When a hurricane slams into the Jersey Shore, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gets the call to pick up the pieces. When a tornado lays waste to an Oklahoma community, guess where the phones start ringing? FEMA. And when a foot and a half of rain falls around Boulder, Colo., sending hundreds of homes into the drink? Yep: FEMA again.
But not all FEMA's shit storms are of the weather variety. When angry ratepayers blew up their elected representatives' phone lines recently, Congress hauled in a few of our chief emergency managers. The controversy swirled around rate hikes for property owners covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, which FEMA administers.
"Let me just say, all of the harm that has been caused to thousands of people across the country -- [who] are calling us, [who] are going to lose their homes, [who] are placed in this position -- is just unconscionable," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told the agency's director, Craig Fugate, during a recent hearing.
But here's the thing. As NPR's Christopher Joyce so astutely pointed out, Waters co-sponsored the law that directed FEMA to raise people's rates. In fact, it bears her name: It's called the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.
Here's the other thing: While Biggert-Waters contained only passing mention of climate change, it was the first real wake-up call for many coastal residents who had been living with the illusion that, if disaster struck, the federal government would always be there to pick up the pieces. As comforting as that might seem, it is becoming less and less realistic as the mercury, and the waters, rise.
Here's the story of how we got here -- and a few thoughts on how we might get out.