Friday, September 09, 2005


FEMA online for the few—and some help

You may have heard that you can register online for assistance from FEMA, but that's a bit misleading. You can register for assistance (1) if you can get online, and (2) if you're using Internet Explorer 6.0 and (3) if their servers aren't overloaded. As they said as the levees were breaking, Good Luck!

Today FEMA has added a note to the first page of the registration process—

Does the online application require Internet Explorer?

Yes and no.

Currently to complete your application online you must be using Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6.0 or above. We are in the process of modifying the application so that it will be available to additional browsers.

If you do not have Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher, you may still be able to check the status of your application and update your information online once you have registered by phone.

Yes and No? The answer to the question is "YES"—period. (Is there any way we can stop the government from lying?)

And of course you might as well try predicting the next hurricane disaster as to predict when FEMA will be able to accept applications from other browsers. Great planning, guys!

Then there's this—

Received an Error Message?

Due to the heavy load on our online registration application some of you are receiving an error message when you try to apply. We apologize for this and ask you to call the FEMA Technical Helpdesk at 1-800-745-0243 for further assistance.

NBC Nightly News gave it a try last night (See "FEMA site frustration," but only if you're using IE6!). No luck. And forget the Helpdesk!

Still, considering that FEMA recommends calling between 2 am and 6 am if you want to register by phone—1-800-621-FEMA (3362) and 1-800-462-7585 for hearing/speech impaired—registering online may be worth a try.

Help for Mozilla and Firefox users

If you're using either Mozilla or Firefox, there's help! is providing a "User Agent Switcher Extension" that will allow you to fill out the FEMA application using either browser. The extension works for Windows, MacOS X and Linux versions of Firefox and Mozilla. The folks at Macs Only! say they've tested the Mac version and it works.

Gee! All this in open-source software in just a few days for less than a gazillion dollars. You think they could get a Homeland Security or FEMA grant? Not likely unless they (1) are certified Republican donors, (2) raise the cost by a factor of at least a million, (3) do the job in not under six months to a year, and (4) keep the code "top secret."

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