EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation September 24, 2008
Stafford Act Reform
A Group Discussion on Recommended Changes
Vice President, Crisis and Consequence Management
James Lee Witt Associates
The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A text transcript is available from our Transcript Index. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org
[Welcome / Introduction]
Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum. We are expecting a very lively discussion today on the topic of changes to the Stafford Act. To a number of observers, the Stafford Act, while mostly adequate for "major" disasters, does not meet the unique characteristics of "catastrophic" disasters.
Please note, there is a related poll question on our home page. Please take time after the session to vote and review the results thus far. Also, if you have not already looked at the ten pre-posted discussion questions, please access from today's Background Page or at http://www.emforum.org/vforum/080924.htm#QUESTIONS and look them over. Links to related material are also provided on the Background Page.
Now it is my pleasure to introduce today's special guest. Andrew Sachs is Vice President of Crisis and Consequence Management at James Lee Witt Associates. Mr. Sachs is currently one of two senior management staff leading the JLWA recovery team in Louisiana.
Mr. Sachs has since served as a senior advisor to both the Governor and Executive Director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority on matters related to disaster response and recovery, including how to maximize Federal assistance to the State and local governments and how best to work with FEMA to achieve results. While in Louisiana, Mr. Sachs led the State's long-term community recovery planning effort with the 26 most impacted parishes, and developed and implemented regional and statewide planning activities designed to address issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries.
Additionally, Mr. Sachs provided technical assistance and support for the State's initial implementation of the Public Assistance Program, to include resolution of critical issues and disagreements with FEMA, representation of applicant and State needs, and communications with applicants.
Welcome Drew and thank you for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off with some introductory remarks on our topic.
Drew Sachs: Thank you, Amy. I've spent most of my summer in Iowa, so it's a welcome break to join in this virtual forum.
The experience of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and even events like this summer's flooding in the Midwest in the state of Iowa, demonstrated that the existing structures that generally provide support for smaller or "garden-variety" disasters do not always apply when dealing with large numbers of evacuees, billions of dollars of damages to public and private buildings and infrastructure, the long-term incapacitation of entire jurisdictions and regions, and the decimation of community tax revenue streams, economic systems, and social structures.
The Stafford Act provides significant flexibility for creative approaches in addressing disaster needs. But, its toolbox is incomplete and too much is left to the discretion of individuals in power at the time of any given event.
What is needed now is a catastrophic annex to the Stafford Act, which can be triggered once certain lofty measures of disaster impact are met. We will address those measures in connection with our discussion question #1, but any definition should establish high-enough thresholds that it would not produce unnecessary costs, yet it would provide for use of the catastrophic annex when it was necessary. Once triggered, certain automatic adjustments would help reduce uncertainty, allow responders to focus attention on critical needs rather than bureaucratic paperwork exercises, and encourage rapid response and recovery efforts.
The benefits of a catastrophic annex to the Stafford Act would eliminate the non-federal cost-share for Public Assistance (PA)--both emergency work and permanent restorative work--as well as Individual Assistance (IA), and Hazard Mitigation programs (HMPG) and state management and administrative costs attributable to the event.
A catastrophic declaration should also provide other key changes to normal disaster practice, such as the following:
It would extend key timelines for the delivery of disaster relief programs and disaster unemployment assistance;
It would make the cost of so called straight-time, force-account labor eligible for reimbursement if it is directly tied to the disaster effort.
The Annex would provide increased funding caps for Community Disaster Loans (CDLs), which are to assist local governments who have lost tax revenues and cannot cover operational costs.
It would fund operations related to the housing and care of displaced populations, both within the effected states and in other states where evacuees are housed.
A catastrophic annex would establish "gap funding" out of the president's Disaster Relief Fund to support the front-funding of relief efforts of other federal departments and agencies when their existing budgets are insufficient to meet immediate disaster-related needs. This provision would last until Congress can approve supplemental funding (institutionalized through legislation regulation, as appropriate).
It would provide clear authority for the use of Disaster Relief Fund expenditures to provide technical assistance to support long-term local, regional and state recovery planning and coordination; and
the passage of a catastrophic annex to the Stafford Act should encourage the application of "common sense" flexibility in the delivery of disaster relief programs (as long as it is not expressly prohibited by law or regulation), and the rapid issuance and/or revision of guidance and policy to meet disaster needs.
With that, I will turn it back over to our Moderator to get our discussion going.
Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Drew, and now we will move to our discussion questions. Our discussion is based on selected themes from three sources:
Remarks by James Lee Witt at a NYU-hosted event of May 6, 2008. (Brief article at http://www.nyu.edu/brademas/pdf/ArkDemGaz5.7.08.pdf )
"Recommendations on the Stafford Act and Related Federal Regulations: Public Assistance and Individual Assistance Issues," DHS/FEMA National Advisory Council, August 19, 2008 http://www.fema.gov/pdf/about/nac/recommendation_stafford_act_related_federal_regulations_issues.pdf
The Stafford Act: Priorities for Reform, Mitchell L. Moss, NYU Center for Catastrophic Preparedness and Response, October 17, 2007 http://www.nyu.edu/ccpr/pubs/Report_StaffordActReform_MitchellMoss_10.03.07.pdf
After each question, our speaker will input his comments, then we will open the floor for YOUR comments on the specific issue.
Question 1. If a new "Catastrophic Disaster" category were created, how should it be defined?
Drew Sachs: I believe that a Catastrophic Disaster could be defined as any major disaster in which such designation has been requested by the Governor of the State in which the disaster occurred, and in which one or more of the following has occurred:
(1) There has been a near complete loss of continuity of government in several political jurisdictions across a region that have been mostly or entirely incapacitated by either the direct effects of a Presidentially-declared disaster or the subsequent financial crisis resulting from said disaster;
(2) The impacted state is expected to lose more than 10% of its tax-related revenues for any fiscal quarter as a result of the event in the fiscal year in which the disaster occurred or in a subsequent fiscal year(s);
(3) Federal costs under this Act are expected to exceed $1,500 per capita (adjusted annually according to inflation) in the state that was impacted by the disaster; and/or
(4) The Presidentially-declared disaster produces regional or national impacts that are expected to negatively impact national gross domestic product by at least .25%.
Robert Cullins: The idea of a "Catastrophic Disaster" category is great and I like your concepts. How would we get this accomplished?
Drew Sachs: That's the challenge. Right now, there is actually a good deal of support for Stafford reform or a catastrophic annex but at the same time, there are some powerful opponents -- primarily the Administration itself and Senators Collins and Lieberman. I think that with the advent of Hurricane Ike, and the Iowa floods (which most people don't realize will end up in the top 10-12 disasters of all time from a FEMA obligations standpoint) to get Congress to revisit this issue.
Paul Jacks: What are the main points of opposition by Senators Lieberman and Collins?
Drew Sachs: As I understand it, there is concern about the fact that by reopening Stafford, the Congress will see this as opening up the candy store to a large array of potentially costly changes. Also, some question whether we should let the situation settle out some more with FEMA as part of DHS.
Audra Kunf: What is the basis for establishing the percentages? i.e., impacted state loses 10% or more of tax related revenues; and negative impact to gross domestic product by at least .25%?
Drew Sachs: There's no magic to it. The intention was to select a threshold that is significant enough that getting a designation as a "catastrophic disaster" would be difficult to get. I suggested the 10% threshold because I witnessed a nearly 15% loss in Louisiana after Katrina, and that event clearly could have used catastrophic declaration provisions. The .25% GDP threshold was something used in part to justify additional supplemental funds after the Midwest Floods of 1993, and was both accepted by Congress and the Administration as demonstrating the regional importance of the event.
Question 2. Does the Stafford Act need to be revised to include the broader spectrum of 21st Century hazards in any declaration category?
Drew Sachs: As currently written, there is some question as to whether the Stafford Act provides FEMA and the other federal agencies with the clear authorities related to certain acts of terrorism or technological hazards. While I do not believe the lack of clarity causes any serious issues (since there are sufficient authorities in other legislation associated with "lead" agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security), Stafford probably ought to be clarified to ensure there are no questions about the involvement of FEMA or Stafford Act authorities when such an event occurs to assist with consequences management efforts.
Amy Sebring: Drew, is pandemic flu appropriately covered currently?
Drew Sachs: I don't think it is explicitly laid out in Stafford, but yes, a pandemic flu event can easily be considered under the broad "natural hazards" definitions in the Act.
Question 3. When disasters impact multiple states, should disaster declarations be based on an aggregate of county damage assessments, irrespective of which state they are located in?
Drew Sachs: I do not believe disasters should be based on aggregate county damage assessments irrespective of the state in which they are located. A fundamental premise of the Stafford Act is built on the premise that federal assistance should only be provided when the consequences of the event exceed State and local capabilities.
