Wednesday, October 5, 2005

FEMA Anger

But perhaps not in the manner you're thinking. Check out this report from FEMA member Jodi Witte:

Dear Friends and Family,

I just got home from 15 days in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. I am tired, and I am emotional. But mostly I am angry. I am angry at the news - the TV stations, the newspapers - for what I view is a grosslymisrepresented placement of blame. For those of you who know me, you know I work for FEMA as an "intermittent employee" of a disaster response team. My team, called VMAT or Veterinary Medical Assistance Team, is partof the response branch of FEMA known as the National Disaster Medical System.

Let me tell you how "awful" FEMA's response was from someone who was there on the front lines working for FEMA.

President Bush declared a state of emergency prior to Katrina's landfall due to its strength and location. This is not normally done before a hurricane makes landfall. Damn good work by George W in my honest opinion. This opened the door for our federal teams to pre-deploy assets in nearby locations so that we were ready when Katrina did hit. I wascontacted by FEMA before the hurricane hit, asking for my availability and to place me on alert. Many teams were moved into the region including 2 VMAT teams. My team was mobilized immediately after landfall and I arrived in the area before New Orleans had completely filled with water,before we even realized how bad it was truly going to be. FEMA responded immediately and with unprecedented numbers of responders. There were DMAT teams inside the Super Dome before the levee broke. Never before had so many FEMA teams and personnel been sent into a disaster.

One thing you must understand, the DMAT, VMAT, and DMORT teams that make up the National Disaster Medical System are NOT "first responders". Our job is to supplement overwhelmed communities if needed. The initial responsibility lies with the state. If they become overwhelmed in the aftermath of a disaster where their local hospitals, medical, veterinaryand mortuary assets cannot handle the magnitude of the disaster, we come in and augment their resources. It takes 24 to 48 hours to mobilize the federal assets in normal circumstances. We come from every state in the US, leaving our jobs and families behind at the drop of a hat to helpwhere ever it is needed. Our cache of equipment and medical supplies must either be moved from our home base or from the federal warehouses in Maryland by truck or plane. This takes time. But we were there before Katrina hit and many more arrived immediately after even before knowing the full scope of this disaster.

So why is FEMA being blamed? I'm not exactly sure. I really am not. Yes, FEMA was overwhelmed. God sakes how could it not be? This hurricane has been the largest natural disaster the US has had on record. Nothing can compare. We train and train for almost anything. We try to be ready. But no one was ready for how bad this truly was. I am sure there were some bad decisions made high up, of that I cannot deny. It was a logistical nightmare to get the teams placed and the supplies sent in. Some stuff arrived too late. But, seeing how hard the FEMA employees worked to help the people and animals of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama it makesme angry and very, very sad to hear us put down so bad on TV and in the news.

One day, just a couple days after New Orleans was under water, I was stationed in the New Orleans airport. This is where I was the first week. The airport was where all the buses and helicopters that were rescuing people from the city brought them first. They came in the thousands to the airport and went through lines holding their last bit ofpossessions, which included a small amount of clothing or keepsakes and often times their pets. Yes, they got to bring their pets with them on the buses and helicopters. I know because I was there. I saw them. They came in and were triaged by FEMA medical personnel. Minor injuries or illnesses were treated with the utmost care and love by FEMA DMAT teams and then they took their place in line through concourse C to board planes to shelters where they could receive follow up medical treatment. The very ill weremoved into the D concourse area for more thorough medical care and support in a true MASH hospital set up right there inside the airport. I walked through this area frequently and watched as DMAT members held the critically and gravely ill peoples' hands, cared for them, helped them in so many ways trying to save their lives and to comfort those who could not be saved.

I walked through feces, urine, blood and vomit covering the floor of the airport. I watched custodians working tirelessly to clean up the floor even though it was soiled again as soon it was cleaned. People were handed water and food as soon as they arrived. Those who were well, movedthrough an endless line to concourse B to board both commercial and military planes going to shelters in other states. I walked the lines of concourse B, C, and D as did other members of my VMAT team to provide any needed veterinary care to the pets who were evacuated with theirfamilies. We cared for stray animals that arrived at the airport too. See, the coast guard and military helicopters were picking up stray animals if they had room when they would rescue people from the city. FEMA personnel did everything possible to comfort and care for the peopleof New Orleans. I know because I was one of them, and I did everything I could for them, and I saw with my own eyes what the others were also doing.

