Plague Busters
How well would the government's Federal Emergency Managment Agency respond to real acts of God
By Chris Rodell
August 2001

The Book of Revelations 3:10 prophesies "that the hour of trial is coming ... to try those who dwell upon the earth." Clearly, that would be 9 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays when television is a veritable purgatory until finally, blessedly, Three's Company reruns air. End times are nigh.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is charged with responding to so-called acts of God. In deferential fairness to the Almighty, tornados, floods and earthquakes are Mother Nature with PMS. You want acts of God? Check out Exodus 7-10. Pagan Egyptians were smote with plagues of gnats, frogs, locusts and three days of thick, perpetual darkness for their craven sinfulness. Former FEMA director James Lee Witt visited 356 federally declared disasters during his seven-year tenure. He said the agency's ready for anything.

"If it was a swarm of frogs the first thing I'd do would be to call the animal rights groups to find out if any of them were an endangered species -- wouldn't want to get dragged into a lawsuit," Witt said. "Then I'd get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to have a huge frog roundup."

An Arkansas native, Witt said such a plague would make for a dandy barbecue. "You'd have to be careful cutting the ligaments or the legs will still kick when they're on the plate."

Insect plagues would require calls to the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency to determine potential infections and which pesticides could be safely sprayed in populated areas. FEMA would be ready to provide loans under the Farmer's Disaster Relief Program. Witt clarifies: "That's loans, not grants. Of course, the loan interest payments would be reasonable." Just another reason why there's no such thing as a happy farmer.

Contingency plans for perpetual darkness were in place for Y2K: lots of generators. The consumption-happy cowboys in the White House would unveil long-secret Grand Canyon contingency drilling plans to keep the fossil fuel flowing.

All the water turning into blood is a toughie. FEMA is prepared to deploy water buffalos, purifiers and reverse osmosis machines so your morning grooming needn't be a real bloodbath. Assuming fish can't "breathe" in blood, a large loss of aquatic life would need to be incinerated to keep contamination at bay. Yuck. If the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers were stumped, Witt said he would beseech a higher power -- and, no, he didn't mean Dick Cheney.

What if it wasn't bloody water, but too much water, flood of biblical proportions? FEMA would "Know-ah" what to do if massive Eastern Seaboard flooding suddenly turned Topeka into higher ground. Affected populations would be relocated and housed and then, Witt said, "it would be wise for everyone -- and I mean everyone -- to start bagging sand."

Fire and brimstone sounds like an apocalyptic meteor strike. Pointy-headed astrologers would, we hope, give us plenty of warning that the giant rocks were about to spike in the ultimate touchdown. Assuming outer space missions aimed at destroying the meteor failed, FEMA would work with the Department of Defense to evacuate target zones and ensure looters and vandals weren't around to cause any sticky fingered-mischief. "Then an army of professional and volunteer firefighters would be sent to a safe perimeter ready to dash in and extinguish the fires."

It would all be very reassuring if Witt hadn't confessed FEMA has no contingency plans for responding to any 500-foot lizards crashing through Manhattan, although he gets points for a creative dodge.

"That wouldn't be an act of God," he said, "that would be an act of Godzilla."
The man's not called Witt for nothing.

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