Saturday, August 11, 2012

FEMA Faceoff: Truth as an Urban Legend

Gaye Levy, Contributor

The article you are about to read is something that I have been working on for a number of months.

Before we begin, I would like thank my longtime friend, George Ure, for his assistance and collaboration on this piece. Together our goal was to uncover the truth and debunk what we thought were the Internet myths about FEMA.
Now we are not so sure.

In recent months we have all read and seen videos of the large-scale movement of military gear, including equipment which could be used to control an unruly US civilian population. To add to that, the US Army’s forward training documents reveal that the military is contingency planning for major US in civil turmoil in 2016. That this could theoretically be caused by the hard bite of the Second Depression and people not seeing it coming is of great concern to us. That, plus the fact that the majority of the population will not be properly prepped when it all comes tumbling down.

When writing about tank movement and such on our websites, one of our readers suggested that this was “normal” movement and that the tanks and other heavy gear were likely headed for Fort Irwin (near Barstow) for war gaming and to be fitted with the latest and greatest electronics. But in the hundreds? That fails the “smell test” when we are told that Afghanistan will be winding down. Something simply is not adding up.

So, while the economic side of things is George’s bailiwick, and the prepping side is Gaye’s, we both feel that the two cannot be separated when dire times hit; and, further, that the truth about what is coming needs to be exposed for the greater good of our citizens.

Given that, what is the responsible, journalistic thing to do? Get ahead of the problem – help dispel paranoia and BS on the Net and get some tough questions answered.

Attempting to Debunk the Internet Rumor Mill

Last April, while vacationing, Gaye had the opportunity to have cocktails with a high-ranking FEMA official. During the course of the conversation, she discussed the work she was doing at the Backdoor Survival and Strategic Living websites and asked this official if he would be willing to be interviewed. He graciously and without hesitation agreed.

When Gaye returned home, she called George and the two of us put our heads together and came up with some questions that we hoped would debunk the Internet rumor mill as it relates to FEMA. You know what we are talking about: body bags, army equipment, limits on banking . . . all that troubling “stuff” that is increasingly getting play on the Internet.

Why? While quite simply, there are all kinds of grim “It’s the end of the world, it’s 2012, go hide under the bed with the cat while you can!” stories on the Internet. In fact, we’ve estimated that “world ending” stories, books, videos, speaking appearances, radio, and online advertising probably adds up to perhaps $400-million (or more) which is an interesting industry. Add to that all of the revenue from late night talk shows, the survival gear and prepping goods industries; and, to some extent, even the increases in gun and ammunition sales. None of which, by the way, has slowed down since the recent massacre in Aurora.

But the problem we all have is this: Whenever one of those stories about “Concentration camps are being built in America to house Americans!” comes along, how many “news” sources in the Mainstream Media [also known as the MSM or olde media] actually make an effort to get the flip side of the story; the response from officialdom?

Zip, zilch, nadda. So we began our quest for the truth with a FEMA faceoff.

The Journey Through the FEMA PR Abyss

It was that - in the interest of good journalism - not to mention a big pinch of reality, that we put some questions to Gaye’s contact, Damon Penn, FEMA’s Assistant Administrator for the National Continuity Programs Directorate, that part of FEMA which has the job of keeping America “together” in the event of all kinds of cataclysmic possibilities. Our goal was to set the record straight and help separate fact from fiction when it comes to our country’s efforts to keep us prepared.

But something happened along the way.

Whereas Mr. Penn did answer our questions, his efforts were stonewalled by the FEMA legal and PR departments. Here is what he said in an email to Gaye:
Your ears must be burning. I just asked about the status this morning. I answered the questions last week and they are with our legal folks. They are trying to determine if we are providing you a service we cannot/have not provided to others. Hopefully we can get past that soon. The questions are fine.
WTF? We asked direct, no BS questions and get the government-three-step?

