THE FEMA MANDATE
A Comprehensive Look at America’s Most Notorious Federal Agency
Chapter I: Roots
In 1979, through a pair of Executive Orders, then President Jimmy Carter formalized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA,) ostensibly created as a disaster relief agency tasked with evaluating ecological and natural disasters and providing financial and humanitarian aid to stricken persons and regions. On paper, this seemed a noble goal: help the helpless; bring hope to those who have none. Let the government assist in times of peril. Indeed, the FEMA of 1979 may have aspired to those goals, but years and decades of mismanagement, lack of oversight, hidden agendas, and ulterior motives not only allowed but also encouraged FEMA to metamorphosize from a potentially benevolent agency into a completely different beast.
Executive Order 12148, signed on July 7, 1979, combined dozens of federal agencies tasked with emergency preparedness and civil defense spread across the executive departments into a unified entity that was established as an independent agency, free of Cabinet interference, with authority as the lead federal agency in a presidentially declared disaster. FEMA absorbed the Federal Insurance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program, the Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration and the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration activities from HUD. FEMA was also given the responsibility for overseeing the nation’s Civil Defense, a function that had previously been performed by the Department of Defense’s Defense Civil Preparedness Agency.
Although Carter signed the Executive Orders, he was neither the progenitor nor the architect of FEMA; that responsibility was helmed by National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who planted the seed in a naive and inept and ineffectual president’s mind.
On March 28, 1979, just two weeks prior to FEMA’s unification, disaster struck Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Reactor number 2 at Three Mile Island nuclear generating station catastrophically failed and leaked radiation on the Keystone State. The meltdown was blamed on mechanical failures, compounded by the initial failure of plant operators to recognize the situation as a loss-of-coolant accident due to inadequate training and human factors, such as human-computer interaction design oversights relating to ambiguous control room indicators in the power plant’s user interface.
In the nighttime hours preceding the incident, the TMI-2 reactor was running at 97% of power, while the companion TMI-1 reactor was shut down for refueling. The main chain of events leading to the partial core meltdown began at 4:37 am EST in TMI-2’s secondary loop, one of the three main water/steam loops in a pressurized water reactor. At 6:57 am, a plant supervisor declared a site area emergency, and less than 30 minutes later station manager Gary Miller announced a general emergency, defined as having the “potential for serious radiological consequences” to the public. Within hours of the incident, however, a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a shocking announcement–the accident did not raise radioactivity far enough above background levels to cause even one additional cancer death among the people in the area, before water, soil, air, and sediment samples had been collected. The EPA claimed only trace amounts of Xenon and Krypton escaped the Three Mile Island facility, and argued that people living in high-elevation cities like Denver received similar doses daily. Residents of Harrisburg, PA, have long disputed the EPA’s findings, but the actuality and environmental consequences of Three Mile Island are beyond the scope of this book.
What’s important is the unpublished fact that in the weeks leading up to the meltdown, NSA Brzezinski had been conducting safety inspections on nuclear power plants across the nation. Three Mile Island was one of the facilities he had visited. On March 3, 1979, Brzezinski toured Three Mile Island with Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation Harold Denton and Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh. Brzezinski spent an entire day assessing the plant’s safety precautions and quizzing staff on the ramifications of a core breech and meltdown. Two days later, he authored an astonishingly irresponsible brief: “Three Mile Island Nuclear Facility is among the safest plant I have visited. It has no flaws and is staffed by experts unpanelled in knowledge and study of nuclear reactor control and safety,” he wrote. The memo was irresponsible because Brzezinski is a lifelong politician, not a scientist, and he included no expert citations. It was pure opinion, lacking even a hint of fact.
While the author of this book found no evidence directly linking him to the meltdown in a false-flag style attack, the timing of his visit combined with using the incident as a capstone reason for the creation of FEMA must be rigorously scrutinized.
On April 2, 1979, he sat with Carter in the Oval Office and said the United Steeds needed an unbiased, non-partisan umbrella agency to unite quarrelling factions. He laid bare substantive arguments illustrating how ineffective management and poor funding often hampered existing disaster relief efforts. At the time, nearly 100 agencies jockeyed for control and jurisdiction of disasters. He suggested that unification under a single banner would correct those problems, and told Carter that the bold decision to create FEMA would be the crowning achievement of his presidency.
Besides citing the Three Mile Island Catastrophe, Brzezinski explained how other recent catastrophes could have been better handled through consolidation of agencies whose management personnel were never sure what kinds of disasters fell under their jurisdiction and thus incompetently plodded along under vague and illusory mission statements.
In the spring of 1974, a super-tornado outbreak spawned 140 twisters that killed 315 people across 13 states. At the time (now eclipsed by the 2011 super outbreak) it was the most violent tornado outbreak ever recorded, with 30 confirmed F4/F5 funnel clouds that caused $843 million (equivalent to $4.58 billion in 2019) dollars in damage. The Federal Civil Defense Administration, which operated within the Executive Office of the President, the Office of Civil Defense, under the Department of Defense, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development initiated disparate programs to assist distressed families and rebuild destroyed infrastructure. None of the agencies had clearly defined responsibilities. Moreover, they lacked labor and financial resources to handle a disaster of such magnitude. There was no collaboration or cooperation. Agencies ran amuck like a fox in a henhouse.
