Washington Beat Book

Written for reporters by reporters, the Washington Beat Book provides a crash course in government agencies for those assigned to cover the federal government. Paul Miller Fellows select and profile each agency, with relevant links and resources. Click an agency seal to browse the information compiled by our fellows, or navigate directly to an agency's website with the provided link.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Overview

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was created in 1979 to consolidate a number of federal agencies and piecemeal disaster relief efforts. The agency is geared to help regions prepare for and recover from disasters, both natural and manmade. FEMA was incorporated into the newly formed Department of Homeland Security following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.

While FEMA is most often associated with responses to hurricanes, floods, and even snowstorms, the $20 billion recovery effort in New York following the attacks was its largest-ever project at that time.

The Agency’s image was tarnished by its inept response to Hurricane Katrina. Critics said efforts to reboot the agency to respond to terrorism and its integration into the new Department of Homeland Security had left it unprepared to fulfill its core mission and had alienated longtime public servants, many of whom retired. They also charged the Bush Administration had filled the top ranks with political appointees who had little or no experience in emergency management, most notably then-FEMA Director Michael Brown. Government auditors estimate fraud and abuse after hurricanes Katrina and Rita cost the government $1 billion.

The agency had some success at repairing its image with a successful response to Hurricane Gustav in 2008, but there are still regular calls from Congress to remove the agency from DHS and make it an independent cabinet-level agency. As of May 2009, the Obama Administration had not presented a long-term plan for the agency.

Video Introduction

Location

Address

500 C Street, SW
Washington, DC 20472

How can FEMA help you?

FEMA obviously is a great resource in the immediate aftermath of a disaster in your home state. If a hurricane or natural disaster is expected, FEMA may move equipment and resources into place ahead of time to allow for a rapid response, and FEMA officials are often eager to advertise what help will be available should the storm prove damaging.

When a major event does strike, FEMA officials will sometimes allow a reporter along on official tours of affected areas. These trips can provide quick access – and good photos -- in areas that are otherwise hard to reach.

There are two types of declarations from the White House that trigger federal aid for post-event cleanup. The first is an emergency declaration, which allows counties to apply -- through the states -- for reimbursement of costs for cleanup, such as debris removal and overtime for police officers.

The other, more serious disaster declaration can trigger aid to both local governments and individuals. But the individual assistance is usually targeted for specifics such as temporary housing, unemployment insurance, and limited amounts of property damage. A popular misconception is that FEMA reimburses folks who never bothered to get insurance on their homes. FEMA will in some instances pay some of an individual's home rebuilding costs, but only for certain things NOT covered by their insurance policy.

Note: a disaster or emergency declaration must be requested by the state's governor on behalf of the affected counties. While members of Congress often speak about requesting this or that from FEMA, technically the application process does not involve them. Requests for reimbursements are supposed to travel from counties to the state emergency management offices, which then submit the paperwork to the feds.

Example: FEMA's response to a major snowstorm would typically involve a number of stages: the governor's request for an emergency declaration, usually after the storm; the White House's eventual response to that request, and a determination of which counties are included; the awarding of money based on accounting provided by the counties to the states.

Agency Structure

FEMA has more than 2,600 employees at FEMA headquarters in Washington and at regional offices and roughly 4,000 stand-by reservists. The agency is divided into ten regions, each with its own press officer. The web address is http://www.fema.gov.

If you’re digging for information on a particular disaster, it is often best to begin with the regional spokesperson, who knows more about the response/preparation work in question. You can always work up the ladder to DC headquarters if that doesn’t work.

Current Issues for FEMA

FEMA continues to suffer from an exceptionally poor public image. While the initial emergency response in Hurricanes Gustav and Ike were much more efficient and capable than the response to Katrina, critics in government claim the agency is still unprepared to fulfill its core functions. Applicants for reimbursement aid after Hurricane Ike argued that FEMA inspectors were unqualified to assess damage and rejected 90 percent of claims.
 

Does this agency's information need updating? programs@nationalpress.org

Contact Information

  • 202-646-3272

Regional offices:

Region I (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, and VT): Dennis Pinkham, 617-956-7547, dennis.pinkham@dhs.gov

Region II (NY, NJ, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands): Kristina Simpson, 212-680-8516, kristina.Simpson1@dhs.gov .

Region III (DC, DE, MD, PA, VA, WV):  Nick Morici 215-931-5571, nicholas.morici@dhs.gov

Region IV (AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN): Mary Hudak 770-220-5226, mary.hudak@dhs.gov

Region V (IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, WI): Mark Peterson 312-408-4469mark.peterson2@dhs.gov

Region VI (AR, LA, NM, OK, TX): Earl Armstrong, 940-898-5454, earl.armstrong@dhs.gov

Region VII (IA, KS, MO, NE): Crystal Payton, 816-283-7095, crystal.payton@fema.gov

Region VIII (CO, MT, ND, SD, UT, WY): Ed Conley, 303-235-4909, ed.conley@dhs.gov or Luisa Rivera, 303-235-4797, luisa.rivera@dhs.gov

Region IX (AZ, CA, HI, NV, American Samoa, Guam, other territories ): John Hamill 510-627-7054, john.hamill@dhs.gov

Region X (AK, ID, OR, WA): Jean Chaney, 425-487-4610, jean.chaney@dhs.gov

http://www.fema.gov/about/contact/regions.shtm