Time went by – months actually – with a good deal of back and forth between Gaye and Mr. Penn. Finally, after three months, we receive a response from Carter Langston, Manager of the FEMA News Desk who claimed that Mr. Penn’s authority did not extend to answering our questions.

The FEMA Kiss Off

So Mr. Langston answered instead. Sort of. His answers are shown below verbatim, which, as you will see, are not answers at all. Which leads us to the next question, also below, what is FEMA trying to hide?

Here’s what we asked – in writing – and the responses from FEMA – after being PR and legally “sanitized” by the PTB.

1. Let’s start with the FEMA mission statement:
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
Most folks tend to think of FEMA as a huge, bureaucratic monster whose goal is to rescue our citizens from the perils of a natural disaster. As a result, lots of people got all over FEMA’s case over the handling of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

What did the agency learn from those events?

Within the text of FEMA’s mission statement, the word ‘support’ is critically important. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate is frequently quoted as saying that FEMA is not the team, it is part of the team. The agency is not a first responder, but supports citizens and first responders.
FEMA underwent organizational changes after Hurricane Katrina, after Congress passed the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (PKEMRA). Among the changes, the FEMA Administrator reports directly to the Secretary within the Department of Homeland Security and directly advises the President of the United States on matters of Emergency Management. More information to include an overview of the PKEMRA and other organizational changes is available at
(Gaye’s Note: the link provided does not work.)

2. If Katrina/Rita happened tomorrow, would the impression the public gets about the competence and response of FEMA be much different than it was then?
Given the agency’s emphasis on preparedness, resilience and the concept of a whole community response to emergency management, we believe communities and states will be better able to respond and recover from future disasters. Prepared communities can take necessary precautions in advance of an emergency, exercise mutual aid immediately following an emergency, and narrow the gap between disaster response and arrival at a new normal.
3. It has been our observation that FEMA has put a lot of time and effort into creating a credible source for preparedness information of all types. This includes tools to educate and help mitigate the consequences of everything from natural disasters, to biological and terrorist attacks, to nuclear threats and more. In spite of this, there is a great deal of suspicion that this is just a cover and that instead, there is some hidden agenda involved.

As Prepper’s, let us first say that we personally feel that the READY.GOV site performs a huge service to our citizens. But with that said, what is being done to spread the word and actually convince the skeptics that the information available is what it says it is?
There will always be skeptics on the benefits of personal and family preparedness. That is why FEMA adopted the Whole Community concept to preparedness, response and recovery. We now have a community-wide message of preparedness, echoed by the business community, non-profits, neighbors, local governments and many others. They are doing a great job of spreading the word about the importance of being ready for an emergency.
Now let us move on to some of the tougher questions at hand – the questions that so far have gone unanswered.

4. Conspiracy sites for more than a year have been running pictures, stories, and even videos on YouTube about the “body boxes” and “plastic caskets” which have been produced in large numbers (some estimates go as high as half a million).

Is that something FEMA has a large inventory of? What can you tell us about these?
These urban legends are false and serve to create unfortunate distractions.
5. Another popular topic on conspiracy sites is the ongoing discussion of FEMA “concentration camps” being built on American soil with the intent of housing Americans. Some sites go so far as to predict that there will be “round ups” of people who have done nothing anti-government other than discuss or question government policies on a wide number of topics. Are these “relocation” or “disaster camps” real, and if so, what’s their purpose?

These urban legends are false and serve to create unfortunate distractions.
6. An area that has spawned tremendous anxiety on the internet is the HAARP program, which we have to admit seems to be a huge outlay of tax dollars for a small marginal return on the basic science learned about HF radio, which most propagation is well known.

While the use of HAARP for mapping underground facilities in Iran (or elsewhere) using radio tomography is highly skeptical, there’s a good body of folks on the Internet who see HAARP as related to major earthquakes and there’s even discussion of plans for a major earthquake (bigger than Japan’s quake) in the central USA – New Madrid.

