After the September 11 attacks, the Bush Administration decided to streamline the disaster relief organizational structure within the federal government and give the many agencies that handle emergencies an opportunity to work together more effectively. In June 2002 President George W. Bush proposed a new agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and with widespread support the agency was launched in March 2003. The first Secretary of Homeland Security was former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge.
FEMA was one of the agencies that were placed under the umbrella of Homeland Security. The others were the U.S. Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Transportation Security Administration, the Office for Domestic Preparedness, the Environmental Measurements Laboratory, and the Nuclear Incident Research Team. The Secret Service and the U.S. Coast Guard were also located in the Department of Homeland Security, although remaining intact as independent agencies.
The DHS provides an opportunity for businesses that want to donate goods or services toward emergency relief during and after disasters, the National Emergency Resource Registry. The private sector can play a vital role in emergency management, both during and after the emergency event. Businesses that specialize in transportation, ground transportation, for example, could provide trained volunteer drivers to assist in emergency management efforts. Interested business can register at the web site www.nerr.gov.
The events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, which struck the southern United States in August 2005, led many people to wonder whether putting FEMA under the stewardship of DHS was a wise decision. Residents of New Orleans, which was devastated by floods after several levees broke, complained that the emergency response system that should have provided basic items such as food and water for stranded citizens, had failed. Although FEMA was blamed in part for the bottleneck, local, state, and federal governments were also held responsible. The scope of the New Orleans devastation took everyone by surprise, but FEMA pledged to improve its response time and streamline any bureaucratic problems in the future.