FEMA: Buttheads, Bureaucrats or Just Plain Ol’ Beavis?

The Sun Herald editorial board jumped into the freezer today taking exception to FEMAs decision to get out of the ice business in disaster areas.  FEMA watchers may remember the last great ice capade where Uncle Sam purchased tons of ice after Katrina, and had tons of ice left over. Rather than donating the extra ice to Ice Sculpture Arts Academy, FEMA instead stored it for two years so it could spoil. Luckily for us here on slabbed we did not get stuck with the entire utility bill for the cold storage. In any event rather than take further criticism over ice FEMA simply has left the ice delivery business. Here is today’s Sun Herald Op-ed.

South Mississippians are coming to a slow boil over FEMA’s attitude toward ice.

Things started warming up in early April when FEMA Director R. David Paulison said: “I don’t know how FEMA got into the ice business, but it’s not a life-saving commodity. People say they need it because they want it. They don’t need it. It’s not one of FEMA’s key jobs.”

The boiling point was reached this month when other FEMA officials confirmed that the agency has decided not to deliver ice to the general public after the next hurricane.

Mary Hudak, regional spokeswoman for FEMA, said that in the past FEMA purchased, stored and moved ice into an area after a hurricane, but it was costly.

Working with each state – MEMA for Mississippi – FEMA has charged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the job of delivering 3 million pounds of ice within 24 hours to any state hit, Hudak said, but only for medical emergencies and life-saving reasons.

“We want to make sure we’re providing ice as a life-saving item and not a comfort item,” she said. “We’re not insensitive to comfort. That’s why we’re pushing people to get prepared and be able to help themselves.”

Hudak said FEMA plans to urge people to freeze jugs of water when a hurricane becomes imminent. That way they’ll have ice for a day or two afterward.

But as Andre Gautier, whose family has run an ice house in Pascagoula for decades, told the Sun Herald, it is difficult after a storm to decide where comfort ends and life-saving use for ice begins.

And once again, FEMA has pushed one of Congressman Gene Taylor’s less-than-diplomatic buttons.

“Here again, it’s right-hand, left-hand,” Taylor said of the new policy. “I’m going to write a letter and tell them what a bunch of buttheads they are.”

In as civil a tone as we can muster under the circumstances, we would like to ask FEMA officials how they intend to distinguish between comfort and survival in the aftermath of a catastrophe?

And how do they intend to deal with desperate survivors of a catastrophe who see FEMA delivering ice to only those chosen few?

Not to discount or be dismissive of anyone’s disaster experience or expertise, but unless you were here in the sweltering and powerless days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina, you may not understand how vital a bag of ice – or even a chunk of it – could be.

The heat and humidity made even sleep an ordeal.

A sip of cold water or the touch of a cool, damp cloth was sometimes the difference between remaining calm and screaming.

We do not exaggerate.

Most of us who remained ran out of the preparations we were told would last until relief came because relief came agonizingly slow after Katrina.

And now FEMA officials are saying that when relief does come again, it will be without a cube of ice unless we have a note from a doctor?

No, no, no.

Paulison is wrong.

Supplying ice is “one of FEMA’s key jobs.”

Before the next hurricane makes landfall, FEMA should realize that “the ice business” is a critical part of the business of saving lives. 

One thought on “FEMA: Buttheads, Bureaucrats or Just Plain Ol’ Beavis?”

  1. If the shrimping business in Gulf Coast MIssissippi is anything like here in Louisiana, several shrimpers could have used that ice. Many ice houses were destroyed along the coast by Katrina and Rita. Like fuel, ice is hard to come by and is really expensive.

    I bet it would have helped some shrimpers stay in business.

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