Love, FEMA

So yesterday FEMA said that they would take some of their mobile homes leftover from Katrina to house people who lost their homes in last week’s deadly tornadoes in the South.

Today, FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released information of the formaldehyde tests they ran in December and January.

CDC’s preliminary evaluation of a scientifically established random sample of 519 travel trailers and mobile homes tested between Dec. 21, 2007 and Jan. 23, 2008 showed average levels of formaldehyde in all units of about 77 parts per billion (ppb). Long-term exposure to levels in this range can be linked to an increased risk of cancer, and as levels rise above this range, there can also be a risk of respiratory illness. These levels are is higher than expected in indoor air, where levels are commonly in the range of 10-20 ppb. (halfway into FEMA’s press release.)

FEMA has been kicking the formaldehyde can down the street since September 2006. OSHA came in last May to see if it was safe for FEMA employees. FEMA was working to get people out of the trailers in September 2007, but was acting like it was precautionary rather than necessary.

Now we know that the trailers pose a health risk to their residents. The CDC said so. But does FEMA know that?

Dear Disaster Victims in Tennessee and Arkansas,
Sorry about your losses. We have these great trailers for you to stay in until you get back on your feet. And maybe some swamp land in Florida. Oh, and don’t forget to read the warning labels on the trailers.
Love, FEMA

Why Didn’t They Leave

Blowing out with the remnants of the once and future Hurricane Ernesto, was this week’s “Katrina-fest.” Amid the 20 ga-zillion stories [a Google News search pulls 56,000 Web stories this week. and that doesn’t include radio and TV like the CNN-FOX-MSNBC gaggle] was alot of talk about people who didn’t evacuate. Folks left behind. And some commentators, around the water-cooler for example, blame the people who stayed. That doesn’t seem right, though. Let’s think about why some people stayed.

Well, some people didn’t have a place to go–cost of going someplace, wherewithal. Frankly, I could easily pack up the kids, dog and spouse and head off with a credit card to the Holiday Inn.

Some people didn’t have a way to get there. There were problems with public transportation, no transportation. Again, me and my VISA resolves all such issues.

But here’s an obvious thing that hasn’t gotten much attention. Some people didn’t believe it would actually happen. “It” being the worst case scenario.

“Well,” you say, “some people are just stupid.”

I say, then, most of us are stupid.

How many of you think that you will in a car accident on your way to work tomorrow? As you are fiddling with your coffee in one hand, changing radio stations, shaving, putting on makeup, talking on your phone, reading your Blackberry while you drive?

Here’s another one. How many are actually prepared for a disaster? Have fresh water for 3 days, food stuff, family emergency plan. Time Magazine reports that only 16%–yup like less than 2 houses on my block–are “well prepared” for an emergency. These are post-Katrina numbers.

Who wants to think about bad things? Who wants to take their minds to the place where the unthinkable happens. OF COURSE, we want to keep our families safe. But we can’t stand to imagine the worst case. So we do our personal risk management assessment and figure, it’s highly unlikely to happen to me.

Folks that didn’t leave New Orleans couldn’t believe that the worst would happen. They aren’t stupid. They are just human. It hurts too much to be prepared.

Whoosza Fault?

Was watching Mayor Nagin this morning on Russert. I’m glad that Russert asked some tough questions. He made Chertoff squirm a bit last Sunday, too.

Here’s a typical exchange.

Russert: “Did you make mistakes?”
Public Official: “Tim, I’m not going to that. We did the best we could. The [insert name of other guy] didn’t…”

Here’s a typical exchange in my house:

Parent: “What was your part in this?”
Kid: “Well, he….”
Parent: [interrupting] “I’m talking about YOU.”

It’s not so much the Blame Game. It’s a lack of personal responsibility. I wish somebody would say, “This is what I did.” The President needs to remember that step one is admitting that you have a problem.

How can you have a role in fixing a problem if you don’t admit your role in it?

Hope my kids get this message, but it looks like it will preclude them from a career in politics.