EM Forum Presentation — May 30, 2012

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
and the National Mitigation Framework

David L. Miller
Associate Administrator
Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

This transcript contains references to slides which can be downloaded from http://www.emforum.org/vforum/FEMA/FIMA.pdf
A video recording of the live session is available at
An audio podcast is available at

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome to EMForum.org. We are very glad you could join us today. I am Amy Sebring and will serve as your Moderator.

If you were with us last time, you may recall that Doc Lumpkins was here to speak about THIRA (Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment) and he mentioned that they were working with the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration on the National Mitigation Framework, which was an excellent segue since we had already planned today’s program!

We hope to learn more about it today, and also the current status of the National Flood Insurance Program reauthorization and program reform. There are several related links on today’s Background Page that you can check out later if you haven’t already, including one to a very good Senate hearing on the NFIP that occurred earlier this month.

First, for the benefit our newcomers, we will begin with an overview presentation, and then we are going to try out a few poll questions before we proceed to your questions and comments.

[Slide 1]

Now it is my pleasure to welcome back David L. Miller, Associate Administrator of the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA). He previously served as the Administrator for the Iowa Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Our last program with David was a little over two years ago, after the major flooding in Iowa and you can find that program in our archives.

Speaking of mitigation, Iowa was one of only twelve States to have an approved Enhanced State Hazard Mitigation Plan allowing for increased mitigation funding under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMPG). During his tenure with the state, David was responsible for the execution of Hazard Mitigation grant funds in excess of $350 million dollars. Please see today’s Background Page for further biographical information.

Welcome back David, and thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


David Miller: Thank you, Amy. Good afternoon or good morning, everybody. I want to talk about two things today and Amy outlined them. First I want to talk about mitigation and the role it plays in FEMA and throughout the nation and we are going to talk about the National Flood Insurance Program in its current status.

As Amy mentioned, we are going through reauthorization right now. The thing people want to talk about the most is the reform effort and we are going to talk about that a little bit.

[Slide 2]

For some of us that have been around emergency management for a long time, we used to see a circular slide that really talked about mitigation as the beginning of a circular process where we did mitigation and preparedness—depending on your point of view you have one in front of the other.

Then we did disaster response and recovery and came back to mitigation. As we look at it now we are really trying to emphasize that mitigation is a thread that pulls through everything we do in emergency management.

When we look at it relative to the disaster, we do a lot of stuff pre-disaster during the preparedness phase as we are anticipating what may happen and as we are trying to lessen the effects of future disasters in looking at our threat analysis to the time when we are actually in response. There are other opportunities for mitigation in response or how we affect response. I’ll talk about that.

Plus, what we do in recovery and how we affect the shorter and longer term recovery pieces of it—and even after those immediate things are done, mitigation comes full cycle and we go through it again.

[Slide 3]

When we talk about it, we talk about it in terms of the thread that permeates the fabric of emergency management and that pre and post disaster mitigation stage. When I do that I like to tell a story and please forgive me—a number of people have heard this before but I think it sets a proper stage.

I was asked while I was the State Director of Iowa to do a meeting with the metro mayors here in the Des Moines area a few years go. In that meeting as is typical when you go to the meeting you have about fifteen minutes to talk and then about fifteen minutes for questions. It was a dinner meeting.

I asked what they wanted to know. They said, "If you had three things you wanted to tell mayors or wanted to know from mayors, what would it be?" I gave it some thought and this is what I came up with: the first thing I asked the mayors as we went through this was, "Do you know what the threats are to your area? Have you looked at the hazards identifications risk assessments that was part of the HIRA?" We hadn’t even talked about THIRAs yet. Have you looked at that?

In addition, I wear the Homeland Security hat in my state so I asked, "Have you included the terrorism threat in that look? Do you really know what the threats are? Have you looked at the studies? Have you gotten the information? Have you had the briefings? Have you talked to your emergency managers and first responders? Do you know what the threats are?"

Because while in most areas there is a lot of information available but many people don’t know the threats they face on an everyday or continuing basis, both large and small. They don’t have a good idea of the intelligence that is available to them.

My next things I ask the mayors is, "If you know what the threats are, do you know what makes your community tick? Do you know about the communications infrastructure and transportation infrastructures, the reliance on commerce and banking, the education systems, do you know what makes your community tick? Do you know what you value the most? Do you understand the dependencies and interdependencies?

"Do you understand the geographic context and demographic context that you exist in and what makes your community your community and how you depend on others and how others depend on you?" That is very important. In most communities most leaders, I would venture to say, don’t have an idea what makes things tick unless they have been around a considerable amount of time.

