FEMA: Help Is Just a Toll-Free Call Away*

Friday, September 09, 2005

FEMA: Help Is Just a Toll-Free Call Away*

(* - But try rubbing a rabbit's foot and waving a four-leaf clover as you dial.)

I won't even suggest that I've felt the tragedy of Katrina in any direct sense. The closest I've come to it is watching and listening to the experiences of a co-worker of mine who grew up in New Orleans. Her parents were living there when the hurricane approached the shore.

Yesterday afternoon, through the wall of my office, I could hear my co-worker patiently trying to talk her parents through the task of filling out an insurance claim form. A half-hour later, I watched her grow frustrated trying to get through on FEMA's toll-free number. For hours, the agency's toll-free line was busy.

Then, I thought she was going to snap after she heard a FEMA official at an official briefing (via C-Span, I believe) try to reassure the public that all people needed to do was to dial FEMA's toll-free number. Yes, this was the same number on which she had been unable to get an answer for several hours.

Even if that toll-free number weren't constantly busy, the Bush administration official seems to have overlooked the fact that most cell towers are either down or overwhelmed by capacity. And it isn't just a cell phone problem. Even yesterday, many people trying to use land lines to reach friends or family in the affected states only heard phone company recordings.

Oh, yeah, one last thing. That official also encouraged evacuees and their families to apply for help by going online and visiting FEMA's website.

What's that? You didn't carry your Dell notebook computer with you as you rushed to your car to evacuate? Jeez, what were you people thinking?

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