A breadth of damage across multiple states does not necessarily demonstrate that this "test" has been met. For example, an event that damages or destroys 150 homes in a single state may very well exceed state and local capacity. That same event with identical damage levels, this time spread across two states may not exceed state and local capacity, because the resources and capabilities of each state alone to address its own recovery needs may not be exceeded.
The only caveat I want to provide to this position, however, is when a truly regional and catastrophic event occurs, such as a major hurricane that impacts multiple states up the east coast. In such an instance, resources available to states and local governments may be significantly reduced as the nation's resources to respond are stretched among multiple states over a large geographic area.
When such an event occurs, the overall regional impacts ought to be considered when the decision is made as to whether to approve or reject a State's request for a disaster declaration. When a disaster crosses state boundaries, though, it remains important to consider the resources of all of the state and local jurisdictions impacted before declaring a Presidential Disaster.
Amy Sebring: Very few states have any kind of disaster fund to provide the equivalent of individual or public assistance.
Robert Cullins: It seems to me that it would be difficult to administer when a disaster crosses state boundaries. So who would handle it, then? Lots of problems I think. Just a comment.
Greg Smith: I agree. Some states are certainly more capable of handling large scale events, and to lump these states in with others less capable would confuse the entire premise of requesting and receiving federal aid, and could damage the veracity of future requests.
Drew Sachs: I agree -- and think that generally, handling disasters on a state-by-state basis. That's not how the emergency management system is built. I think the events should be declared on a state basis, but consideration can be given of more regional issues to determine the appropriate level of support in each state.
Carl Cook: Drew, that sounds logical, but how do you get around state and local autonomy?
Timothy Tuckey: Another question might be whether states should be required to exhaust EMAC support before requesting federal assistance.
Drew Sachs: EMAC is very important, but I don't think that EMAC resources should be a consideration point for a declaration. EMAC, by definition, means that the resources are not available in the stricken state. If anything, that's a demonstration that the event is beginning to go beyond their capability level, and might justify a declaration.
Charles Hagerhjelm: Leave it alone.
Question 4. Should the "capable states" be given more authority to administer block grants or advanced funding for the Public Assistance program?
Drew Sachs: I do believe that Section 406 of the Act should be amended to allow capable states to implement the Public Assistance program themselves, using a Federal "block grant." An estimate of costs could be established early in the disaster, and 50% of that amount could be provided immediately. After 6 months, a revised estimate is established, and 75% of that amount could be provided (including the first block grant amount). Then, after 18 months, a final amount is reached, whereby the State can receive 90% of the total. The remaining 10% could be provided at close-out.
This change would provide States greater control over the program and speed deliver of assistance. It would also significantly reduce the overhead and staff costs to FEMA after a disaster. Rather than having to sustain staff and recovery facilities for many years, FEMA could effectively close its on-scene offices in the first 3-6 or so months for all but the largest disasters, leaving capable states to do the work of implementing the program. As long as such a block grant program is followed by a robust review and audit of state-managed programs, we should be able to achieve both improved program delivery and accountability for taxpayer funds.
Carl Cook: That works for HMGP, so I agree that it could work for PA.
Robert Cullins: How to define "capable states"?
Drew Sachs: I think that's the rub. That will need to be defined, but I'd recommend that be developed with direct State input and not solely at the federal level. Personally, I see it as a combination of staff levels, experience, and audit results.
Paul Jacks: I have long been a proponent of devolvement, but there has to be recognition of the actual costs of state administration.
Drew Sachs: I also strongly agree with that. The current rules for program and project management from FEMA are insane, and reflect very little of the true costs of managing an event. I really feel that FEMA has tried to over-think this issue. There are many other construction programs at the federal level like Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for instance, that already have standardized admin and management costs. Generally, they all fall in the 8%-14% range.
Yet FEMA seems to think that the same projects can be managed for 3.34% for PA and 4.48% for HMGP. Personally, I'd like to see them manage their own responsibilities under those programs for those amounts. I think it's better to default to proven government standards elsewhere for construction-based programs, and give up on the calculated formulas and justifications.
Charles Hagerhjelm: Only if the additional costs to manage such a system are eligible for reimbursement, preferably at 100%. This system could relieve FEMA of much of their responsibility as it does for Managing States in HMGP.