The reason those two things are important gets me to the third issue. Now that you know what the threat is, you know what you value most and what makes your community tick—do you know what you are going to do to protect it?

How are you going to set priorities, what you are going to do to mitigate actions, and what you are going to do to protect critical infrastructure? If you can’t protect it, what are you going to do to insure against it to make sure it comes online quickly?

If you know those things and you can walk through it, you probably have a pretty good program. You are setting priorities for the limited resources you have and you are able to move forward. That is what we talk about when we talk about mitigation permeating the fabric of emergency management.

It needs to be integrated into our formal processes as well. When we talk about the integration into the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) as a matter of fact it even calls for a mitigation advisor. What we are looking for in that integration is exactly that—integration in everything we do. We are also looking for a cross-integration with the federal community as we institute our programs and marry things together.

The mitigation framework being drafted via Presidential Policy Directive 8 will align the nation and our stakeholders to come together sooner and more often to integrate mitigation which gets to the next part of what we want to talk about.

[Slide 4]

We are the connector to whole community. You have heard Craig Fugate and others talk about whole community. It is not a new concept. It is one that we continue to build. It is a realization and it takes the community working together to build back things better and stronger and arguably it takes the community to set the priorities and what we are going to do to mitigate and reduce the loss of life and property in disasters.

We really want to be stronger and better and more resilient in the face of disasters we face whether they are human-caused, technologically-caused, or caused by nature.

It is a whole community approach in that it invites in not only the state and local and tribal governments along with the federal government, but it also reaches out to private sector, to non-governmental organizations and everything to make sure that our interests are there, our values are projected forward and that we come to conclusions as a community as to how we move forward.

It requires investments by citizens, as individual citizens as part of their businesses, citizens as part of their governments and investing in their representatives. It is going to require a joint investment to do it all because the federal government isn’t the only one that is going to be able to mitigate future actions.

[Slide 5]

When we look at the mitigation issues and how they move forward, I think one of the things I want to talk about is how we put together the mitigation framework. It is in the process of being vetted and the final comments and final draft are coming out now.

As we put forth the framework, one of the things we want to talk about as Director Fugate talked about is mitigation writ large. The issue is this—when we talk about mitigation writ large we really tap into that based on the Presidential Policy Directive which defines it as those efforts to reduce the loss of life and property in the face of a disaster.

That is very broad. There is a tendency to look at mitigation in the context of the Stafford Act and what FEMA executes and has charge for under federal law. We think that is a narrow view and again we try to take the opportunity to mitigative actions in everything we do.

I think Tim Manning who is the head of preparedness in FEMA said it best to us. What Tim and I talked about one day was really sitting down and he said that if you take effective mitigation measures it affects how we prepare.

By that he meant and went on to say that if we do mitigation as we build capacities against what we are learning from our threat analyses and as we build those capacities as we prepare, if we effectively mitigate we may be able to redirect resources. We may have to adjust our capacities in a favorable way and extend the limited resources we have.

It becomes a part of our preparedness effort, influences preparedness. Tim went on to say that it affects how we respond. I tell it as part of a response story—it is not traditional mitigation but it is mitigation in the broader context.

When we were doing the flood in 2008 we had a community that was losing its water resource. We had worked a couple of days to protect the water plant. We were losing it. I was asked to call them in the morning to tell them that despite our best efforts we thought they were going to lose their water plant.

Would they consider allowing the National Guard and the other team members to move downstream to protect other critical resources? At the same time we had a methodology we had learned from previous disasters on how to shut down the plant effectively to minimize the damage that would occur in the plant and allow us to bring it up sooner once the water had receded.

I gave them a call and asked them to get back to me in fifteen or twenty minutes. They called me back in about five and said, "We agree. Please help us turn off the plant and do it effectively so we can turn it back on once the water has receded and please help other communities downstream and help them mitigate their losses by taking the protective measures there."

In my world that is mitigation. In somebody else’s world it is part of disaster response or it is a protective action. Frankly I’m not getting hung up on the definition. I’ll go back to the President’s definition. When we look at mitigation writ large we are talking about those efforts that minimize the loss of life and property in the face of disaster.

We have affected response. We also affected in that we mitigated it and we don’t need to respond to it. We are able to redirect limited resources that we have and set different priorities as we affect response.

As we go to recovery as we talk about mitigation writ large we are looking for those opportunities in recovery to mitigate future actions—those improved standards that we may build to. Relocation of a critical facility, how we will protect things in the future—there are a lot of community decisions to be made during the recovery process that allow us to mitigate and lessen the effects of future disasters.

