EM Forum Presentation — June 13, 2012

National Emergency Management Association Update
Moving Preparedness Forward

James M. Mullen
President, National Emergency Management Association
Director, Washington State Emergency Management Division

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

This transcript contains references to slides which can be downloaded from http://www.emforum.org/vforum/NEMA/NEMAupdated2012.pdf
A video recording of the live session is available at http://www.emforum.org/pub/eiip/lm120613.wmv
An audio podcast is available at http://www.emforum.org/pub/eiip/lm120613.mp3

[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 host and moderator.

Today we are going to hear about some of the initiatives that the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) has been working on this year, not only on behalf of the state EMAs, but also on behalf of local emergency management programs across the country.

There are several related links on today’s Background Page that you can check out later if you haven’t already, including one to NEMA testimony at a recent Congressional hearing, You might find that interesting.

[Slide 1]

Now it is my pleasure welcome back James M. Mullen, current president of NEMA and Director of the Washington State Emergency Management Division since 2004. He previously served as Director of Emergency Management for the City of Seattle for 12 years, so it is not surprising that he has been an outspoken advocate of local and county emergency managers.

Jim was last with us when he chaired the mitigation committee for NEMA. If you re interested in that the program is available in our archives. Please see today’s Background Page for further biographical detail, and a link to Jim’s blog where you can provide additional feedback.

Welcome back Jim, 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.


Jim Mullen: Thank you very much, Amy, and hello to everybody whether it is morning or afternoon. I appreciate you joining us today.

Today I want to describe some of the challenging issues that have been taken on by NEMA during my extended tenure as President. As many of you may know I became President prematurely when the director in Iowa was not retained by the new governor. It’s something that happened to probably nineteen of my colleagues over a period of several months after the 2010 elections.

I had to serve his term and I am nearing the end of mine in October. I want to describe some of the challenging issues we have taken on because they will continue for some time after my term ends. Everyone has probably noticed the decline in federal funding over the past few years. That decline can be expected to continue or at least not reverse itself unless a new crisis emerges.

The first concern for most of us has been the EMPG (Emergency Management Performance Grant). The current issues revolve around the future of the Homeland Security Grant Program and its suite of grant programs.

The political environment has been difficult at best. Some of the questions I get from reporters fueled by self-styled experts from D.C. based foundations and refugees from the previous administration are, "Why are there so many disasters now?" and the more relevant question that Congress is asking, "How do we know that our return on investments is adequate and effective?"

[Slide 2]

So with that, I’m going to talk a little bit about our communications with Congress. You can see on the slides, and I probably won’t read them all to you, in March of 2011 NEMA and IAEM combined on a paper which is listed up there and is available on various websites that described what we were doing with EMPG.

The reception to the report was excellent and what we tried to do generally speaking in our communications with Congress is—the first question of inquiries that have been resulting from some of the press folks I have had to talk to have tended towards almost partisan laced attacks on FEMA whereas the question of effectiveness has been a very appropriate responsible question for Congress to be posing.

That is why FEMA and IAEM decided to get together in 2011 and produce the report that is referenced on your screen. After years of trying to respond anecdotally and years of wringing our hands trying to justify EMPG this report triggered an excellent response from Congressional staff.

I think we finally applied our own rule that we apply to all exercises—don’t fight the scenario, by saying we stopped fighting the question—we are dealing with it. We have answered the questions and the results speak for themselves in terms of in the midst of a lot of slippage in grant support, EMPG has remained pretty strong.

We have received very powerful reinforcement in the hallways and the conference rooms from Congressional staff that we need to keep that kind of exchange up and we are doing that.

[Slide 3]

It worked so well that NEMA updated that document in March 2012 on the EMPG again. IAEM submitted their own report around that time and I should say here on behalf of NEMA that we supported both the joint paper that the two associations prepared but also the separate submissions. Our associations’ focus can be different while pursuing the same objective. NEMA has always been supportive of both our common interests and the individual integrity of all our stakeholders.