Audra Kunf: What about states that have received 'advances' yet are reluctant to distribute the funds lower down?
Drew Sachs: Well, I'm proposing making PA a state-administered program when states show themselves to be capable; that comes with responsibility. States need to determine if they feel comfortable advancing large amounts of funding to their subgrantees. If they do, they can decide to advance funds. If not, or if they want to reduce the risk on the back end through audits, they can provide less or none. It's all about giving states the flexibility to own their own events, and make those decisions for themselves.
Paul Jacks: There are so many good examples of effective federalism out there. It is weird how resistant FEMA has been over the years, although James Lee Witt certainly helped point the program in the right direction in the '90s.
Question 5. What changes are needed to the Public Assistance program to encourage communities to rebuild smarter?
Drew Sachs: When larger events occur, communities are often faced with factors in their recovery that make building back the way it was before a poor decision. For example, after Katrina, south Louisiana communities experienced a loss of population and tax base that may take 20 years to restore, if at all, and reconstruction in a way that recreates the same risks and that does not recognize the population and economic impacts of the disaster over the longer-term translates into wasted funding and lost opportunities.
In such instances, flexibility in the use of Public Assistance funds during the recovery, without penalizing applicants for their decision making, can help the community adjust to the post-disaster reality. Two primary changes are recommended:
First, communities that choose to pursue an alternate project in the aftermath of a disaster should not be penalized with reduced funding for making decisions that are smarter for their community.
Secondly, Section 406 hazard mitigation should be utilized very liberally and throughout impacted structures -- in fact, Id recommend that it become mandatory rather than discretionary -- without the strict requirement that the measures funded must be directly tied to a damaged element. Instead, investment in mitigation measures designed to protect against similar damages in the future should be the standard applied to determine eligibility.
Amy Sebring: There have been some suggestions recently that certain vulnerable areas not be encouraged to build infrastructure back at all.
Audra Kunf: ESF 14 started off with a bang, and has been proven to work well when coupled with PA. Why aren't we hearing more about incorporating long-term community planning into the Public Assistance program? I think a mandated long term community recovery (LTCR) along with the DMA2000 requirements would really benefit PA projects and the program overall.
Drew Sachs: Yes, and establishing a penalty on project funding when they want to invest their PA dollars in alternative projects elsewhere does nothing to encourage smart decision making. I think the ESF-14 concept is an excellent one, but I also think that FEMA has been somewhat schizophrenic in its application and hasn't corporately "bought in" to the concept yet. Long-term planning can be a big help for PA investments, but until PA becomes a program guided by results rather than just how much time it takes to move the money (both at the federal and state levels), the impact of ESF-14 on PA expenditures will be relatively minor.
Paul Jacks: I totally agree. For large-scale or catastrophic events, there needs to be more flexibility, less regulation, and more pre-planning. FEMA should encourage (fund) recovery planning to facility more robust recovery activity post-event. ESF 14 has some good approaches.
Carl Cook: E$SF 14 was designed only for mega disasters, not the garden variety. It's assumed that locals can do their own planning for these.
Robert Cullins: Besides incentives for rebuilding smarter, should there be dis-incentives if they don't?
Drew Sachs: I think the system is already filled with some of them (flood insurance requirements for construction in floodplains, for instance) but they often don't carry enough "kick" in a post-disaster context when there is intense pressure to simply get things back to normal again. I'm not sure what dis-incentives you're thinking of by making the statement, but it may be difficult to find one that is both effective and politically acceptable.
Question 6. Are changes needed in the way reimbursement is made for public employees time devoted to disaster response and recovery?
Drew Sachs: In smaller, garden-variety disasters, I do not believe that reimbursement of straight time for public employees already on salary makes sense. In the aftermath of a larger or catastrophic event, however, I think that FEMA reimbursement not only makes sense, but it is a necessity. In smaller events, the amount of time dedicated to straight-time employees to disaster response and recovery is relatively minor and should be considered a local contribution to the cost of the disaster. And for recovery, many of those costs can be captured as eligible project expense.
For larger events, however, such employees -- if they are present and available to perform the job at all -- are completely overwhelmed over long periods of time by the management of response and recovery efforts, thereby taking them away from "normal" government functions. Those functions still must be accomplished, however, resulting in increased costs to the jurisdictions, and/or delayed recovery.
Amy Sebring: There is a great deal of difference in local capacity depending on size of the community.
