A New, Improved FEMA?

Days before FEMA fired up a command center in Raleigh, N.C., to keep tabs on Ernesto, the agency's logistics center in Atlanta swung into action, loading supplies onto tractor-trailers bound for the Carolina coast.

But CBS News correspondent Jim Acosta reports that unlike last year, when FEMA lost track of scores of trucks carrying food, water and ice — leaving thousands suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — federal emergency officials now are mounting GPS systems on all of their rigs. Those systems can be monitored in real time by agency officials in the field.

The GPS systems are just one upgrade FEMA rushed into action to restore confidence in the agency.

"We can track these commodities. When they leave this warehouse, we know where they are," FEMA spokesman Marty Bahamonde says. "There will be no more missing ice trucks."

For Bahamonde, it's personal. As the lone FEMA official inside the Superdome in New Orleans last year, he later told a congressional hearing about the agency failures he witnessed firsthand.

"We had to send helicopters out to find the trucks to get the food so we could get food to the Superdome," he says. "This year we don't have to do this. You put the GPS [on the truck], you have all the information you need."

FEMA has also launched its own fleet of TV news trucks that can feed live video of disaster areas. During Katrina, top FEMA officials relied on the media to see what was happening in New Orleans.

FEMA's new director, David Paulison, a former fire chief, vows he won't let the agency get burned again.

"I can absolutely guarantee you won't see the lack of responsiveness," he says. "I can guarantee you won't see the lack of coordination between agencies."

But some FEMA critics say the agency should just get out of the way and let private companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot lead relief efforts.

"Greyhound Bus Lines was ready to go in and evacuate people and couldn't even get an answer from FEMA for four days," says Russell Sobel, an economics professor at West Virginia University.

Bahamonde knows it's going to take more than a few bells and whistles for Americans to have confidence in FEMA.

"The people that are here feel they have something to prove to the American public," he says.

FEMA needs another major hurricane to confirm that it's on the right track. That's something it's not getting from Ernesto, which is now a mere tropical depression.
  • John Kreiser

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