Federal emergency management: All in the name of security?
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
When Hurricane Dorian was initially forecasted for landfall, President Trump tweeted that it could hit Alabama. With the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), he rolled out a map to this liking. This statement sparked a round of tweets.
A Birmingham National Weather Service (NWS) station, presumably under National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) jurisdiction, disputed Trump’s claim, while NOAA officials have stuck by the president. This discrepancy calls for a clarification of NOAA’s and NWS’ critical roles in accurate weather information dissemination.
Here, the NOAA/NWS chain of command is possibly interrupted for ideological purposes as recalcitrant government cultures clash over their own versions of facts — and maps.
The NOAA’s role in climate change is: “Tounderstand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.” The administration should understand that public communication about adverse weather, and weather predictions central to climate change tracking are part of its mission.
Just how NOAA relates to NWS and other agencies requires a map of its own. Regarding the recent controversies, NWS leader Neil Jacobs stated: “What did I learn over the last week? From now on, the National Weather Service should be at the table with emergency managers and FEMA, at all briefings.”
But this proposed coordination is complicated by obscured budgets in a vast, bureaucratic web. While NOAA is tasked with tracking weather changes, FEMA is tasked with providing resources for hurricane-threatened and impacted areas, among other things. FEMA has been under Department of Homeland Security (DHS) since 2003.
DHS also houses Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This relationship legitimates budget transfers between FEMA and ICE. Recent ICE raids in hurricane-threatened Southern states, like Alabama and Mississippi, indicate that this is a region of interest for researching the FEMA/ICE connection.
In fact, $115 million was just transferred between the agencies to controversially pay for detentions and perhaps other expenditures — an idea first announced before Dorian landed.
The notion of “security” bridges FEMA and ICE in the DHS, but not everyone agrees that the U.S. immigrant population is a threat requiring detention and deportation. In late August, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., stated on NPR that defunding FEMA is the real threat here: “Once again, this administration is endangering America by moving funds away from emergency management for their extremist border agenda.”
Emergency management provides short term immediate evacuations and longer-term general adaptation measures, but it is spread out in multiple agencies. This makes it difficult to track spending — especially emergency FEMA funds set aside in states for hurricanes that never arrive. (Like Dorian in Alabama?)
Is it a good idea to spread emergency management, which begins with accurate weather predictions, across so many agencies? What about clarifying interagency relations, which also provides more budget accountability?
We know that the NOAA works with FEMA in a variety of capacities. Housed in the vast web of the Department of Commerce (DOC), the NOAA is the only natural resource-related administration under a department ruled by technology and economic growth interests. NOAA’s utilization of sophisticated weather predicting technologies, kept updated with its $5 billion annual budget, doesn’t explain the rationale for its DOC location.
Would the NOAA be more effective in its climate change capacity if it was more directly related to other natural resource-focused departments?
Many say yes. Radical environmentalists argue economic and environmental concerns are in direct conflict. More moderate environmentalists know that dwindling resources require serious economic reworking-- as in the Green New Deal proposal.
Resource extraction is the largest business of all, and under the Trump administration, policy rollbacks blatantly favor commerce over conservation. One example of this is a new rule change to the Endangered Species Act. Under the auspices of “rule modernization”, the “economic impacts for listing a species endangered or threatened can now be considered.” At this rate, maybe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should also be moved to the DOC!
The NOAA hurricane forecast controversy reveals a further politicization of weather forecasting, and plans for climate threatened coastal areas with targeted immigrant populations remain murky.
The Trump administration’s embrace of economic growth over climate adaptation has agencies in disagreement, while budget transfers from FEMA to ICE signal priority shifts in the name of security.
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