So the question is: How do you answer people who think FEMA somehow gets ‘advance clues” as to what’s ahead?
As an agency focused on helping citizens prepare for emergencies, FEMA cooperates with NOAA, USGS and others that monitor weather and seismic motion and engages the communication infrastructure to best alert citizens and first responders on emergency situations that are urgent, severe and certain.
7. How much concern does FEMA have about the possibility of bioterrorism and in particular, about the concerns and responses laid out on the government’s own website?
In accordance with Presidential Policy Directive-8, FEMA activities and exercises are developed for an all-hazards approach to emergency management. This ensures maximum resilience against notice and no-notice events. For more information, visit
Okay, enough of the doom, gloom and conspiracy stuff. We have just a few more questions of a general nature.

8. What are the mechanisms in place that assure public transparency in the contingency planning processes which have to cover everything from a small impacting local event to conceivably – if movies are to be believed – things like near extinction level impacts from space?
Public Alert Warning Systems are in place to communicate with the American public through broadcast, Internet, wireless and other technologies to ensure the continuity of our form of governance by the people, of the people and for the people. For more information about this, please visit
9. We recently learned about the “National Preparedness Coalition”. What is this and why is it important to FEMA’s overall mission.
Preparedness is a whole community effort and FEMA frequently engages coalitions to help promote the concept of individual, family and community preparedness.
10. As a senior FEMA executive, what are your personal top 5 worries about the future?

This question was not answered by Mr. Langston.

The Strategic Analysis

George was a major market news director in a top-15 market for 13 years which makes him uniquely qualified to analyze FEMA’s response to our questions from a journalistic point of view. And Gaye? She doesn’t have to be a big city news mogul to smell a rat.

In his own wry way, George offers this analysis of the interview.
One of the characteristics of officialdoms at any level is that they answer the questions they want to answer, not the one you asked.
Question #1 (“What did you folks learn from Katrina/Rita?”) has only one right answer. It should have been:
'If you take people’s guns away using private contractors, shove them in a big building and don’t provide basic sanitation, food and water – plus get there WAY late – you’re asking for civil disorder. We realize that with a touchy financial system, we need to have learned from this and we have.'
They won’t say that. We got a BS filler on their org chart. -1 point.

Second question (“Would it be different today?”): We got another earful of bureaucratic bullshit. Minus another point.
OK, question three, then (“If you have how come preppers are classed with domestic terrorists by the Fusion Center types…you looking for a monopoly?"): What we got was a “We’re the experts and know what we’re doing response.”
If government was expert we wouldn’t be on the edge of a fiscal cliff with financial outfits failing left and right, would we? Minus another point…see a pattern yet?
Curtain number four (“What about those body bags and plastic coffins on video?”):
The Urban legends defense in the face of video all over the freaking Net? The “Your eyes are lying to you angle” doesn’t cut it with us.
Is number five alive? (“Concentration camps?”): Same evasive bullshit “Your eyes are lying to you” answer.
So if you run across stories about KBR doing the legwork to set up civilian camps in the US, your eyes must be deceiving you, that Army contingency planning must be wrong. Perhaps it’s an instant daycare plan? Maybe government workers are too damn busy with PR and Legal to see what’s on the Net at sites like, but you couple that with allowing internment by the military of US civilians in S. 1867 and you can get a sense of our fears when the “urban legend card” is played…twice in the same game.
Any luck with #6 (“Does FEMA get advance clues from other government operations like HAARP?”
This one didn’t answer the question of advance notice…which was the one we asked.
Seven was asking for guidance for us like “How scared should we be on bioterror?” No numbers, nothing worth repeating…just more “We’re the experts…” attitude. Sorry, down 7 out of 7.
Eight was an opportunity to roll out studies (“What’s the risk of an extinction level event?” and reassure us it can only happen every X-thousand years.
What we got was exactly what Hollywood has led us to believe: Whether the government would give notice ahead of time is still doubtful, if it would in any way impair the escape plans of the elite.
Number 9 was getting us to the question of “What is a national preparedness coalition” for those of us who are recluses, not joiners, and simply work too long and hard to be groupies of this or that?
Strikes out again with a kind of wide spectrum nebulous answer.
The Final Test of Credibility

Not to be mean about it, but when FEMA chooses not to answer “What are your Five Biggest Worries About the Future of America”, it reveals, at least to us, that FEMA is an agency where bureaucratic politicking trumps serious defense.

