FEMA Veteran Welcomes Idea to Dismantle Agency A Senate panel's proposal to dismantle FEMA is a good idea, says Bruce Baughman, president of the National Emergency Management Association and director for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.
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FEMA Veteran Welcomes Idea to Dismantle Agency

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FEMA Veteran Welcomes Idea to Dismantle Agency

FEMA Veteran Welcomes Idea to Dismantle Agency

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Bruce Baughman is Director of Alabama's Emergency Management Agency. Before that he worked for FEMA for many years, most recently as Director of the Office of National Preparedness. Mr. Baughman, welcome.

Mr. BRUCE BAUGHMAN (Director, Alabama Emergency Management Agency; Former Director, FEMA Office of National Preparedness): Thank you.

BLOCK: Do you agree that FEMA is crippled beyond repair?

Mr. BAUGHMAN: Well, certainly FEMA's not the FEMA it once was when I was with the agency. But I'm not sure that abolishing it is the right term. I'm in the process of reading Senator Collins' report right now in detail and, you know, basically I think there's some name changes, some more empowerment of the agency, some more resources being thrown at it. But basically, you know, FEMA, with its four functions of preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation are being put back together.

BLOCK: Do you like the idea of keeping FEMA within the Department of Homeland Security, or would you say that it would be better off if it had its own Cabinet-level status again?

Mr. BAUGHMAN: Well, you know, I have my own personal feelings about it, but as President of the National Emergency Management Association I think right now it staying in DHS is probably best, because I think it will get the resources and the attention it needs.

BLOCK: Now when you were saying you have your own personal feelings about that, I'm trying to figure out which is which?

Mr. BAUGHMAN: I, my own personal feelings is that when FEMA was outside of DHS, it was a much more nimbler and agile agency. But again, the difference was you had trained emergency professionals like James Lee Witt, myself and others that were at the top of the organization and were able to make things happen.

BLOCK: The response from Homeland Security has been, you know, this is fiddling around with the organization chart and we can't afford to do that. Hurricane season is coming on fast.

Mr. BAUGHMAN: I'm not sure that we're going to see action on this in the next 120 days. I mean, hurricane season starts in about 30 days now. This is obviously not going to be enacted or changes made within the next 30 days. I think Secretary Chertoff is already doing some things, and the White House, to help address some of the problems that we saw with FEMA last year. We've now got a FEMA director who's got some experience under his belt. I've known Dave Paulison for a lot of years.

BLOCK: So you think things have gotten better?

Mr. BAUGHMAN: I do think that they have gotten, but now, that's, don't get me wrong, there's still a lot of things, and I think Dave Paulison realizes this better than anybody else, that still needs to be fixed. But I see some changes taking place right now that are being put in place by the White House and by Secretary Chertoff.

BLOCK: One of the recommendations in the Senate panel's report is for strike teams in regional offices to be the first line of response in a disaster. Is that very different from the system that's in place now?

Mr. BAUGHMAN: Yeah, it is. When I was with FEMA, we had three national emergency response teams that could respond. In the last five years those have pretty much gone away, so there isn't a standing team that FEMA could use to respond. FEMA is in the process of trying to reconstitute those teams, but having standing strike teams that can come in and augment state and local capabilities I think is necessary.

BLOCK: You know, I think for a lot of people who saw what happened last year with Katrina, looking at these reports that come out with a lot of bureaucratic language and acronyms, it's really hard to tell what, if anything, is changed now from a year ago.

Mr. BAUGHMAN: There is nothing that's, the only thing that has changed are there's better leadership. I think that there is more strength in logistic system. It's not near what I think it needs to be. I think there's some more attention being paid to some critical areas that wasn't being paid last year. So that's changed. Will it make FEMA a success if we have another situation in New Orleans? I frankly don't think that they're ready to deal with another Katrina scenario right now.

BLOCK: You do not.

Mr. BAUGHMAN: I do not.

BLOCK: Bruce Baughman, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. BAUGHMAN: Thank you.

BLOCK: Bruce Baughman is director of Alabama's Emergency Management Agency; he's also President of the National Emergency Management Association.

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