Mississippi Valley. Communities along the Mississippi River don't need the same things as Florida residents who are prone to hurricanes. Even if the federal government chose to provide supplemental funding to assist with local preparation efforts it should be up to localized areas to provide funding, emergency preparedness, and train a citizen core of volunteers to deal with localized disasters, especially those that are generally expected in the area periodically.

    18. John says:

      Earthquake: A reminder to the people up East, especially Washington, D.C. that God is alive and well.

    19. P. Matz says:

      Excellent insight. I wasn't aware of this reach of FEMA. Another example of how BIG GOVERNMENT does not work!

    20. Cindy says:

      If the local citizenry get's as many people to get CERT trained then they will be able to tell FEMA or Homeland Security what is going on in any locale. CERT: Citizens Emergency Response Team. This gives more local involvement and less chances of the Katrina effect of the police going wild and confiscating weapons, etc. We show the follow on responders that the scene is stabilized somewhat and that they are not in need of an overreaction. In Katrina there were no citizen's involved in the response in any great way. That should not be.

    21. HOTNIKE says:

      Either FEMA needs to do it right or don't do it at all. Typical government involved. Give the states the money that FEMA is wasting and we will take care of ourselves.

    22. toledofan says:

      When you look at the Office of Homeland Security and FEMA it's clear to see the effects of how governemnt grows in a short period of time and how easy it is for these agencies to take on a life form of their own. In some cases, the states, then, step away from their responsibility and we have even more chaos . We have to get serious about alot of stuff, including the security of our borders, and it seems to me that the authority should be given back to the states and they should develop their own contingency plans but that may be another pipe dream because once the buracereacy is in place, it's not going to move.

    23. Bill Merrick says:

      It has just been established by the Obama Administration
      that the DC earthquake occurred on a rare and obscure fault line known as……………………..
      "Bush's Fault."

    24. Marlajean Hamby says:

      Why is it that FEMA is called for anything other than huge National Disasters. It is the responsibility of the individual to insure their property. No insurance too bad. You should not be rewarded for irrisponsibility. The National Flood Insurance program needs to be changed. If you collect once you should not be able to re-build and collect again. If you are foolish enough to live in a flood zone people on a mountain top should not have their tax money used to bail you out. Likewise if I build on a mountain side , people on the coast should not bail me out from a mud slide. Less Govt. more individual responsibility.

      • john lawton says:

        During 9/11, I worked in downtown Washington, the Dept of Vet Affairs, right across from the WH. Evacuation then was supposed to be managed by OPM and a sequential release by them to be called to each of the major fed depts. Cars, ineresections were jamned up, METRO and busses didn't run.

        And guess what – now we have the Dept of HLS etc and everything is just the same – 1991 from 2011 is 10 years – wonderful!

    25. Bobbie says:

      Thank goodness everyone is alright! Seems to have been taken in stride! No panic!

      When nanny states don't have the intelligence to budget for disasters because tax dollars are going more to some people's responsibilities that avoid fending for themselves, the democrat nanny's exaggerate for help!

      Exactly where tax dollars are suppose to go!!!!!! Matters beyond our control, that effect us all!!!! Natural, man-made disasters, pandemics and to the defense of this country!

    26. Timothy says:

      It doesn't surprise me that our Country isn't prepared, it seems like almost everything has been politicized and until the people get involved and real people are elected into office things will not change. This is the reason I support Heritage for they can and are making a difference. It's up to those of us who support Heritage to assist them in getting the word out to and encouraging the people to get involved. This is also why I support and believe in the Tea Party!

    27. Nancy says:

      OMG..what this proves is that DC is full of whiny little babies who don't know what to do without some other government official holding their hands and drying their tears and leading them to safety and wrapping them in blankies and rocking them to sleep. Jesus wept. Japan is watching this saying what on earth?

      This is the wimipification of the USA. Watch it and groan and then for God's sake raise your kids to be self reliant.

    28. The Farmer says:

      The Senator from Florida has it about right, both sides D's & R's have been destroying America.
      Only he/she that has enouff spine to say so deserves our vote.

    29. Rick L. Murphy says:

      This is a perfect example of why the FCC/Homeland Security should activate the FM receivers in cell phones to distribute the Emergency Alert System (EAS) when the cell systems are overloaded in a disaster. Cell phones are everywhere and FM stations are always there to serve all of them.

    30. e cowan says:

      When you guys have a REAL earthquake, let us out here in the West know!

    31. RockLakeGuy says:

      “President Obama has just confirmed that the DC earthquake occurred
      on a rare and obscure fault line apparently known as “Bush’s Fault”.
      Obama also announced that the Secret Service and Maxine Waters
      continue an investigation of the quakes suspicious ties to the Tea Party.

      Conservatives however have proven that it was caused by the
      Founding Fathers rolling over in their graves.”

      Spinnin’ Tom, et al.

    32. Staunch Coloradoan says:

      When you say "… staffing levels and budgets only nominally above pre-1993 levels" – I believe you are grossly underestimating the true picture. One thing to consider is the number of "contactors" hired to do the actual work of these Federal Employees and other Disaster Assistance Employees.
      We really don't need to be feeling sorry for FEMA, but we do need to be looking at ways to cut their fraud, waste and abuse – just as we should with every other Federal Agency. My feeling is there is not a Federal Agency out there that couldn't sustain a 20% reduction right off the top NOW and this should only be the starting point. Salaries alone are way off the charts for what these employees produce on a daily basis. Most civilian employees would be overwhelmed with just the amount of holidays and sick leave these folks get every year! Perhaps they could start with those employees being paid full salaries that never darken the door of their agencies also. The abuses in the Government really never ends.

