Friday, September 16, 2005

The Great Trailer Debate

Hugh Hewitt spent several segments of his radio program tonight ripping the FEMA decision that it was going to buy 300,000 trailers at a cost of $5 billion (Washington Post story). Hugh wrote:
Look: Give every family a check. A good sized check. Tell them that's their relief payment and to use it wisely. Match them with churches/not-for-profits around the country and ship them out. Creating trailer parks for this many people is just a terrible idea.
Hugh seems cavalier about just shipping people out of the region. His penchant for using vouchers assumes people are in a market with plenty of available housing--or are willing to move to such an area. That doesn't describe the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I have a couple of employees in the Pascagoula area, both of whom, fortunately, still have homes standing after the storm, although their neighbors weren't all so lucky. (See "After the Storm" below.) Both want to return to work at the shipyard, but can't until the shipyard is cleaned up, and that requires workers who, in turn, require places to live, stores to shop at, and banks to cash checks. It's hard to rebuild an area if everyone moves out and there are no facilities to house those doing reconstruction. I am happy to report that the situation improves daily, but there's much yet to be done.

Hugh had Rick of Stones Cry Out on his program this evening, because disaster prep and recovery is his field of expertise. In fact, Rick is on stand-by to work for FEMA. I left this comment on his blog:

I have employees in the Pascagoula area, where the shipyard is the major employer. There's a problem that people can't get back to work if they don't have a place to live. Hugh Hewitt's suggestion of having people relocate out of the area until it's rebuilt ignores the questions of where the rebuilders are going to live and how people are supposed to coordinate with their insurance agents and contractors if they're not in the area? Besides, dispersing the workforce won't help the shipyard and other businesses reopen faster so people can have a real income again. Fortunately, the big companies like Northrop Grumman are providing salary continuation for the nonce.

I know that some folks working with their insurance companies to rebuild their homes plan to start with a trailer on their own lot as shelter while the construction goes on. It would be ironic if they couldn't get the trailers they need because FEMA cornered the market.

Trailers aren't the only option, either. According to the Sun-Herald, FEMA is working to get a cruise ship docked in Mobile so people can move out of Red Cross shelters in Jackson county.

Bowman said FEMA officials hope to move the cruise ship to Pascagoula within two weeks.

"The governor, MEMA and FEMA are very sensitive to the fact that a lot of people do not want to be in Mobile because they want to be close to where they live to deal with things like insurance claims," Bowman said.

Bowman said evacuees would be allowed to bring their own vehicles. For those without transportation, a shuttle system would be developed.

"We will not strand them in Mobile," Bowman said.

It sounds like Mr. Bowman of FEMA has a better grip on the reality of the front-line situation than Hugh Hewitt.