Faith-based disaster
David L. Kirp
Monday, September 19, 2005

That the Federal Emergency Management Agency mismanaged the Hurricane Katrina relief effort is old news. But there’s more to FEMA’s failure than simple bungling. The Bush administration’s core belief that faith-based organizations can do the job better than the government or experienced nonprofits has compounded the problem.

Immediately after the hurricane, there were only two secular organizations to which FEMA’s Web site urged that contributions be made; all the others were faith-based. What’s worse, in at least some instances, FEMA relied on faith-based charities to spearhead the emergency-relief effort, regardless of whether they had expertise. Case in point: Tulsa, Okla.

Years before Katrina, a coalition of public agencies and nonprofit groups in Tulsa, led by the Red Cross, had devised a disaster plan. In the wake of Katrina, the coalition quickly developed a detailed strategy to aid the survivors who, it was anticipated, would be sent to Tulsa — to provide help not just in the immediate aftermath but for the days and weeks ahead.

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