In a Congressional hearing a few days later after we have published what I will call EMPG-2 I gave a response to the Chairman of the Appropriation Subcommittee that not only addressed his question but provides a clue to the answer to the first question I had mentioned regarding the number of disasters and this snarky and persistent suggestion that perhaps we are inventing these disasters.

The question related to how we measure the worth of the EMPG. I replied that there were in 2011 98 Presidential disasters, about 250 state disaster declarations where federal assistance was not needed and over 13,000 instances when there was minimal state involvement needed if any at all.

I suggested that was because EMPG has allowed local and state preparedness to develop to the point that we can tamp down events before they can escalate. The message I hope was clear. If you don’t have EMPG that number of 98 in a really bad could have become 300 or 400 Presidential declarations because the capacity to interdict a crisis would not be there.

It is a variation of "It’s a Wonderful Life" theme where the angel tells George that if he hadn’t been there, there would have been worse situations than what he was facing right now. The fact is that it is true. If emergency management wasn’t there at the ground level the number of disasters would escalate, the severity of disasters would escalate and the ability of the American people to be protected the way they have a right to expect would be diminished substantially.

EMPG minimized what was already a bad year and it could have been much worse. The attempts to use a bad year like that to attack FEMA and suggest that it is really easy to get a declaration these days is incorrect and self-serving for those that are making that argument. We found it to be more exacting than ever.

I think the folks in Joplin and Tuscaloosa would agree with us that this was just a bad year and thank heaven we had some capabilities that allowed us to address these problems.

[Slide 4]

That brings me to Homeland Security grant reform and some of the discussions we have been engaged in for some time. While we have been successful in answering the mail in EMPG that hasn’t been the case with the suite of Homeland Security grant programs to date. There seemed to be in spring of last year to be a disconnect—a yearning among stakeholders to return to the 2008 funding levels or to just leave things the way they were.

When Congress cannot get a handle on the return of investment—that is, performance measures—then blind funding is not going to occur. They are not going to continue to go down the same path when dollars are tight everywhere. The argue to leave things the way they are is just unrealistic.

Those who launched DHS in 2003 did some good things. The current critics should recall that the influx of dollars into Homeland Security was indeed a rushed process. Congress was anxious to respond to emerging threats. DHS wanted to justify its existence. The administration emphasized things being purchased—masks, radios, and contractors of varying expertise and quality instead of staff at the local and state level.

They really downgraded the contributions of permanent staff as if locals and states were not already busy before 9/11. Their suggestion sort of implied that you guys need to turn your attention to things the federal government thinks are important. Questions such as—what problem are we trying to fix?—were lost in a bewildering web of process, information bulletins and contradictory rulings.

Who can forget the sudden data calls for more information—calls that were more numerous than anyone needed to have and certainly sometimes asking for information that was really obscure and was always needed immediately? It matters little today whether this was done for political effect or a sincere desire to protect the county. More than likely it was a combination of both.

What matters is that some things worked and some things did not work and no one measured the achievement to any great extent. Of course in most of those cases the performance measure might have been—did you buy the truck? Where is the truck? There’s the truck. You met your performance measure. We are a lot more sophisticated both in what we are able to do now and what is required by Congress and the administrations that we have dealt with lately.

After eight years we at NEMA thought it ought to be possible to launch a national dialog to see if we as a nation and as stakeholders have learned any new approaches. Working with the Governor’s Homeland Security Advisory Committee, and they ended up not signing off on our document but not disagreeing with it either—we simply used them as a backdrop to help us get the perspective of Homeland Security advisors. We launched an initiative—we really wanted to propose a new funding model—a structure. We were really looking at it as grant reform.

[Slide 5]

In looking at our national accomplishments we were able to say that in despite all our sturm und drang that had gone on some very good things had been achieved by two administrations that are local and state counterparts. We could say this had not been a waste of time or money. The first step we had to take was to establish the effectiveness of the programs sufficiently because those are the building blocks to future reform.