Matt Farlow: States must ensure the state and local employee organization guidelines allow for payment of overtime. During Katrina, Louisiana had a couple of organizations that were not eligible for that.
Norma Houston: This is an issue that causes great confusion for local governments - clarification of the federal policy is desperately needed.
Audra Kunf: I have a bit of an issue with 'public employees. Those in emergency management/safety usually have 'built ins' for the additional overtime, even those who are 'salaried'. I've seen far too many elected officials at the gravy train whenever there's been a declared disaster--they got paid for their 'existence'.
Drew Sachs: Overtime issues are confusing in every disaster. And often, local rules and contract requirements don't meet FEMA requirements unless they are crafted with reimbursement in mind.
Charles Hagerhjelm: Have there been any proposals for a threshold to justify paying straight time?
Drew Sachs: I am unaware of any concrete proposals, but it's being discussed at all levels, including in Congress.
Don Hartley: As for smaller disasters, we had a small, poor town hit by a tornado in the spring. They have a small public works department that had to be pulled off all normal projects to accomplish debris removal on rights-of-way for more than a week. This had a major direct impact on "normal" government" operations for weeks after that.
Robert Cullins: As a former local government Emergency Manager, I found that the employees on straight time were pulled away from their normal duties, which citizens had expected, so that the employees could handle the disaster. Then overtime was paid to cover their normal duties. Not fair that their disaster work wasn't covered by FEMA.
Matt Farlow: I know that FEMA did pick up New Orleans payroll for a period of time after Katrina, but no guidelines to do so.
Carl Cook: I like Hagerhjelm's direction. Why not reclassify local employees for the duration of the recovery and use them 100% for recovery?
Drew Sachs: I agree that there are impacts -- that's why they are called disasters. But a short-term impact like the one Don describes should be manageable -- I'm more worried about the Public Works department that has to work on debris removal for months, as after Katrina.
Paul Jacks: I think paying for straight time is messy. I think FEMA needs to look at some form of direct budget relief for catastrophic events. The examples from Katrina are compelling where you have jurisdictions that lost so much revenue for a long period of time. The CDL program doesn't provide much and it is too bureaucratic a process.
Audra Kunf: If changes are made for public employees, there's going to have to be more guidance for force account as well, I think.
Brad Hattaway: EMS appears to be limited in their ability to get reimbursement. We had local challenges as it reflected from reimbursements from insurance and PA reimbursement. EMS was used for evacuations, that were not billable, but FEMA said we could collect from insurance, which was inaccurate, and therefore our claims were denied in the past -- both staff and equipment. Extra crews were put on, extra units were put on the road, all determined ineligible. There needs to be better clarification for a County-run operation.
Drew Sachs: I think the key from all of the comments today is this: (1) clarity is needed for the rules; and (2) states and communities need to consider these issues as they develop their own plans for disaster response and recovery.
Question 7. In a catastrophic scenario, what changes are needed in the Community Disaster Loan (CDL) program?
Drew Sachs: After catastrophic events, communities may be faced with the absolute collapse of their tax and revenue base over extended periods of time. Probably the best example of this is St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, which was 100% flooded by Katrina and which will take many years - if not a decade or more - before it comes back to where it was before the storm.
In the wake of such a disaster, however, government activity needs to not only be restored - it must increase in order to handle both day-to-day and disaster-related functions. A community without the operational resources to live up to these responsibilities will be forced to cut back on personnel and other key resources at the time they need them the most, thus increasing the risk of a failed or delayed recovery.
In their current form, CDL's are insufficient to address this need due to the limits on funding. Caps on the CDL program need to be lifted. For that reason, I recommend that we amend Section 5184 (b) to greatly extend the cap for funding under this program in the event of a truly catastrophic disaster or series of disasters that threaten the existence and/or continuation of basic services in impacted jurisdictions.
It is also worth considering the true worst-case scenario - when not only a local government, but a state, becomes the victim (and thus is incapacitated) by a disaster. For a period of time, Louisiana fell into this category after Katrina, but there are many other scenarios that could arise that could even be worse (consider, for example, either a much stronger hurricane than Katrina, or a chemical / biological / radiological / nuclear event that could impact a state's revenue stream for years after an event occurs.
For this reason, I would also recommend adding language to Section 5184 as part of a catastrophic annex to Stafford to provide for the possibility of a State counterpart to the CDL program, which will provide funding to replace lost State revenues in the event of a truly catastrophic disaster or series of disasters.