When we talk about the mitigation framework, you are going to see it writ large. All that said, the next part of the equation is—and my state hazard mitigation officer when I worked in the state of Iowa reminded me of this—"Dave, that is great. You are going to talk about mitigation that broadly. You’ll even talk about anticipating next disasters and how we incorporate things we’re learning from climate change and other parts of the science that we learned. But the truth is at the end of the day the number one cause of damages in the United States is flooding. Stafford Act programs seem to orient themselves around flooding or at least natural disasters. While you can talk about mitigation writ large what about the focus? Where are we going to focus our efforts? "

My argument was that I agree that there needs to be focus on what affects us most—there needs to be focus on flooding, hurricanes, and tidal surge and those things, but that process should be part of what we discover about what threatens us the most, be part of the data and intelligence we gather and should be put in the context of what communities face every day as they set their priorities.

While we may opt to focus on flooding as a major cause of disaster it doesn’t mean we can afford not to discuss the other threats we face and the other things we need to do to set priorities. While the funding may focus on one area it doesn’t mean that we don’t have the larger conversation and we have a talk about how we are going to invest in the future.

[Slide 6]

The larger overarching mitigation question—building codes and enforcement come to mind. A lot of us are working with that and working in a number of areas—we do a lot of work with The International Code Council and a number of building groups that help establish the science of what we do.

You’ll note at the bullet it says "Safe Alabama and Oklahoma Saferoom Initiatives"—they marry state money with individual investments for resilience. We are looking for that joint investment. Some of you may go back to the James Lee Whit days and talk about Project Impact and the joint investment that happened there.

The truth is we are all investing in the future and what makes us ourselves as individuals, our neighborhoods and communities more resilient. The continuity of mitigation efforts before and after a disaster and engaging response, recovery and preparedness, again earlier in the process—one of the challenges for us is we tend to stovepipe a lot of what we do into the programs we have. I think the renewed effort we want in the federal government and the renewed effort we want in the whole community is really talking about how we marry programs together.

There was a gentlemen whose name is Ed Thomas who was the federal coordinating officer for part of the disaster we had in 1993 in the Midwest. Ed talks today and has a certain amount of familiarity and is somewhat famous. He talks about a patchwork quilt of putting programs together.

I would call Ed a mentor of mine and what I always remember was his ability to do that—to bring the federal partners together, to see how programs marry together to see how we can solve community problems.

As we are looking at mitigation into the future I want to go back and even though we have some problematic silos, I want to break some of those down the best we can and really talk about community problem solving, Look at the problem we have in front of us comprehensively and then ask the question how funding applies rather than asking the funding question up front and then what we can do to get the funding.

We are really about community problem solving. Amy mentioned that you have discussed the THIRA that Doc Lumpkins was on. I know it is a confusing issue and we are walking through it. We are trying to take the whole THIRA process, and it does include grants and grants funding and a number of things we are going through, but the attempt is to evolve it into one process.

I tend to look at it this way—the THIRA constitutes the intelligence. We collect a lot of data around the threats we face—whether it is law enforcement data, first responder data, public data, weather data—we collect a lot of information. But it isn’t until we do analysis that it becomes intelligence.

The law enforcement community is used to how the analyze data and how they use intelligence data to plot out their future moves. Other entities that are part of the whole community do the same thing. I tend to think of THIRA that way. It is an intelligence gathering process.

It is not a onetime process to get grant money but it is an ongoing intelligence. We built upon it every day. It goes through a cycle but the truth is you have to get in the right mindset to do it all the time.

The HIRA, the one that you are used to doing with mitigation and mitigation planning is actually in federal regulation and it calls about the robustness of the HIRA. In talking to this in the federal family we begin to look at the THIRA and think of it as a socket wrench. If you have the socket wrench the THIRA becomes the socket wrench but the individual sockets you put on are individualized to the task you have on hand.

We have the HIRA that drives the hazard mitigation planning and the stuff we do to address natural hazards within the Stafford Act. We may have a law enforcement intelligence socket we attach when we are talking about terrorism and criminal investigations and how extremism may affect our communities and how we plan for that.

If we think about it as the interchangeable piece, then the THIRA begins to take on another meaning and a broader context and we can always talk about that as we move forward. The point is at the end of the day what we are really trying to do—to go back to the mayor story—is to better understand and communicate our risks to individuals so they understand the actions they can take.

Again, we are in it together. We have to address it together. There are actions and responsibilities individuals need to take on as well as their communities, as well as states, and the federal government. We also want to educate the media about mitigation activities and really talk about the successes we have.

There used to be an ad for a chemical company called BASF, BASF a number of years ago had this ad: we don’t do this, we don’t make this product, but we make these products better. In mitigation we like to talk about the same thing—we may not be the responders and we may not be the recovery but we make all that better. We are a part of preparedness. We are a part of everything that goes on.

