Who controls state-to-state requests for disaster assistance, the states or the federal government? Most people would say the states, of course. But, that might not be the case. The federal government may secretly control state-to-state assistance requests through a little-known entity called, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC).
In the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, which included communications and logistics failures across the board, and with similar problems after Hurricane Rita (voiced last Thursday in Congress by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)), EMAC has largely escaped public scrutiny.
EMAC is touted by federal officials as central to national disaster relief efforts. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) strongly urges that all state-to-state requests for disaster assistance, including requests for National Guard units, be processed through EMAC, particularly if the states want reimbursement of costs from FEMA.
For such an important organization as EMAC, Congressional investigators should ask why the Department of Homeland Security's 'National Response Plan' (NRP) doesn't even mention EMAC.
What is EMAC and who controls it? Originally, it was founded in 1993 by the Southern Governor's Association and funded by member states. Its mission was to improve the coordination of disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. Today, it is a "congressionally ratified" organization based in Lexington, Kentucky. Every state except Hawaii has joined it.
FEMA now funds EMAC (a $2 million grant over a 3-year period), but it is administered by NEMA (National Emergency Management Association), a non-profit 501(c)(3) association for state emergency officials, businesses, and other organizations. NEMA only has a 7-member staff.
Incredibly, only one member of the NEMA staff is tasked to run the EMAC program. Although each state should have personnel assigned to work with EMAC, the organization itself has no employees. And the EMAC website posts no contact phone numbers. Heavy reliance on a computer system seems to be central to the system. And in that regard, the webmaster is a private contractor.
With so little manpower and scant financing, its hard to believe that EMAC is for real. A former intelligence operative believes that it might not be; that it could be a "forwarding address" or "drop box", in other words, a "front" for another organization. And if that's the case, it could easily be a front for a federal agency, since it's funded by FEMA.
It seems that both NEMA and FEMA want EMAC to appear indispensable to state governments. "If you're not using EMAC, you're pretty much on your own to make phone calls, to find resources from other states, and it creates a lot more chaos," said Angela Copple, NEMA's designated staffer for EMAC. It's hard to imagine anything more chaotic than the bureaucratic bungling of Katrina.
Another NEMA spokesperson, Karen Cobuluis, told this reporter that before EMAC was created state legislatures needed to convene in order to approve any disaster assistance to another state, and that included "anything from requests for a backhoe to hazmat gear... to requests for National Guard units", she said.
That claim is nonsense on its face. But, with specific regard to the deployment of National Guard units, Danielle E. Klinger, spokesperson for Pennsylvania's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs told this reporter, "Prior to EMAC, the process...did not require the state legislature to convene... a separate memorandum of agreement between states would have had to been drafted and required the approval and signatures of both governors." And according to a spokesperson for the National Guard Bureau, Brad Swezey, that separate agreement is still needed.
With the help of FEMA it appears that EMAC has a chokehold on state-to-state disaster coordination. On August 29, 2005, as state and local officials in Louisiana and Mississippi began screaming for help, Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response and head of the FEMA, "...urged all fire and emergency services departments not to respond to counties and states affected by Hurricane Katrina without being requested and lawfully dispatched by state and local authorities under mutual aid agreements and the Emergency Management Assistance Compact."
Many national organizations complied. Firemen and ham radio operators were told by their national organizations (International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Association for Amateur Radio, and Amateur Radio Emergency Service) to not respond to requests for help outside of the EMAC network.
Law enforcement was also stood down. A Virginia paper reported that a police spokesperson said, "There is nothing to prevent an official from acquiring the assistance of another law enforcement agency and adsorbing the cost in their budget... However, if an agency wants reimbursement from FEMA, they must follow the application process required by the EMAC agreement."
However, reimbursement may not come regardless of compliance with EMAC. According to a September 26, 2005 article in the Ocala Star-Banner, "County officials have... complained that they still haven't received millions of dollars in reimbursements from FEMA for (last year's) hurricane (Jeanne) costs. U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, D- Miramar, and Mark Foley, R-Jupiter wrote acting FEMA director R. David Paulison last week to express their frustrations over the issue."
The EMAC website claims, "...(EMAC) provides form and structure to interstate mutual aid. Through EMAC, a disaster impacted state can request and receive assistance from other member states quickly and efficiently..."
Katrina and Rita prove otherwise. But, a more disturbing issue remains. Is the federal government secretly controlling state-to-state requests for disaster assistance?
Lynn Landes is the publisher of EcoTalk.org and a freelance journalist who specializes in politics, voting, the environment, and health. She can be reached at 215-629-3553.
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