Alix Stayton: America as a whole finds it hard to justify funds held in reserve over long periods of time. I would be concerned that even if this were in place, it wouldn't stick
Drew Sachs: As for Alix's statement, I don't expect funding to sit around idle awaiting a CDL request. It would stay in the Disaster Relief Fund, available for broad use until needed.
Audra Kunf: I can see issues on a case by case basis
Matt Farlow: What if you did have a CBRN event and a large area of the population departs the state, does that still justify providing lost revenue?
Drew Sachs: As for Matt's statement about a CBRN event, that's exactly why I see the possibility of a State CDL being needed. Such an event could have some longer-term consequences, which would need to be addressed so as not to result in the financial failure of a state government. That will take time, and $$ may be needed to bridge the gap.
Question 8. What changes are needed with respect to evacuees and transportation assistance to return them to their communities?
Drew Sachs: Many residents of the Gulf Coast states were unable to evacuate because they did not have the means to do so. The consequences of the inability to evacuate are enormous. While many are focused on federal authorities to support evacuations before a disaster strikes, my primary concern is on the back-end of an evacuation -- when people who have been evacuated long distances away from their homes and communities need to return but have insufficient resources to do so.
The impact after Katrina was striking -- tens of thousands of people who have been left virtually "stranded" in their host communities, without the resources to return. I believe that the Stafford Act could be amended to give the federal government the tools necessary to assist in the repatriation of evacuated residents in such circumstances.
Joe Gilliom: Local state governmental agencies become the lead as in three or four county/city departments. They would be part of the core involuntary displacement disaster team tasked with transportation of evacuees. This would also help identify limited specific levels to channel federal funding and resources.
Paul Jacks: We still have thousands of Katrina evacuees in California and it is a travesty. FEMA needs to take responsibility for repatriating evacuees/refugees.
Alix Stayton: There is a need to address the capacity of the host communities to host different numbers of people for long or short periods also.
Matt Farlow: Lessons from Louisiana -- you need a well-defined evacuation plan and it needs to include identifying a shelter location for each resident and by what means of transportation, with a defined return policy and guidelines
Audra Kunf: I disagree that the feds are responsible for evacuations -- their responsibilities extend to assistance and federal coordination. Local and state governments should have evacuation and return plans in place. Though the media keep blasting FEMA for not doing enough, somehow the public needs to be educated that FEMA is NOT a rescue organization. It's a local responsibility.
Drew Sachs: Evacuation is a big problem, but I don't think that in a catastrophic event, when the evacuees are measured in the hundreds of thousands or millions, a state or local can be held accountable for making sure they have enough shelter space. That's where the feds come in handy -- to assist -- and part of that needs to be financial to support the return.
Robert Cullins: I am disappointed with some of the organizations I talk with who have not even developed an evacuation plan and don't have the resources organized to evacuate to and from evacuation sites, often unidentified. Is this common?
Drew Sachs: I agree with Robert's comments, though, that many who need evacuation plans don't have them, or don't have realistic ones that can be implemented quickly when a threat exists. More time and effort needs to be placed here at the state and local levels, primarily.
Charles Hagerhjelm: Aggressive inspection of the evacuees and the stuff they bring with them is needed before the first person gets on the first bus/train/plane. This will reduce the opportunity for dangerous materials getting into the shelters, and will actually expedite the check-in process at the shelters. A process similar to the TSA routines at an airport would help. A screening system needs to be set up at each shelter so that no one and no thing gets in without an inspection. The evacuees should expect to be part of the care process not just recipients of it. Evacuees should also expect to be on a round-trip ticket to get back home.
Greg Smith: It was very clear that local and state Louisiana officials failed miserably in their evacuation planning and execution. There must be cohesion between local, state and federal officials if a plan is going to succeed. It's not sufficient to simply blame FEMA when something goes terribly wrong as it did in Katrina
Question 9. How can we improve the Long Term Recovery planning process, and what changes are needed?
Drew Sachs: A new section should be added to the Act to clarify and strengthen FEMA's authorities in the area of disaster recovery, and authorize the use of monies from the President's Disaster Relief Fund for said purposes. Specifically, the Act should provide clear authority in the event of a significant or catastrophic disaster to provide broad-based and focused technical and advisory assistance to impacted States and communities to help them plan for and address the broad spectrum of recovery issues including: economic and workforce recovery, revitalization and enhancement; housing; health and healthcare delivery systems; long-term recovery plans and planning; environmental impacts; education; infrastructure and transportation; restoration and recovery of social services; evacuation and population relocation; communications; and fiscal impacts of the disaster event.