The other one was an old ad about mechanics—you can pay me now or pay me later, but at the end of the day it is cheaper to pay me now than it is to incur the cost of a damaged vehicle. The same thing holds true for mitigation. As we go forward, what we know is, from the studies that have been done is that mitigation pays for itself many times over.

The classic studies would say it is a four to one ratio. What we think is if we take off all the tangential relationships and the benefits of mitigation to society overall—the socioeconomic impact, the environmental impact—we think that mitigation is a healthy investment. It helps our communities to be resilient, it helps our communities grow and it protects our citizens in the face of disaster.

[Slide 7]

That was the mitigation program. I want to spend the next few minutes talking about the National Flood Insurance Program. The current authorization for the program ends tomorrow, May 31. It is more than just insurance. It really links the risk analysis we do as part of the ongoing program and assessment, to mitigation, to flood plain management and to insurance.

When we talk about that the real talk about the NFIP is on the insurance side but the truth is there are so many linkages to everything else we do that if the program isn’t authorized a lot of those activities that get paid through the Federal Insurance Fund no longer happen. We will talk about that in a second.

It is something that every emergency manager needs to pay attention to. In so many of our communities what is going on is the NFIP gets a little disconnected from emergency management largely because it doesn’t sit within the emergency management programs in many states.

I know in my state, in Iowa, the Flood Plain Management Program sits in the Department of Natural Resources. The insurance part of the program, of course, sits with the federal government. Even the State Insurance Commissioner doesn’t have a large role to play in the National Flood Insurance Program.

As is typical of emergency management agencies, when you are under-resourced and you don’t have a role you tend to set that piece aside and think it is someone else’s issue and we don’t need to be as involved in emergency management. But I think if we really look at what the NFIP represents and how it invites community conversations and how we talk about risk and how we insure against that risk—because we can’t mitigate all of it—we begin to understand the connectedness and why the NFIP is important.

Key legislation has been considered in states that put participation in the NFIP at risk. What happens is we have states that look at how they do their code and code enforcement, how they institute state laws and things they want to exempt from the insurance program and it has put them in danger of losing their participation.

It is interesting to me when I pick up the news clippings everyday that a lot of the discussions have to do with the flood maps we do. Many of you have gone through map modernization or are now part of the risk map process. The truth is we are doing a couple of things in the NFIP.

We are trying to use—again, affordability is part of it—the best science available to do the flood mapping. We are not precise or made errors we are working with communities to correct those errors and do it before the publishing of the maps and put those out.

A lot of the discussions and things I see in clips aren’t about the risk they face but about whether they need to buy insurance or not. We think the conversation ought to be about the risk they face. Many of you who have been through flooding know it doesn’t stop at the lines that are drawn on the map.

As a matter of fact a substantial part of the damages we receive are well outside the one hundred year flood plain or well outside that special flood hazard area that is delineated on a map. Getting communities to understand the risk they face, what they can do about those risks, how the NFIP is part of broader mitigation strategy I think is a better conversation and it is a culture change we are going to try to influence.

If the NFIP lapses a number of things happen. Number one, we can’t sell new policies or nor can we modify existing policies. That is the first thing that would happen. The next thing is since there is no program we are limited to paying claims and covering costs from the cash on hand. Before I left D.C. last week to attend a meeting in San Antonio we had about 371 million in the fund at the time—not a lot of money.

What that means is if we had a major disaster while the program was not authorized we would only be limited to covering the cost up to 371 million. We would no longer have borrowing authority from the Treasury. We have some borrowing authority now if we had a major disaster we could go back to them, but we would lose that borrowing authority.

It also means that in our communities, those that have a federally backed mortgage that live in the special flood hazard area that are required to buy flood insurance would not have the ability to do that. Those closings on real estate would not happen.

Matter of fact, the National Realtors Association anticipates that affects about 1,300 closing a day and 40,000 closings a month. It really stalls in many of our communities, especially those that are flood prone, real estate transactions.

[Slide 8]

The current status—it really is moving quickly. I anticipate some action on it today from the House. The House earlier this year passed a one month extension before recessing about two weeks ago. H.R. 5740 also included some provisions for re-insurance.

Other studies on privatization really wanted to talk about how the private sector could enter the market, and some studies on what that meant, what it would take for them to enter the market, and what part of the market they may choose to enter and what the effects may be on the program. Some of that study is already going on. It really calls for that.

Allowing financial institutions to accept private flood insurance—right now the federal program is the federal program, but remember the requirement we talked about that federally backed mortgages—if you are in a special flood hazard area— you have to buy flood insurance. This says you could get it from the private insurance side if it were available.