In July of 2011 the easy part of our two part effort illustrated the effectiveness of Homeland Security efforts over the life of the program and highlighted some more recent events where it was very clear that coordination had not been in place years before was now there because of the Homeland Security programs. We got a very positive reaction from Congress who was the primary audience for this. We had documented some of the things that had gone well and I think they were very appreciative of that.

[Slide 6]

We didn’t do this in a vacuum. I want to make this very clear. As the report was drafted we did extensive outreach to IAEM leadership and staff and other stakeholders throughout the remainder of the year. We got a limited response from most people. We were kind of out there and it was probably because there were still a lot of people clinging to the view that we needed to get Congress to turn and the administration to turn and go back and fund at a higher level.

That would be very desirable but it was our belief that it was not going to happen. The economy was not going to get better. The political environment was not going to get stronger. That the questions we were getting about the effectiveness of the programs and the way they were being managed would get louder and louder and more persistent.

We felt we should at least add something to the discussion. We announced well in advance that we would submit a report by the end of 2011. We actually did the more extensive report on January third of 2012. We provided a lot of people with advance information on what was in the report including leaking something that ended up being deleted from the report in August of 2011.

Certainly by November and December a lot of people were seeing the document with some comment but not a tremendous amount of dialog going on other than, "Oh, thank you."

[Slide 7]

The principles of the grant reform were to support the PPD-8 mission areas. We wanted to do something with EMPG that made some people a little nervous. We wanted to say that it is a sustainable model. Congress is beginning to realize and has now asserted that it is a good program. The 50/50 match is essential.

It provides local and state flexibility in decision making. It has a lot to recommend it. Therefore it is a decent model. Some of the rigidity of the Homeland Security grant program could be eased to allow a more flexible approach so you can be agile, adaptive and accountable at the same time because our enemies frankly—and that is what Homeland Security funding is aimed at protecting us from our enemies—our enemies don’t have the kind of rules we have.

We need to be able to change direction when something happens and do it in a way that it is done at the ground level where local government says you know what, this is a bigger problem than this other thing we thought was a bigger problem—we need to move it around. That is a simple thing to do.

That decision can be made by local authorities. Consultation with the state but certainly not a thumb on them—I think most of us would be very eager to go with new information. But the other point was that in addition to the flexibility the country deserves to be safe, secure and but also solvent. To tell Congress that we are not asking for money but for a structure that allows us to be as capable as we can be with the resources you are able to give us.

[Slide 8]

It is not a legislative document that we have provided. It is not a plea for specific dollars. We talked about it but we took it out in the end because we thought it was inappropriate. That is not what we were talking about. Our issues were structural and related to being top-heavy in terms of the prescriptive recommendations we had to follow—we were believing that more and more information and decision making should be made at the local and state end of the spectrum.

It was not the sole answer to the concerns for Congress or stakeholders. We really thought others would be joining us saying, "These guys are completely wrong," or, "We like this but we don’t like that,", or, "Have you thought about another aspect of the problem?" We actually believed that would be the case.

It is still there to do it. We are open to it. But at no time—even in the text of our report we asserted that we wanted to have a dialog—we were not out there to win a case—we were trying to raise an issue. We were not being state-centric at all although we were state directors. There are clear references to local collaboration in the document and in everything we said about it ever since. We can only do so much. The rest of it is done on the ground where most things happen.

[Slide 9]

One of the key proposal components is to have a cadre based allocation that recognizes there is a need for staff to carry out planning assessments and grant administration and other Homeland Security functions. I think that’s pretty clear that you can’t do things without staff.

And EMPG as a model could improve the Homeland Security grant system but there is a clear bright line between those two programs just as there is a clear bright line between those two functions. EMPG stands alone among federal grant programs with its 50/50 match which I think is a good thing for us and is probably one of the key features in why Congress has such respect and regard for it.

I think they know, as we should know, that we are more than matching as a nation at the state and local level the 50 percent level. If they ever matched ours we might have trouble spending all that money if they came up to our level. That’s okay. Things are tough.

