What purpose does FEMA still serve on the Coast?

SUN HERALDDecember 16, 2007 

One of the things that the Federal Emergency Management Agency manages is the National Flood Insurance Program. One of the most critical aspects of that program is the adoption of flood insurance rate maps.

Preliminary maps for the three coastal counties were the focus of gatherings in each of the coastal counties last week.

A press release from FEMA (and, to be precise, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality) called the get-togethers “open houses.”

As “open houses,” the three sessions were a success. FEMA officials said last week that the agency had never seen so many people turn out for such an event. And we complimented the officials conducting the meetings on their courtesy and efficiency.

But we questioned whether one eight-hour session in each county was sufficient to satisfy the public’s need for information about the new flood rate maps.

FEMA’s answer?

Ask your local building officials.

FEMA, it seems, has done its job. It created the maps and has sent a copy to each of the 14 jurisdictions on the Coast. It is now up to those three counties and 11 cities to deal with their residents. A

s last week’s press release put it: FLOOD MAP ADOPTION PROCESS A COMMUNITY AFFAIR.

The “open houses” merely launched that process.

That being the case, some folks at FEMA took exception to our calling the three sessions in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties inadequate to meet public demand for information.

In fact, we were told, FEMA normally takes just a few hours to publicly launch such a process; in South Mississippi, FEMA devoted three days to the effort.

Lucky us.

And how ungrateful of us not to appreciate the 24 hours of “open houses” we were granted rather than the customary couple of hours.

But that leaves us wondering . . . if FEMA has now handed the flood map process off to local building officials and is just waiting on the process to run its course, what’s keeping all these FEMA folks along the Coast busy these days?

Telling South Mississippians that flood elevations are now “a community affair”?

A pre-recorded phone message could do that.

We need FEMA’s expertise and personnel

What would be better? An extension of what FEMA and the related state agencies did last week.

FEMA & Co. have the expertise and the equipment and the personnel to provide personal service within every jurisdiction in the three coastal counties during this critical public comment and appeal period.

FEMA and MEMA and the DEQ should be augmenting the staffs of local building departments — not simply handing this task over to them.

Would that be unprecedented? Perhaps. But we are dealing with the recovery of a region from an unprecedented natural disaster, so an unprecedented response is justified.

If FEMA’s objective is to help people build and live in safer houses, then it needs to conduct more than three days of “open houses.”

The editorial above represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board: President-Publisher Ricky R. Mathews, Vice President and Executive Editor Stan Tiner, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Flora S. Point, Opinion Page Editor Marie Harris a

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