Those things were called for in the House bill. Last Thursday the Senate passed a two-month extension (60 days) that includes permanent provision to phase out subsidies for non-primary residences. We are really talking about vacation homes and secondary residences that sit in a special flood hazard area.

They are going to lose their subsidy or the discount or preferred rate that we give to others that live in the special flood hazard area for a short period of time. That is in the Senate bill. The House came back into session this week and hopefully today, and in everything I am reading today, they will take up the Senate bill.

In fact I saw this morning they are going to suspend rules and try to take up the Senate bill without any amendment that would require a favorable vote of at least two-thirds of members present. We will see what happens today on that extension. Hopefully the House will pass it an allow it to move forward.

It is a short term extension and I want to talk about what we asked for before we go into the reform.

[Slide 9]

We did something this year that was really unusual. Craig Fugate, the FEMA Administrator, wrote a letter to Congress expressing the urgency behind the reauthorization of the NFIP. We did it for a couple of reasons. One is it is really the timing of it. We are at the beginning of hurricane season and at the traditional spring thaw and spring flooding season.

A number of other things are coming up. It is our engagement with the write-your-own companies and how we work with businesses to do the Flood Insurance Program. So there was urgency there.

We didn’t of course want to dissuade Congress from a discussion about reform. The House had passed a reform bill. The Senate was looking at their reform bill and pushing heavily to get more time to debate it. We wanted to weigh in and say that regardless of the discussion on reform we really need reauthorization to move this forward more than we need anything else.

We want to allow the time to have the reform. We don’t want to abandon the reform discussion but we really need the reauthorization piece. When we talk to a number of our partners the question is—is the reauthorization an extension for how long?

The extension we asked for is two years—to get us through the season, to put a number of options on the table, to have a robust discussion about reform and do meaningful reform in a piece knowing that both the House had passed their bill and the Senate was looking at theirs.

The approach we are taking right now is a piecemeal approach. You saw a couple of the reform provisions in the Senate and House bills I already talked about but we haven’t seen anything comprehensive yet.

I think the strategy that is being employed now may get us to a more comprehensive look at reform, and we’ll talk about what that means. My fear is that we will take a piecemeal approach to reform and not always understand or know the cause and effect of some of the actions we are taking because we haven’t taken the time to think it all the way through.

We want to be able to take the time to think it all the way through and march it forward but a series of short term reauthorizations puts volatility in the program and puts it at risk. When we look at reform we are really looking at this pyramid.

We are looking at what some call on one arm of the pyramid—we are really talking about making the rates reflect the risk, what some would call actuarial soundness. As we go out and we do the analysis, we collect the flood data, we do the updates to the maps—the rates we charge will lose their subsidy.

We will really talk about a rate that reflects the risk. We will be actuarialy sound. We think that is a good idea that the rate we have for a given area should reflect the risk that is there. There are a lot of discussions about what that means. We talk about the primary risk and the special flood hazard area but we also talk about residual risk, we talk about the effects of dams and levees and what that means. There are a number of ways to parse out that discussion about actuarial soundness

The other thing we talk about when we do that is talk about affordability, not necessarily the subsidy (because the subsidy applies uniformly to the properties that are in a certain area) but really about affordability—about the people part of the program—people who are put in harm’s way perhaps not by their own design, but sometimes through the improvement of technology we apply and sometimes that is where the available housing is.

In my state often those that are least able to afford flood insurance that live in the lowest income housing live in the highest risk areas. So we have to talk about affordability. There is discussion about how we would reach that. Could we do a voucher system similar to what HUD does? There are a number of things in that discussion about affordability.

The other part—the elephant in the room and you’ve all probably read about it—is the 17.75 billion dollars of debt we incurred because of hurricanes Irene and Katrina. What are we going to do about that debt? I don’t know that it has an easy solution.

We’ve been able to negotiate low interest rates on the debt we have and we have been able to pay down some of the principle as well as some interest on the debt. The truth is that it continues to loom there. If we pay at the current rates it would take us a number of years—and what the staff is telling me is somewhere in the 30 year range to pay off the debt.

The problem being of course that we’ve had pretty calm years relatively in disaster season and in the drain on the insurance fund has been fairly minimal in the last few years, but if we had major disasters again or a number of small disaster tied together we could drain the fund, have to go back and borrow more money and incur more debt.

Somehow we have to get into a discussion of how we build the program, how we build the solvency of the program. Some think that by charging actuarial rates will help us with the solvency and the truth is that it may. The other part of that equation though is that if we make the insurance reflect the rates it should based on the actuarial soundness is that we will actually lose policy holders. So the net effect would be a decrease of money in the fund.

