FEMA is best known for coordinating responses with state and local governments to natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes. Responding to a pandemic is a different job for the agency. “This is a very different kind of work for FEMA,” President Trump said, “but they will come through as they always do. We have tremendous people, tremendous talent in FEMA.”

The agency is readying more than 50 teams to support states and territories across the country “as they activate their emergency operations centers and address the COVID-19 threat,” a FEMA spokesperson told NPR.

The elevation in incident level is a step some experts see as long overdue. All of this “could have been done before,” Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security said. “We have a saying in emergency management … go big or stay home.” She says with Americans literally staying home, “The federal government now needs to go big.”

Kayyem, now a professor at Harvard, says FEMA’s level 1 “sounds scary, but it’s actually quite good knowing the needs that we’re about to have.” By invoking level 1 status today, Kayyem says, Trump “basically pre-positioned us for what we know is coming, which is tremendous demands on our public safety and public health apparatus.”

According to it’s website, FEMA defines Level 1 as an incident that “due to its severity, size, location, actual or potential impact on public health, welfare, and infrastructure, … requires an extreme amount of direct Federal assistance.”

Vice President Pence announced that Trump will be hosting all the nation’s governors from a video conference at FEMA, “to ensure that they have a full connection to all of the activated regions for FEMA going forward.”

While stockpiling generators and bottled water, as it does to prepare for natural disasters is likely not to be necessary this time, FEMA’s experience in purchasing large quantities of materials should prove helpful.

To read the full story, visit https://www.kpbs.org/news/2020/mar/19/federal-emergency-management-agency-steps-up/.
Author: Brian Naylor/NPR, KPBS
Photo: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images