FEMA Region III is stockpiling heater meals!!! The CDC is purchasing antibiotics!!! DHS is consolidating purchases of ammunition!!! Does this mean the apocalypse is coming on October 1st? Or, maybe worse–a government takeover?
I do love a good conspiracy theory. But as a public servant with some years of experience working with emergency stockpiles, the latest conspiracy theory about FEMA Region III prepping for some sort of apocalyptic event is pretty annoying. I’m not going to link directly to the conspiracy sites, but you’re welcome to look up this latest “alert” message making the rounds on the interewebs, saying “GOD, PLEASE HELP AMERICA” and the following “facts”:
- FEMA Region III is stockpiling $14.2 million for MREs and heater meals to be delivered by October 1st.
- 22 million pouches of emergency water to be delivered by October 1st.
- $11 million in antibiotics ordered by the CDC to be delivered by October 1st.
- 2,800 MRAPs to be delivered to DHS by October 1st.
- A World Health Organization meeting about MERS Coronavirus and a mandate for a vaccine by October 1st.
- UN Peacekeeper training for 386,000 foreign troops to be completed by October 1st.
- All DHS agents required to qualify with sidearm, shotgun and AR 15 by September 28th.
All of these “facts” are attributed to Sheldon R. Songstad, a former South Dakota state senator. No other sources are cited. On the surface, I guess these details seem terrifying. And the fact that they’re being sent out to alert America from a former state senator from South Dakota should make them all seem legit. Right?
Not so much. Here are a few basics I happen to know firsthand from working in emergency management logistics for more than five years, and working on logistics in the federal system for nearly 20 years:
October 1 Starts the Federal Fiscal Year. The federal fiscal year begins each year on October 1. That means that when it comes to government purchasing, goods must be delivered (or services rendered, etc.) before the end of the fiscal year in order to be paid for out of the funding allocated for that year. And often if this doesn’t happen, those allocated funds will disappear and have to come out of the next year’s funding, costing your agency effectively double the money out of your budget. And your budget for the next year may be reduced based on the funding you didn’t spend the previous year. So that October 1 deadline can be a pretty serious thing for an agency’s budget.
Emergency Stockpiling is a Thing. After the human disaster we saw after Hurricane Katrina, where it took days and weeks to get vital supplies and help to people and to equip responders, government agencies at city, state, and federal levels invested a lot of time and money to develop stockpiles of critical supplies that could be moved quickly to wherever they’re needed. This actually takes more planning than you might think. But MREs, heater meals, water rations, and other life-sustaining supplies and responder equipment are all common components in most, if not all, of the emergency stockpiles that have been created across the country.
Stockpiled Supplies Expire and Need Replacing. MREs (meals ready-to-eat) last only a couple of years if you keep them at a steady, low temperature. Bottled water is typically marked with a two-year expiration date, and starts to taste like plastic after 12 to 18 months. Medications (in stockpiled first aid kits, for example) usually expire in one to two years. Even toothpaste (in stockpiled toiletry kits) lasts no more than two years. So part of stockpiling is the rotation out of expiring supplies and their replacement with new items–and usually before the fiscal year ends.
Stockpiled Medications Managed by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) are a Thing. Called the Strategic National Stockpile, the CDC works with state and local governments to place caches of antibiotics and other medications that could be needed in a pandemic outbreak or a bioterrorism event in important locations like hospitals, fire departments, police departments, and other places you’d want them to be. And because medications expire on a continuous basis, replacement medications are purchased just about every year.
The U.S. Military Has a Crapload of MRAPs that Need to Go Somewhere. Military surplus has been an inevitability after every war since at least the Civil War, and I’ve personally seen about a zillion military vehicles go back to the U.S. from Afghanistan–mostly MRAPs. Like it or not, the government is going to recoup costs on these–by selling them or transferring them to other agencies. But because no government agency gives another government agency anything for free–these transactions will show as sales. So expect to see your local college police sporting an up-armored RG-31 or somesuch. Because they can.