That is why this conversation is so critical as we go through it—that we find balance, that we are able to grow the program, that we are able to make it financially solvent, and at the same time having rates that reflect the risk and that we also talk about the affordability of the insurance that we have.

[Slide 10]

The key initiatives and accomplishments overall for mitigation—the framework is open for comment. We did a listening session in January. The comments were due at the end of March. We are adjudicating those comments now and getting the final draft out.

For those of you who are interested in how quickly we pay claims, we had about 1.6 billion in claims for hurricanes Irene and Lee in 2011. That is about 97% closed now so we are getting those claims out. We try to do the bulk of our claims and move those in 30 days. We didn’t quite make it one of the hurricanes but we did in the other.

Again, part of this is the capacity building issue with us and frankly how we engage the write-your-own insurance companies and the role they play in giving us adjustors and making payments and getting through this system. It is another part of the program we have to continue to talk about.

We are providing more flexibility in how we do saferooms including allowing the cost for the development and value of land as an eligible cost in accordance with A-87. The memo we’ve issued also streamlines the review and operations of maintenance plan as part of our close out and includes allowing costs for fire suppression sprinklers and HVAC systems.

We are putting out a new wind retrofit policy that talks about the mitigation measures we can take. This is part of the building code stuff we can do and how we do wind stuff and affect policies in our area. It is another one of our key initiatives.

Then all I have is the background slide so I am going to open it up to questions. If anybody’s got anything I am willing to answer them.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much David.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Paul John: Will FEMA consider a Revolving fund program like the successful federal/state Clean Water and Drinking water revolving fund for flood mitigation and adaptation for climate change?

David Miller: We’re talking about those issues. Can I say that we’ll do it definitively? No, I can’t. One of the things we are talking about, and you’ll begin to hear these terms, is mitigation all the time. I think that’s important.

Right now the connotation of mitigation is really something that happens after the disaster. The bulk of the funds that many states receive to do mitigation really come through the hazard and mitigation grant program. That gets turned on in a Stafford Act declaration.

The money received is relative to the Stafford Act actions that are taken during the disaster and even though it can be applied state-wide and you can use it to mitigate a number of priorities, it has that post-disaster connotation. We want to go back to mitigation all the time.

There is a little nuance though. I have talked about a revolving fund program that needs to be discussed further and vetted further. One of the things that concerns us is this—if we pull mitigation and let it stand alone and look at those stand alone programs that are out there and we don’t have the tie to the Stafford Act, it makes it ripe for the picking by Congress.

One of the problems we have in many of our programs is how we obligate dollars and how long they sit there before they are really acted upon and spent. Every time we see the gap between allocation of dollars and an obligation of dollars and then the completion of projects, it calls into question the business reliability and viability of the program.

We need to address some of those issues as well. Over the next year the Hazard and Mitigation Assistance people are going to look at their programs, what they can streamline, how we can do these better and obligate dollars, and part of the goal is to look at mitigation all the time.

A long to answer to your precise question—in summary I can’t say that we are going to do it, but I can tell you it is something we will continue to discuss and look at. If it becomes something viable we can do, we will certainly consider it.

Shubha Shrivastava: Comments on the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program?

David Miller: PDM in the President’s budget was zeroed out for next year partly because it was easy pickings. The truth is right now in federal government, much like state and local governments, we are looking for areas where we need to cut money.

Part of PDM and being pulled out of that is probably a multifold answer. One of those is that arguably it is not a lot of money but it was key in a number of states. I’ve talked to local entities as well that really relied on PDM.

I think the other part of it was that what happened was we saw a lot of earmarks in the program, which always become questionable, and a lot of unexpended money in the program. Another part of that was that when we look at the planning of what we do in pre-disaster mitigation could be picked up by HMGP and other HMA programs we have.

It could be picked up in the emergency management performance grant program or what will become the larger GPD program that is going on now that we are talking about. But we could pick up the planning component. What it left was the projects.

Frankly the projects caused me some concern. What was left was doing a lot of projects with HMGP or FMA or Severe Repetitive Loss or Repetitive Loss Programs that were central to flooding. We lost some of that multi-function that we did in PDM.

It looks like Congress, when they are doing their mark-ups right now, are looking to put money back in PDM although it is not a large amount of money. They’ll put money back in the program. For us, I think we need to have that ongoing conversation about how to make mitigation happen all the time, how do we invest and allocate dollars and how do we execute those dollars to make sure we don’t put programs at risk. It needs to be part of that broader conversation.

Amy Sebring: How are the buy-outs going nationally?

