The Role of Government During Natural Disasters

November 5, 2012
By Richard Duffy, IAFF International Association of Fire Fighters

The devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast is a great example of why we need a centralized federal government that can respond to states and communities in need of disaster relief. Hurricane Sandy also underscores a very important issue for Americans, and that is what role the federal government should play in during a disaster (man-made or natural).

President Obama clearly understands the critical role the federal government plays in bolstering state and local disaster response; while Mitt Romney has said that states and the private sector should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions.

For the past two years, first responders have suffered the consequences – including layoffs, reduced staffing, wage freezes and reductions — of those in political power who believe government should play a limited role in people’s lives, including funding for federal grants like the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program that keeps fire fighters in the firehouse ready to respond to disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

Currently, the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is to coordinate the federal government’s support of our nation’s citizens and first responders in the time of domestic disasters. However, some politicians still seek to eliminate or privatize FEMA.

FEMA’s current efforts, as well as the response by the Departments of Health and Humans Services, Department of Defense, Department of Labor and other federal agencies, during Hurricane Sandy showcase why the federal government is needed when it’s prepared and funded.

We know the excellent work IAFF members do every single day to protect their communities, but it seems that others only acknowledge the work fire fighters and emergency medical responders do in the time of a crisis. It is unfortunate that it is through the tragic event of a hurricane that these issues come to light.

We don’t know if first responders and other public employees will continue to be the target for attacks on the wages, benefits and retirement security that IAFF members have worked long and hard to earn. However, we do know that IAFF members will continue to put their lives on the line every day to save others, as witnessed with Hurricane Sandy — even while they themselves have suffered tragic personal losses, too.


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