But maybe the most worthwhile thing to note about this FEMA Region III “alert” is that it is attributed entirely to Sheldon R. Songstad, a former South Dakota state senator. I looked him up, and the only thing I could find was his record of service in South Dakota from 1971 to 1978, and 1985-1988. And that he is presently 75 years old. Who is this guy, really? And what’s his investment in sending out misleading or dubious information to make people panicky about the federal government? I don’t have any answers, but I do have some thoughts on the other items in the “alert”:
MERS Coronavirus Isn’t a Thing. Coronaviruses are common and cause upper-respiratory infections. The MERS version was identified last year, originating from the Middle East. But it is not a thing in the U.S. Anyone can look this up on the CDC website and write scary misinformation about it.
386,000 Foreign Troops is Absurd. The size of the entire active duty Navy is in the 300,000s. The size of the entire active duty Air Force is also in the 300,000s. (You can look the numbers up here.) Can you imagine a scenario where the U.S. brings in–even over the course of twelve months–a force of people the size of our entire Navy or Air Force? Neither can I. This is made up.
The U.S. Has Urban Operations Training Areas. And it’s a good thing if you ask me. FEMA and responders from federal, state, and local agencies train at places like the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, and these events make them better able to respond in real events in their home jurisdictions. Increasingly, military areas are being utilized by federal, state, and local law enforcement and other responder agencies because it’s a pretty efficient use of space and funding. Weapons ranges, training areas, all that. Scary? Only if you follow it up with a line in all caps like “GOD, HELP OUR COUNTRY.”
There’s plenty more misleading information out there, and I’m honestly not sure why the perpetrators of misinformation find it beneficial to get regular, well-meaning people to believe their scary hype and mistrust their government. Holding government accountable is a good thing. But we have to do this with actual facts and information, not conspiracy theories. Ultimately, our government is only as good as our participation in it.
Here are a few other conspiracies as of late:
FEMA Concentration Camps. People have taken footage from camps in North Korea and gotten well-intended Americans to believe that somehow, someway, this under-staffed federal agency would somehow have the capacity to set up and operate concentration camps to imprison American citizens on our own soil. Popular Mechanics ran a great article debunking the nonsense, but then people are still persuaded that PM is part of a media conspiracy. Please help to stop the madness, folks.
DHS Ammunition. Because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) puts out requests for proposals (RFPs) for ammunition vendors to sell ammunition for the 90+ law enforcement agencies it supports (totaling some 100,000+ officers), the quantities of ammunition rounds for training and law enforcement purposes may seem high to regular folks who don’t do this for a living. People think their government must be out to get them. But then think of it from another angle: if, say, Border Patrol officers went to the media saying they couldn’t do their jobs because there wasn’t enough ammunition for training, or for them to carry on the job–what would the outcry be then? A good de-bunking blog post is at the New York Times.
Forced Home Inspections from Obamacare. People complain about politicians, yet are quick to pick up their politicized statements and run with them. Again, please help to stop the madness. PolitiFact traced this complete lie back to its source.
But generally speaking, it is easy to look at the bare facts of a situation and make up a story out of it. Take, for example, a situation where you had hundreds of emergency managers working 12+ hour shifts every day for weeks, and not being permitted to go outside for lunch or dinner because work was truly nonstop on each and every shift. What do you do? You provide food for your workers, right? Well, pizza might be an option one or two days. But say your agency ends up calling in for pizza over and over because it’s cheap and most people will eat it, even if it’s reluctantly after many, many days of pizza. Yet when someone at the New York Daily News grabs the dollar amount after weeks and months of constant work–all they have is this to say.
Believe it or not, good people work in government, and they do it because they care about what they do. And you count on those people to be there when you need them. It’s part of what makes it pretty great to live in a country like the United States. That, dear readers, is what’s legit.