In the Land of George and Gaye, we can defeat any problem – since we are a great country and amazing people – but if the FEMA folks don’t have a prioritized shopping list, it’s like going to the store and spending on anything that sounds good, rather than planning for so many breakfasts, so many snacks, this many lunches, and so forth.

While we are confident there are fine and well-intentioned people in FEMA, like Mr. Penn, we’re afraid to report that substantive questions are not getting substantive answers that can be cross-checked and verified for accuracy.

Like on those plastic coffins. “We looked into that and they are not ours…they were ordered by XYZ and you can call them and ask if you wish.” That’s what we were looking for. We did not expect to be handed slop not worth wasting paper on.

Unfortunately this is likely symptomatic of government in general: Some good people with vision and clear mission hamstrung by bureaucratic butt-covering. Like Congress, come to think of it.

FEMA needs a “flying squad” to track down stories like the coffins. There needs to be punishment of those who illegally seized weapons from private citizens during Kat-Rita and there needs to be a threat-list with numbers and budgets built around a strategic response.

Unfortunately, there is no one in charge at FEMA from what we’ve seen. Process has trumped common sense, so instead of having a well-briefed, well-prepared population, we are getting stonewalled and scared that the people at the top don’t know what they are doing.

Or, as is clear from Gaye’s talk with our source: They do know what they’re doing, but legal and PR ain’t gonna let it out.

Till it’s too late, of course.

Welcome to Fugate-Gate?

Just when we thought we had heard it all, we received this interesting email from a reader who is ex-FEMA and he raises some interesting questions – similar to where our “news noses” have been pointing.
Have you heard what is going on at FEMA?
In March of this year I received a letter, after 10 years of serving my country as a Disaster Assistance Employee (DAE) that said 'thank you for your service but we are not renewing your appointment as a DAE'. They had renewed my appointment every year for years. But this year, there was no reason, no 'heads up', just done. My cadre manager wouldn’t even return my calls asking why they did not reappoint me.
I was always available to serve . . .from Tropical Storm Allison in Houston, the Columbia Space Shuttle recovery in Lufkin, and Hurricane Katrina in Florida and Louisiana, and many others in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Vermont, and, Maryland . . . always waiting for their call . . . wanting to help.
But since Craig Fugate took over as Administrator things have fallen apart. First, they let all of the DAE appointments expire this year. And then they made every DAE have to reapply for the job they currently had. They terminated my DAE status even though I had excellent job reviews so I did not have the same status to reapply that other DAEs had. So, I am drawing unemployment and social security checks when I would rather be working.
Many DAEs are not interested in reapplying. The new rules say they can only guarantee a person working 30 days a year. Wow. Who can live on that?
George and Gaye, "I am afraid Fugate is destroying what we built up after Katrina. When the next disaster happens, we will not be prepared."

Unless, of course, it is something being planned for but kept secret.

The Final Word

There is no question in our minds that our country and our world is facing problems that were not even imagined by our forefathers. Over the last hundred years, there has been a massive migration from a predominately rural society to an urban, industrialized society; and along with it less personal self-reliance and personal preparedness. After all, when you live 20, 30 or more miles from the nearest town, you have to be prepared to take care of your own food, shelter, water and medical needs. But in the cities, not so much.

Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, we have always felt that the resources of FEMA would help us embrace the family preparedness values of previous generations.

And now? We suppose the bigger question is what is it they do not want to disclose and not want us to know about?

Activist Post: FEMA Faceoff: Truth as an Urban Legend