“I asked, ‘Why haven’t you been sent out?'” he says. “Then he just lays the story on me, tells me about all the personnel they have out there, more than 100 ambulances, two paramedics per ambulance, everybody waiting for marching orders.”
Horrified, the logistical worker offered to help transport them to a place where they could be useful.
“He said they couldn’t do it because FEMA had them all under contract, and they couldn’t go out without FEMA’s say-so. They were so frustrated. They came all this way, and now they’re not going anywhere, and there’s something in their contract telling them they can’t even throw up their arms and say ‘Fuck it’ and go into the city and do good.”
In fairness to FEMA as well as the city and state Offices of Emergency Management, the need and ability to send in this medical assistance to the Rockaways was a lower priority than clearing the roads and making the peninsula safe for medical workers to go in and give, and I stress this part, non-emergency medical assistance. As far as I know, medical calls were still being handled via an alternate overland route which had already been cleared.
But this is one of the more glaring examples of what happens in a major crisis: communications gets fumbled — FEMA blames the city and state for not directing where to send these responders, while the city and state maintain the Federal contract put them under FEMA’s jurisdiction — and what ends up happening is a misdirection and misapplication of resources, like sending ice destined for New Orleans to Maine.
It was less of a problem in NYC because volunteers were able to get in and assist people with some of the most basic needs, like the occasional hot meal or help pumping flooded basements, but make no mistake: had this entire operation been privatized, the slow-ish response of government agents would have seemed lightning fast by comparison.
The first groups in were religious groups. Indeed, the most notable among these were Sikhs from all over Queens, serving an estimated 15,000 hot vegetarian meals long before FEMA and the OEMs showed up.
The Occupy movement, Occupy Sandy, also arrived early, assessing needs and trying to help residents help themselves, particularly in the parts of the Rockaways that are poorest and therefore, most vulnerable. Church groups and motorcycle clubs beat even the Red Cross to the scenes of the disaster.
And the Red Cross is about as privatized as you can get when it comes to disaster relief.
So the next time some conservative tells you we need to drown government in a bathtub, ask him how he plans to keep himself from drowning?
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