Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Trailers still on list of FEMA options

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency may again use travel trailers to house disaster victims, although only as a last resort and for no longer than six months, according to a draft disaster housing report.

James McIntyre, a FEMA spokesman, said the draft is now being reviewed by Secretary Michael Chertoff of the Department of Homeland Security. He expressed hope that members of Congress, who complain that they were promised a report in time for the June 1 start of the hurricane season, will be briefed about the report in the next few days.

Although FEMA Director David Paulison has said that he didn't want to use trailers again after complaints of health problems linked to high formaldehyde levels in some trailers, the agency says it might not have any choice.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Deputy FEMA Administrator Harvey Johnson said that for a disaster approaching the size of Hurricane Katrina, the agency would probably have to use all options, including trailers.

According to the contents of a draft report, first reported by The Associated Press and confirmed by a FEMA official, the agency has determined:

-- Trailers can be used, but only if authorized by the FEMA director and only after the units have been tested for formaldehyde and are within the low acceptable levels established by the agency.

-- FEMA will consider use of alternatives, such as cottages being tested in Mississippi and Louisiana.

-- Unlike after Hurricane Katrina, occupancy will be limited to no more than six months. More than 120,000 families displaced by Hurricane Katrina used trailers, with more than 80,000 using them nearly two years after the disaster. FEMA says about 500 families remain in trailers today.

-- FEMA will rely more on input from states and local governments on what kind of emergency housing to use.

-- Efforts will be made to coordinate with community groups to find alternative rental units in future disasters. FEMA will provide rent subsidies.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., expressed disappointment that Congress, which asked for a disaster housing report more than a year ago, still hasn't received one. She said that Paulison had promised her a copy by Sunday's start of the hurricane season.

"The agency has refused repeated inquiries for the plan's status from the Senate Homeland Security Committee's Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, yet it has found time to share draft elements with the media," Landrieu said. "Once again, it appears FEMA has opted to put spin ahead of accountability.