Disasters are, quite simply, scary. They leave those affected looking for leadership and guidance. The federal government can step in to provide this guidance and help with short- and long-term disaster relief, as well as provide the simple comfort that someone is looking out for displaced or devastated residents.
President Bill Clinton sent key members of the administration out to Los Angeles within hours of the Northridge quake in 1994 to join with then-mayor Richard Riordan to assess the damage and begin recovery efforts. The president, vice president, and key Cabinet members all flew out to the area three days later for a fully public conference with state and local emergency relief officials and leaders in nonprofit relief efforts.
Administration officials revisited the area many times over the next three to six months. Some administration officials were also detailed to stay in the area and help coordinate federal relief activities.
The federal government also took tangible action to get relief funds out quickly. Administration officials immediately implemented an incident command system to facilitate an organized and coordinated response effort along with several disaster application centers that served as "one-stop shops" for earthquake assistance information.
The Obama administration has been similarly quick to respond to the current disaster. The administration worked to contain the immediate environmental damage while BP worked for months to stop the oil gusher. The Coast Guard was the first on the scene to try and save injured workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig, and the administration later appointed Admiral Thad Allen as the National Incident Commander for the entire response. The military has a unique ability to deploy personnel and technology incredibly quickly, and the Coast Guard and National Guard’s strong presence has brought a measure of comfort to Gulf Coast residents—even though several governors in the region have yet to take full advantage of these resources.
The White House has also set up a one-stop resource center for Gulf Coast residents at www.restorethegulf.gov, with information ranging from how to file a claim with BP or the federal government, to how to volunteer to clean tar balls off coastal beaches.
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