How FEMA delivered Florida for Bush

Now that President Bush has won Florida in his 2004 re-election bid, he may want to draft a letter of appreciation to Michael Brown, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Seldom has any federal agency had the opportunity to so directly and uniquely alter the course of a presidential election, and seldom has any agency delivered for a president as FEMA did in Florida this fall.

It is almost impossible to overstate the political importance of Florida, the fourth biggest election prize, with 27 electoral votes. In 2000, when Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore battled to a 49 percent draw in the state, the official recount that gave Bush a 537-vote win also gave him the presidency. In 2004, both presidential campaigns targeted Florida with an intensity that assumed the state would be just as competitive as four years before.

Neither party, however, could have foreseen the role that Mother Nature would play. Beginning in August, Florida was flattened by four successive hurricanes that ripped up broad swaths of the state. Between hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, the storm damage was estimated to run as high as $26 billion.

In 1992, the last time a major hurricane pummeled Florida in the homestretch of a presidential election, FEMA was caught with its pants down. Its response to Hurricane Andrew was disorganized and chaotic, leaving thousands without shelter and water. Cleanup and resupply efforts were snarled in red tape. After watching the messy relief efforts unfold, lawmakers questioned whether FEMA was a Cold War relic that ought to be abolished.

For then-President George H.W. Bush, the scene proved to be a public relations nightmare. He managed to regain his footing and win Florida three months later, but his winning margin was dramatically reduced from 1988.

In 2004, George W. Bush and FEMA left little room for error. Not long after Hurricane Charley first made landfall on Aug. 13, Bush declared the state a federal disaster area to release federal relief funds. Less than two days after Charley ripped through southwestern Florida, he was on the ground touring hard-hit neighborhoods.

Bush later made a handful of other Florida visits to review storm-related damage, but the story on the ground was not Bush's hand-holding. Rather, it was FEMA's performance.

Charley hit on a Friday. With emergency supply trucks pre-positioned at depots for rapid, post-storm deployment, the agency was able to deliver seven truckloads of ice, water, cots, blankets, baby food and building supplies by Sunday. On Monday, hundreds of federal housing inspectors were on the ground, and FEMA already had opened its first one-stop disaster relief center.

By the end of September, three hurricanes later, the agency had processed 646,984 registrations for assistance with the help of phone lines operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Fifty-five shelters, 31 disaster recovery centers and six medical teams were in operation across the state. Federal and state assistance to households reached more than $361 million, nearly 300,000 housing inspections were completed, and roughly 150,000 waterproof tarps were provided for homeowners, according to FEMA figures.

It's impossible to know just how much of an effect FEMA had on the Florida vote. Many of the citizens the agency served there presumably had more important things to worry about. It's also hard to imagine that, even with its shock-and-awe hurricane response, a bureaucracy like FEMA pleased all its customers. Even so, in a closely contested state where hundreds of thousands of voters suffered storm-related losses, it's equally hard to imagine that they didn't notice the agency's outreach.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.