    33. Russell Brown says:

      One reason that FEMA is being called upon so often is that the media made such a big thing out of the response to Katrina. The media were trying to get people riled up at President Bush. In reality what really happened is that the governor and the mayor of New Orleans(both Democrats) failed to make emergency preparations.

    34. Con says:

      "….sent thousands of workers in our nation’s capital (and in New York City) scurrying into the streets waiting for news of what to do next….."

      Kudos to all who exited the high rise buldings, although most used the elevators, but at least they got out. Now they are on the street and……..

      It's sad to see that people have become so dependent on the government that they can't even figure out what to do or where to go when something happens. Instinct and common sense have been erradicated in most people ( ala Katrina ravaged LA). I know where to take my family and what to do when disaster strikes – I do not need the government to direct me – how about you?

    35. Patricia Baker says:

      The American people need to stop and think that maybe this earthquake was a warning from God. If America keeps disrespecting God we are going to suffer the wrath that He will unleash upon our nation.

    36. Dick says:

      5.8 is not a Catastrophe ! Japan is a Catastrophe.

    37. GHailey says:

      Get real. You're talking about people who pass legislation that raises the debt limit and adds 7-10 T$ to the debt and call it defecit-reduction. Running in to the streets after the quake is a classic gov't employee response. I suppose they were expecting to see a tsumani coming up the Potomac.

    38. West Texan says:

      For those mocking left coast commentaries, a 5.8 earthquake is as potentially destructive as the seven plus I awoke to in the late 90s while stationed at 29 Palms, California. Unlike that sparse desert area, yesterday's 5.8 transmitted farther away impacting heavily populated urban centers with their complex infrastructures. Rather than boasting, try spreading some gratitude that the quakes' damage and injuries were relatively minor.

      And as I said before, the federal government's primary role regarding natural or man-made disasters is its military assets. Used to help secure, rescue and provide temporary relief until proper local, private and state aid has been established.

    39. Jeanne Stotler says:

      To all of you who are laughing, I do day care, when our house, which is 30 min. drive from Lake Anna ie; Mineral, Va, be the one who is trying to reassure these kids that the house is going to stop shakingand they will be OK. 15-20 sec, is a long time fro little kids, and I was frightened at first as had no idea what was happening but I had to calm them. It was not at all funny, the house shook and things were fling off the walls and shelves and now we have to be prepared for after shocks as well as have some repairs to our foundation.

    40. mike says:

      one green job needs three real jobs…..one government job needs five real jobs….nothing wrong here!!!!!!!!!!!
      one disaster is an open door for the government to use as a pretext to expand….two disasters is nothing but a reason for gluttony…i am sure they will waddle to the scene with a band playing when the heavy lifting is done….by real people….not serfs

    41. Wayne Peterkin says:

      In 1970, hurricane Celia tore up the city of Corpus Christi, Tx and the surrounding area. My wife and I lost our home in that hurricane. At that time, the federal government's response to such disasters was to offer a low interest LOAN from the Small Business Administration, if you qualified, and that was it. There was no FEMA. There was no other federal government responsibility. It turned out that we were foolish young kids that were under-insured and it took us several years to recover. But that was our fault. The experience made us smarter and we have not been under-insured since. My point is that the federal government has not always taken responsibility for bailing out irresponsible people, and they shouldn't.. If you live in a possible flood area, carry flood insurance. If you live where tornadoes or hurricanes threaten, carry sufficient insurance. My point is that citizens should take responsibility for their own welfare and not depend on government handouts. It works better for everyone that way.

    42. Denver says:

      The good doctor is right, the govt. IS the disaster….and I only pray we can outlast it.

    43. simpsonbart says:

      Though I utterly despise Obama and the rest of the 'Progressives", the only measure of a major disaster is not simply an earthquake or a hurricane– although they certainly devastating. Parts of the northern plains are still underwater from spring flooding. Tornado's, as we saw this summer, cause devastating damage and loss of life. Obama has almost destroyed this country, but when a large scale natural disaster hit, whatever President needs to react with what only the feds can provide.

      How about an insurance program where all states pay in– premium based on chance of loss? When a MAJOR disaster happens the claim is paid.

    44. Mike Cox says:

      FEMA became a nasty word after Katrina, in my opinion mainly because the press wanted to make Pres. Bush a villain. Now, it appears to be another tool in Obama's push to make everyone dependent on the federal government. Never let a good disaster go to waste? If there aren't enough big ones, we'll just make the little ones look bigger by sending in FEMA. The old civil defense system trained local people to handle local problems, provided some needed equipment, then stayed out of the way until needed. People were involved with their communities and wanted to help. Now, the words that an incident commander almost hates to hear are, "we're from the government, and we're here to help." What follows those words may or may not be good. Please return FEMA to handling only the large disasters, to planning, to training local responders and to preparing for the next big one.

    45. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      There's a moonbat who said that the earthquake here on the Right Coast, was the Wrath of God for not creating

    46. Sharon M says:

      I heard the rumor that it wasn't really an earthquake, but the founding fathers rolling over in their graves at the state of our republic.

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