FEMA is the short name or acronym for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security. The agency's motto is "A Nation Prepared," and its goal is to ensure that the United States is able to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters, natural and manmade alike.
This agency is not new, although it has had more press in recent years, especially after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. FEMA and other emergency management organizations have been in place for many years, but at one point, there were so many different agencies that the National Governor's Association got together to ask then President Jimmy Carter to help streamline things.
President Carter issued an executive order in 1979 to create the new Federal Emergency Management Agency. It was created to take over the responsibilities of several other emergency management organizations, including Civil Defense, the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, the Federal Insurance Administration, the Federal Preparedness Agency and the National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program, to name a few.
In 2003, FEMA, along with 22 other government agencies, was absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). FEMA is one of the four main components of DHS, with over 2,000 full time employees and 5,000 reserves. Billions of dollars have been funneled into its programs since its inception just over 25 years ago. The streamlining of emergency agencies was intended to create a more seamless system of preparedness, response and recovery.
This new and improved "seamless" approach has been tested over time by disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, contamination, nuclear meltdown and terrorist attacks. The agency has had its share of problems, and its director seems to change any time a disaster response doesn't live up to the public's expectations.
The public needs to remember that "disasters" are so named for a reason, and that no agency on the planet can completely prevent disasters or respond perfectly to a given situation, no matter how streamlined, organized, or well-funded. While FEMA works to protect the public, people also have a responsibility to protect themselves and their families.
A commonly used estimate is that a federal response can take anywhere from 48 to 120 hours, depending on the disaster. People should have survival supplies at the ready, including non-perishable food items, bottled water, first aid supplies, a flashlight, a radio, batteries, tools, and some form of communication or personal alarm. Supplies need to be in amounts sufficient to last at least 3 to 4 days while waiting for rescue assistance in case of a disaster.
A huge and bureaucratic government cannot guarantee the personal safety of every individual, nor can even the most adept agency. People must take a certain amount of personal responsibility for their own protection and well being.