David Miller: I think the buy-outs are going well. Part of the problem of buy-outs, and we’ve experienced this in all the states, is the time to get there. Time is part of the whole community dynamic. One of the things we want to capture is state and local governments that have prepared well are able to accelerate that process.

We saw that happen in New Jersey after the hurricanes that happened last year. They did their process in a couple of months. In visiting with the folks in New Jersey and visiting with the FEMA region and talking with them, a lot of that was the result of the pre-work that they had done in identifying projects, opportunities, knowing where they wanted to do this.

There had been disasters in the past. They knew which properties they really wanted to make the offer to. They really were able to pull the trigger much faster. As we go in and we influence the National Disaster Recovery Framework—we have looked at recovery planning, we’ve looked at mitigation planning—I think communities that position themselves well are more able to take care of the property acquisition piece of what we are able to do in mitigation.

We can make that program better. The other part of that is that as we do it and we elongate it, people are worried about "match" and those things—this gets into marrying programs together. It often happens in the name of disaster but it is not an automatic.

In my state, especially in the larger disaster we really pressed economic development and others to come up with money. In our state the economic development agency did it through the Community Development Block Grant funding. So you are pressing the federal government to be able to use CDBG money as the match. Then we went a step further. We not only wanted to use it for match but for properties that didn’t qualify under HMGP we actually did property acquisitions just using Community Development Block Grant money.

There are a number of ways of getting there. The point is communities should strategize and look at these issues now—both in identifying properties they may want to acquire, how the programs may fold in, where they are going to come up with match—it becomes part of the pre-recovery planning process rather than waiting to do it at the time of disaster.

Amy Sebring: How about the flood mapping progress? How is it going?

David Miller: I came aboard last September. One of the things that came to my attention and frankly as a state director I didn’t realize it—is that the Risk Map Program had taken a substantial cut. It looks like we are going to take another small hit this year if the President’s budget prevails.

We want to look at it as an investment. One of the discussions we are really having is how to use risk map as part of the intelligence gathering process. I say part of it because it is not all of it. It is part of the community discussion.

While we may lose some of the financial resources we have to do with Risk Map, what we don’t want to compromise is the precision of the maps we have and our ability to have community conversations about the risk a community faces. It is the interaction with the community that makes the maps more precise and allows us to adjust them as we go on but it is an opportunity to have a discussion about risk overall and how that plays into the dynamic of the community.

In FEMA we are talking about how we invest in that and how we use it as a basis for discussion. One of the things we talked about in a recent meeting with FEMA in how we collaborate internally is going out and using the risk map for part of that broader community conversation about emergency management, about recovery planning, the THIRA, and how that folds in and that the Risk Map process is a part of that.

There is a lot of discussion going on. I wish we were doing more miles of maps. I wish we were getting out to more communities. We have had to move our projects and delay them a little bit because of reductions in funding. We will continue to move forward and move forward with the quality of the product and we want to involve communities in conversations about risk and risk management.

Liz Milner: What can be done to educate stakeholders and the community at large on the importance of disaster mitigation?

David Miller: What I think is it really becomes a value proposition. That is why I go back and often tell the mayor story. If I am the mayor, county supervisor, county commissioner, or wherever I am, I am looking for value for the dollars I am investing.

What I am interested in is some analysis. I have to have some context for making those investments. That is why we talk about the THIRA. Frankly, some folks are a little afraid of the THIRA. They say when you add the terrorism component it skews the data and statistics. How do I do an unknown terrorist event that could have a huge impact? How do I compare that to natural hazards that we normally did through the HIRA and then make decisions?

The truth is we don’t always have the knowledge we need about what we face as dangers. But the more we collect, the data and intelligence we collect, the more we know about the threats, the better informed decisions we are able to make.

Too often our community officials don’t look at that data. They don’t know what the risks are they face. They don’t know the probability of occurrence. They don’t know what the impact will be if it does occur. They may not even have, some of them, a strong sense of history of their community and what they have faced in the past.

All that needs to be developed into that certain intelligence of what goes on. The other part of the value proposition is about what makes your community tick and what things you cannot live without, in the short term of even the longer term. What are those things that if you lost them, your community would be devastated?

It may not be able to recover. It would not rebuild to the level it was before. It may lose its tax base, it may lose its viability, its businesses—you really have to have those discussions with your community leaders. It even goes down to the neighborhoods. Some people see the Flood Insurance Program as a burden and cost can be a part of that. I certainly understand that.

But many don’t see it as an opportunity. Here is a chance to protect that thing in your life that is most important to you, and for many of us it is our most major investment—our home. Here is an opportunity to protect that knowing that it may be in harm’s ways, and yet we often don’t take those opportunities.

