Stupid FEMA Tech Blunder Will Thwart Some Katrina Claim Applications

09/08/2005 07:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Just what your tax-supported, Katrina-overwhelmed Federal Emergency Management Agency needs. Another manifestation of what sure appears to be their institutional, serial ineptitude.

This one isn't about buses that don't show up, or planes that mistakenly fly South Carolina-bound evacuees to West Virginia. It's about technology.

Before you think I am going to geek you out here, please understand that a good bit of this relief effort is techno-centric. I am talking about the ability to use the FEMA Website to accept online claims for losses incurred as a result of Katrina and its floody aftermath.

If you go to the FEMA website's Claims area and scroll down to the bottom of the page, you'll see this page can only support claims submitted via the Internet Explorer Web browser. Plus, you have to be running Internet Explorer 6, which isn't compatible with some older computer operating systems that may be in place at already cash-strapped public assistance agencies or in homes of relatives who are providing shelter to evacuees.

Because of this IE6-only covenant, this means the FEMA site's Claims area does not support the increasingly popular Firefox browser. This browser is now the Web access platform of by an estimated 15 percent of all Web users. True, most have IE as well, but you are asking them to jump through an extra hoop.

Maybe they have more important things to deal with than shifting browsers?

Perhaps more annoying, the FEMA Claims site is not compatible with the wireless Web browser interfaces of BlackBerry and Palm Personal Digital Assistants. Given that some of the relief workers who may be helping untold thousands with claims are sure to use these devices, the fact that these sets are technically disenfranchised from displaying and relaying FEMA Claims is inexcusable.

Surprised? No. Angry? Yes. After all, this is a Government who couldn't figure out how to upgrade the FBI computers to 21st-century standards -- and which insists on time-intensive red tape Request for Proposals for any technology more intensive than paper clips.

This fix should not be hard. Get out the coffee, FEMA, and tell some of your programmers to get this fixed. In the private sector, I have seen such upgrades become enabled within hours -- a couple of days at most. While I am most certainly not one who reflexively defers to the private sector,the expediency that private-sector code jocks have in simple matters such as this would be well for FEMA to emulate.