Here's a poignant and pointed story by the NYT on the shuttering of the last FEMA trailer parks and the still-vulnerable people who are struggling to leave. The tone that reporter Shaila Dewan takes in this story with respect to FEMA is an appropriate one -- painting them as an highly imperfect agency (who isn't?) that has had egregiously unfair expectations put on them.
FEMA, which ultimately is a disaster-response agency, not a social service department, endured years of blistering criticism for its failure to understand that many New Orleans residents needed more than just a roof over their heads after the hurricane. The agency now is quick to admit that other agencies are better equipped to handle persistent social ills. Its job in cases like that of Ms. August, FEMA officials say, is limited to getting her housed.
Now I'm the first to criticize our country's (over-)emphasis on emergency preparedness and emergency management, rather than social vulnerability reduction and sustainable development. However, I think a lot of the specific criticisms of post-Katrina/Rita FEMA were unwarranted. First, it wasn't FEMA that made cuts to itself and made it a small fish in a ginormous Department of Homeland Security pond. Second, as the above quote hints at, FEMA is an *emergency management* agency. It should be supported in this role and not overstretched to meet public demands that can be met better by other agencies and perhaps even the private sector. The point ultimately is that we as a government and society need to mainstream disaster risk reduction and sustainable development (two sides of the same coin).