It is really having that community conversation at all levels. What risks do we think we can afford? How are we going to cover that risk? Are there opportunities to mitigate it? What is the return on those dollars? What happens if we lose those important parts of our community and the return on that?

There are a number of studies out there that talk about the return on the investment but I think as we talk to our community leaders it is about putting it in that value judgment. This is why we do it. It allows our community to survive. It brings back our community when we face disaster. It will make us more resilient. It is a lot cheaper to pay it up front than it is to recover from it at the back end.

Amy Sebring: Are you looking at doing anything more with the best practices types of examples David?

David Miller: Yes, we are—not just for mitigation but for FEMA overall. One of the things I really want to be able to capture is rather than documenting the lessons we learn and have lessons documented we want to get into learning from them and how we train and articulate that message and how we walk through those issues.

It is a continuous effort that has to do with involvement with community and how we get out and inform officials. I think we have done some work. If have the LLIS and others that are looking at lessons learned. We have been able to capture some of them. We post things on websites and people share information.

It is often lessons documented but not real lessons learned. It also means engaging the academic community and others about what they are learning from their research. We had a discussion recently in FEMA do we even know the body of work going on in there and what we can learn from it—everything from building sciences to what we are learning about weather and climate change.

What are we learning that allows us to invoke best practices and how do we share that? It is interesting even some of the smaller conversations we have. We had one about if we adopt building codes and standards for earthquake protection and did that uniformly in many of our areas it would also help protect us against explosions and bombings. It would make our buildings more resilient.

It is sharing all the information and data. There is a lot of it out there—and making it again not just documentation but easier to find it and apply it. Talking about our successes and lessons we’ve learned and moving from lessons documented to a real learning environment.

Marianne Luhrs: You previously acknowledged (while still in Iowa) that it was difficult to comprehensively evaluate land use (and encourage meaningful, long-term mitigation) in part because there was no State Office of Planning, and decision-making was distributed with some functions going to EM, DNR, Economic Development, etc. with no one entity looking at everything comprehensively. Do you think anything can be done at the Federal level to encourage comprehensive (cross-disciplinary, cross-agency, etc.) thinking about hazards? Both at state and local levels?

David Miller: At the federal level that is part of what we are going through now. It is interesting to come to FEMA after being a state director for so long and you think you know what FEMA is about. I was asked once what the biggest change was. It was the largeness of FEMA that I found most interesting.

Of the things we are involved in, the communities we were engaged in, the cross discussion we had with a number of federal agencies. As an example, one of the things I now co-chair with a core of engineers is a group called FIFMTF (Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force).

It is about floodplain management but it involves a number of federal agencies—FEMA, the Core of Engineers, Department of the Interior, Council of Environmental Quality, the Department of Defense and HUD. There are a number of partners in the room.

We are really talking about good floodplain management practices with consideration of how we move forward. Can we move forward in a concerted way? Can we adopt some rules of the road in how we look at floodplain management? That is just an example of those conversations that need to go on.

We are also using the establishment of the National Mitigation Framework as part of that discussion. I’ll go back and put my state hat on for a minute. When I was the state director I had been here for a number of years and I was talking to the economic developer at the time and we recalled when there was an office of program policy (OPPD) in the state of Iowa.

In the seventies many of those offices were dissolved and the budget function of that interagency piece probably went to a department of management, or department of budget, natural resources, emergency management—economic development offices were stood up. Unless you have strong direction from a governor or mayor, you don’t often get those people in the same room together unless there is a disaster, to have the discussions prior to an event about how they are going to invest.

You tend to work in the stovepipes you have for your programs. You really don’t talk about marrying them together in some comprehensive way. It really takes a strong policy office to do that with some authority to be able to move forward comprehensively. That is the whole community conversation we want to have.

It is not a prescriptive thing about how to recreate offices. It is an encouragement for community leaders to get people in the room. They all have an interest. They’ll come at it from a different view. They won’t always agree and that’s okay. You still have to have the discussion. You still need to make community discussions. You need to talk about cause and effect of your programs and the influences they have and how we look to the future.

At the end of the day I don’t know many communities that don’t want to become more resilient and don’t want to make their citizens safer. That is the goal. We all have the common goal. Now we have to sit down and have the conversation and move forward comprehensively.

Thank you everyone who tuned in today. None of us does this alone. It is about the communities we have and how we interact. I thank you for everything you do in your communities and your ability to move these conversations forward.


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. On behalf of Avagene, myself, and all our participants today, thank you very much David for joining us once again to share this information. We know you face enormous challenges in your new job, and we wish you every success as you move forward to face them.

Our next program will be on June 13th so please plan to join us then. Until next time, thanks to everyone for participating today. Have a great afternoon. We are adjourned.