Furthermore, clarification is needed of the authorities that FEMA has and what can be funded with Federal funds for these purposes. Doing so will resolve major problems with the Agencys current ESF-14 function. (The lack of clarity and "corporate buy-in" for long-term recovery planning at FEMA after Katrina/Rita caused massive problems and resulted in the near failure of the effort).
It will remove many of the "shackles" that FEMA has placed on long-term recovery planning assistance currently, so that States or locals can pursue the types of planning they deem best to spur recovery, including funding the state to complete regional recovery planning -- something that is not allowed by FEMAs ESF-14 today.
Norma Houston: Does FEMA have the manpower and technical expertise to do all that is described in this recommendation?
Drew Sachs: FEMA has access to a lot of this, either through federal agencies or through disaster reservists, but they will need to grow their capacity accordingly. Some of this, though, may not require FEMA to do it. Long-term recovery planning is often done best at the state and local levels, and I think that funding their efforts (instead of trying to send in federal teams to do it) may be less costly and more effective in some instances.
Question 10. What changes are needed to maximize the effectiveness of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program?
Drew Sachs: Long answer, I'm afraid. My primary concern about the HMGP is that it is too slow and cumbersome to meet identified needs, particularly after a disaster. It is not unusual for HMGP projects to not even be submitted in application form for 8-12 months, and not to be implemented for years after a disaster occurs.
This problem is caused by the fact that the HMGP was never designed as a recovery program, and as such, does not operate on recovery timelines. FEMA program staff over the years hasnt helped matters much by making program regulations and policies so onerous that many communities have difficulty applying and obtaining approvals for their projects without significant expense, effort, and time commitment.
While conceptually I agree that all mitigation prepares us for the next event, I do not agree that that fact eliminates the need for quick action on mitigation projects, using less labor intensive procedures and methodologies. As such, I do not believe the HMGP can be simply "tweaked" to make it fully effective -- I believe that the HMGP should be completely reconsidered, and with the help of states, local governments, and Congress, turned into a true recovery program that can be implemented on recovery timelines.
My rationale for this position is simple -- the best mitigation opportunities often exist at two points in the life cycle of structures: during initial construction, and during repair and renovation. In both cases, the costs for mitigating risks are the lowest, and property owners are most willing to pay the costs to protect their investments. Since HMGP does not fund new construction, for it to be most effective, it should be delivered during repair and renovation. During the reconstruction phase after disasters, however, the current program design and rule structure is so laborious and time consuming that HMGP money cannot easily be leveraged against other recovery program dollars to obtain these benefits.
Refocusing HMGP toward delivery during recovery timelines will force FEMA to re-look the program rules and regulations surrounding HMGP in order to simplify and streamline them so that they can be implemented quickly and be leveraged more effectively against Federal and state disaster aid to maximize mitigation benefit.
Another action that can be taken to improve the HMGP is to provide incentives (increased Federal percentage of costs) for projects that can be submitted within the first 3 months after a disaster and be in approvable form in 6 months or less. This can also be accompanied by a reduced Federal cost-share for projects that are not approved within 1-year. This "carrot and stick" incentive structure will encourage more states and communities to have developed projects for HMGP even before the next disaster strikes, allowing for more rapid implementation when dollars become available.
Carl Cook: "Maximize effectiveness" got us "state wide and any hazard" for HMGP and started us on march to 3 or 4 year grants instead of 1 yr/18months. Is it worth it in "untimeliness" for the victims? Even garden-variety victims now wait several years for mitigation resolution of destroyed homes.
Drew Sachs: I agree, Carl. The timelines have become too long for effectiveness. I think the rules of the game have become so complex and bureaucratic, and the need to do individual BCA's on individual structures, etc., makes it hard to implement when opportunities are greatest.
Charles Hagerhjelm: Continued emphasis that "Mitigation" is more than a project fund source will help states and communities recognize the need to make mitigation part of their community planning culture.
Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Drew for an excellent job and thanks to all our participants today. A special thanks to your colleague, Sarah Stringer, for helping with the setting up our session today.
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Thanks to everyone for participating today in a lively discussion. For first-timers, we hope you enjoyed the program and will come again.
Amy Sebring: We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Drew for a fine job!