Tuesday, July 01, 2008

FEMA: The Iceman Will No Longer Cometh

Catching up on this one:

FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison said in April his agency will only distribute ice for medical emergencies or life-threatening situations following a disaster. Since its inception, FEMA has provided ice to disaster victims, especially in areas where power outages occur.

“We’re not in the ice business anymore,” Paulison said, and that it is not a “life-saving commodity” for most people. “It takes a tremendous amount of resources, and it really doesn't accomplish much, other than making people feel good because they have a bag of ice," Paulison added. “Ice is more of a comfort thing.”

“My response is that during July, August and September in South Mississippi, ice is not necessarily used to cool water to drink,” said Don McKinnon, director of the Jones County Emergency Operations Center (EOC). “During emergencies, it is used for medical purposes to keep specific medications cool, to help keep food good in refrigerators until power can be restored, and for cooling people off. It is a necessity here."

With the current situation (FEMA out of the ice business), McKinnon said the “state is trying to take up the slack. They (state emergency agencies) have limited resources, and can’t do it quite as effectively as FEMA did. Our pockets aren’t that deep. Locally, we hope we keep water pressure and generators to try to provide ice. Large chicken plants produce large amounts of ice and they have been kind enough to share it with the citizens of Jones County. After Katrina, they provided several thousands of pounds of ice.

“Who will distribute the ice?,” McKinnon asked. “We don’t have the manpower or resources to do that, or don’t have funds to buy ice and give to people. It’s a big void in our plan right now; we don’t know what we’re going to do. If we’re able to get any ice at all, it will probably be from the state if local providers are down. We will definitely focus on medical needs, and the elderly and young to keep them cool to prevent heat stroke and deaths."
This needs to get worked out. Your bottled water may not need ice, but your food and medicine do. The big question: How does FEMA define a "medical emergency" or "life-threatening siutation"?

Here's what's puzzling to me: It's fine if FEMA doesn't deliver the ice themselves - they have already vowed to get out of the logistics and transportation business, leaving that work to contractors. But with their buying power and their network of suppliers, they ought to be able to facilitate the supply of necessary ice during an emergency.

This also seems to show a disconnect between state and local homeland security and DHS/FEMA. Did FEMA get local input before making this decision?

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