With the recent devastation in Japan, the paragon of earthquake preparedness, Americans are rightfully questioning the readiness of the United States to handle a large-scale national disaster. In spite of the supposed progress the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has made since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there is wide spread doubt that FEMA could respond effectively and efficiently to a crisis of Japan-like magnitude.

In a recent report, Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner echoes The Heritage Foundation in his assessment of FEMA’s ability to handle to national catastrophe. He states the following: “As more disasters are declared and disasters stay open for longer periods of time, more FEMA staff resources are diverted from planning and preparedness efforts.” This statement is essentially on target with The Heritage Foundation’s past analysis (see a more complete list below).

With the increased presidential declarations of disasters in recent years, FEMA’s finite resources are stretched in such a way that the United States is not adequately prepared to handle another Katrina or a Japan. When federal funds are continually diverted to aid areas hit by routine natural disasters, fewer resources are available both for planning large-scale disaster responses and for executing the plans should a national catastrophe occur.

Although the trend in the last 20 years has been the increased federalization of emergency management with President Barack Obama declaring more major disaster declarations in the first two years of his presidency than any other President at the two year mark, Mr. Skinner’s statement provides a glimmer of hope of the return to federalism in our country’s emergency response system.

Regardless of where you sit, almost everyone wants an emergency response system that can take action immediately to mitigate the life-altering effects of a national catastrophe. There is little question that we need to be ready when disasters strike because they, unfortunately, inevitably will from time to time. If our current President and future Presidents want to truly be prepared, they will reserve the use FEMA for its original purpose and return the responsibility of routine disasters back to the states.