This is a photo on the FEMA website. What you don't see here is that this little dog is sitting below the hospital gurney of his master who was critically ill inside one of the DMAT MASH tents. I walked through this medical tent to check on the dog with a couple other members of my VMAT team. The nurse had given the dog a dish of water and was feeding himsome crackers. We promised the man we would bring back some food for his dog. He was very thankful as he laid there with IVs going. I returned a few minutes later with one other member of my team, bringing a Ziploc bag of dog food. When we arrived they were moving him to a different stretcher because he needed to be medivac'ed out on a helicopter formore intense medical care. The helicopter pilot told us he cannot take the dog unless its in a crate. I stepped up to talk to the very ill man. I asked him if he would let me care for his dog while he went to the hospital. He grabbed my hand and had tears in his eyes as he begged me to help him take his dog with him because it was all he had left in the world. There was nothing else. I looked into this man's eyes as he cried. He was a middle aged white man with cuts and scrapes all over him. His face was puffy and feverish with infection. I then looked at the DMAT nurse and the Coast Guard pilot. Both looked back at me with very graveexpressions and each asked me to please find a crate for the dog so he can go with the man. My teammate and I both knew right then that this man may not make it and we had to make sure he got to spend as much time as possible with his dog. There was no way we were going to make him leave his dogbehind. We took off running and found an empty crate. It was a bit too small for the dog, but would work temporarily. We returned and found the pilot waiting for us with the man. Once we got the dog in the crate and on the stretcher with the man, he again took my hand and thanked us as we cried together. He said "you have no idea what you have done for me and I will never forget it" Then he was wheeled away toward the waiting helicopter.

So, at the end of this day...a 29 hour shift that I spent at the airport, I arrived back at our bunk location - a building on the campus of LSU where we slept on the floor - and I got to see the news on one of the cable networks. I was absolutely outraged at the reports of the lack ofresponse by FEMA. I changed to another cable news network and saw the same thing there. What they don't mention when they talk about FEMA is the people that make up FEMA's response, working countless hours, pouring their very heart and soul into this response despite being slammed andcriticized all over the news.

I cried with sadness and anger at how we are viewed all over the world. I am a FEMA responder who cannot wear my FEMA badge in public in Louisiana because everyone thinks we are so terrible. Do they even yet mention how hard we have worked for the people and animals of Louisiana? No, maybethey never will.

Just yesterday the radio was criticizing the fact that FEMA had so many trucks filled with water and supplies that were just sitting somewhere and was costing $600 per day each to sit and wait. Does anyone realize this is the right thing to do? There is already a tremendous amount of water and supplies in the areas. The reason there are trucks waitingfull of more supplies and water is so they can move at a moments notice to where ever they are needed at any time. Would they rather have the extra supplies sitting in a warehouse where they would have to wait to secure trucks, then load the supplies and water, then move them out? Hell no. They complain about the lack of quick response by FEMA but yet don't get the whole concept that these supplies and water sitting in trucks ready to go is for quick response and now they criticize FEMA readiness without realizing it. The contradictions in the news is ridiculous.

Now 13 days after I first saw the news reporting how awful FEMA is, I still remain proud to be a member of FEMA, and I am proud of the work I did in New Orleans and I am proud to work for the federal government headed up by a strong and brave president. It was not easy, and things may not have gone perfectly, but we did and continue to do amazing workthere even if no one knows it because they will only look at what went wrong instead of so much that went right.

Jodi Witte

Veterinary Technician/Logistics Officer VMAT-1, Veterinary Medical Assistance Team
FEMA Response Branch US Department of Homeland Security

There are lots of hoaxes running around on the Internet, so before I posted this I did a little research on the web. It appears to me to be a legitimate story, written by a real person. In fact, here's some information about that person (Jodi Witte) that you might be interested in: Jodi Beck Witte is a veterinary technician and weapons of mass destruction specialist for a FEMA disaster response team and manages an animal health website. You can also email Jodi directly.

1 comment:

  1. In the old blog, Anna said:
    I tried to trackback to you, but it wouldn’t work, so here is my link. An Insider’s StoryThanks brining the story to my attention. It vindicates what I have thought all along, that despite Michael Brown’s problems, FEMA teams were working their hearts out!