At the bequest of President Nixon, the Federal Civil Defense Administration sent 125 workers, many of whom were untrained, unpaid volunteers, to Xenia, Ohio, fifteen miles from Dayton. A pair of multiple-vortex F5 twisters had socked the city of 15,000, killing 22 people and injuring 1,200 others, some of whom took proper shelter. It destroyed 1,400 structures, toppled railroad cars, and nearly killed an addition 34 children at Xenia High School. Students in the school, practicing for a play, took cover in the main hallway seconds before the tornado dropped a school bus onto the stage where they had been rehearsing.
Federal Civil Defense teams arrived in Xenia a week later, because they had difficulty requisitioning government vehicles and fuel for the trip from D.C. to Ohio. Some were inoperative, and HUD had commandeered more than half of the working vehicles for its own relief mission in Kansas. When Civil Defense personnel finally arrived in Xenia, they quickly realized they were over their heads, fecklessly incapable of mitigating carnage of a city turned third-world nation. Woefully unprepared, and probably misinformed, the volunteers vanished by attrition; within 72 hours, their numbers dwindled from 125 to 63 But who could blame them? To feed thousands for an indefinite time, they carried a grand total of 65 MRE cases—780 individual meals. And a whopping 140 cases of bottled water, sarcasm intended. Residents of Xenia boiled in a spring heat wave, without electricity, air conditioning, or adequate shelter. Nearby motels were booked to capacity, and emergency shelters were forced to repel displaced persons due to overcrowding. Hospitals were inundated with the walking wounded. Desperate for provisions, citizens turned on each other like a pack of mangy dogs, and then accosted their would-be benefactors. One volunteer was trampled to death at an aid station. Workers resorted to hurling water cases from trucks rather than civilly distributing them because they feared the mob mentality that had spread like an infectious disease across the citizenry. Civil Defense leaders pleaded to Washington for more help. “Don’t worry. More help is on the way. And the Red Cross will be there soon. Hold the line. We’ll be there soon,” was the reply.
In Washington, the word “soon” is interpreted differently than it is in the rest of the world. It can mean hours, days, weeks, months, years or never.
That week, eerily similar situations played out across much of Tornado Alley.
And in April, 1979, Brzezinski used the tornado outbreak to reinforce the need for a centralized disaster relief agency. An expert manipulator, he preyed on Carter’s doubts and fears, and told Carter that other deadly, costly disasters could have been averted or at least mollified by the presence of effective leadership.
On July 31, 1976, excessive rainfall and dam failure caused the Big Thompson Canyon flood in Colorado. In a one-hour period, nearly eight inches of rain swamped the terrain, and a 19 ft. wall of water swept through the canyon, taking everything in its path downstream. One hundred and forty-three people perished; the flash flood toppled 418 homes. In response, Carter sent relief teams from the Federal Civil Defense Agency and Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization to conduct water rescues and assess damage, respectively. Again, the hydra of ineptitude reared its heads and further proved to Carter that Brzezinski’s FEMA solution had merit. Aside from civilian casualties, three rescue workers drowned while attempting to fish a mother and her two infant children from the rapids. It turned out that no one in the rescue team had been trained on water rescue techniques—and one did not know how to swim. Ironically, the mother and her children survived. She said in a 1981 interview that the rescuers hindered rather than helped them escape the floodwaters. One, she said, kept pushing her child underwater while he tried to stay afloat.
Of the homes destroyed, only ten percent were rebuilt from federal grants. Many victims were struck dumb when they received $250 consolation checks from government, and since few insurance policies covered flood damage, countless families lost everything except memories of a callous government.
Mismanagement aside, the myriad agencies inability to respond to natural disasters can be attributed to another factor—none was specifically created for natural disaster preparedness. To the contrary, they were primarily focused on responding to nuclear war. And since the U.S. does not have too many nuclear wars, presidents starting with Harry S. Truman slated miniscule portions of their budgets to civil disasters.
Besides the calamities, Brzezinski provided Carter a list of other disasters that would have benefited from streamlined leadership. Not everyone in Carter’s administration, however, favored amalgamation; Vice President Mondale, for example, excoriated Brzezinski’s idea as premature and precarious to the fabric of democracy.
“To give one agency, free of Cabinet oversight, the power and responsibility of five undermines the tenets of checks and balances,” Mondale argued. “Doing so created a slippery slope on which we must tread with great caution.”
Regardless, Carter ultimately sided with Brzezinski. In his mind, Brzezinski had unequivocally proven that multiple agencies performing similar duties was superfluous and not cost efficient. Anyone questioning the creation of a centralized authority was labeled paranoid or fearful of change when faced with stimuli that might be perceived as threatening.
Two Executive Orders signed; one agency created.
FEMA brought together more than 100 programs from across the government; publicly, the agency would be known for coordinating the government’s response to natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes. But few in the public understood that much of FEMA’s resources went instead to its primary mission—coordinating the nation’s post-apocalypse efforts—and that much of its funding and a half of its workforce was hidden in the nation’s classified black budget. Only 20 members of Congress knew the agency’s real focus and its real budget. Even with a substantial budget and guaranteed annual increases in workforce and funding, FEMA hobbled from the start, limited by weak central leadership, full of political patrons, and pulled in multiple directions by its disparate priorities—some public, some secret. As one Reagan-era assessment of the agency concluded, “FEMA may well be suffering from a case of too many missions for too few staff and resources.… FEMA itself might be a mission impossible.” In fact, FEMA has been restructured, reorganized, and reprioritized more than any other government agency in United States history.