When we were challenged—and we were challenged a few times by staff in one caucus or another we would say simply we are overmatching now. Our hand is not out. That is because we have a local responsibility but if you are developing a national security program that is a discussion you need to have.

The key thing here was we wanted to get Homeland Security away from the anti-staff bias—the notion that we could just take on work because the feds are giving us money but restricting our hiring. Some of you who have been around a long time remember that though it has loosened up a little bit there are still vestiges of, "let’s buy stuff because that is appropriate".

One of the big problems in my personal judgment—and this is just a state director individually speaking now—one of the big problems for why we made purchases of so much stuff was because it was within the guidelines. If we had been really free to operate and do what we thought was necessary we would probably have hired planners who would be with us after their plans were written who would be able to see the impacts.

We would have hired permanent staff and a whole different kind of construct would have come out of that at the local level. We wouldn’t have been living from year to year so much trying to figure out what we do next. My hope is that a skilled cadre will emerge from this and it will be recognized that it takes people to do work and carry out missions. It seems amiss at times but I think we are getting around to that point of view.

[Slide 10]

Improved planning and assessments—I mention the item on the bottom first. Years ago in my misspent youth as a much younger person in the City of Seattle’s Law and Justice Planning Office there was a program called the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. It basically developed system improvement and other types of operational improvement—grant programs for the city for law enforcement—how to reduce crime. The block watch program, rape reduction program, youth accountability bureau program for youth under eighteen that got into trouble and things like that.

But we didn’t just fund those things by getting money. We started with—what’s the mission? It is to reduce crime. What is our plan? We would write a plan that was a pretty collaborative document and then ask what were the projects that would allow us to fill the gaps we have identified in our plan. And that is when we would start thinking about what it would cost to meet those requirements. Then the federal government would give us the money based on those requirements.

We wouldn’t always get all the money we needed to do every project but we extended the projects for two or three years and would find out that maybe we finished a demonstration project and could transfer money into some lower level priority that was still pretty important. That was the notion.

It was a very well run program. President Carter wiped it out in 1980 but it worked for many years in the 1970 era. The concept is still valid. Before you start spending money you have to know what your priorities are and you have to have an idea of how you are going to attack your gaps. That is one of the concepts built into what we have been talking about here. I think it makes sense and I hope we are all open to counter arguments.

[Slide 11]

Investment grants—by having project based funding we can build in the measures to be developed and therefore the performance measures and evaluation design can be part of any project that is going to be funded. Again, that is what we did for example with block watch that was started in the City of Seattle about 40 years ago.

The purpose was to reduce crime but we didn’t want to displace crime so we measured the reduction of burglary and then tested it against census tracks that were just outside the area that was being targeted and we were able to determine whether we were displacing crime or reducing crime. It turned out we were effective at reducing crime.

You build the measure into the grant proposal or description so you can find out whether it worked or not—whether it is worth continuing or not. That is an important feature. We believe that the SAA and local governments and consortia of jurisdictions would work together on a completed Threat Hazard Identification Risk Assessment and a comprehensive preparedness strategy.

We tie all that together and that would allow us to target what we would invest in.

[Slide 12]

There would be a multi-disciplinary review by local and state teams within the jurisdictions. The next line is where we part ways with the President’s budget—national peer reviews would be eliminated in this way. We say stakeholder decision making is much better. The local level is the best place to determine what the local needs are.

We want to be supportive of that. We might have something to say about it but we are certainly not going to legislate that to anybody at the state level. We really think it is important that we have that discussion at the lowest possible level and get the dollars flowing more quickly. If we have good evaluation models and tools you can determine whether we spent the money wisely after the fact.

That’s one piece of it that is important. Tier one UASIs—however many there are at any point in time—should be funded directly. That’s an issue we leave to those who have the clearances and the understanding of who should be Tier one. All the other urban areas are in the game because they are eligible for other parts of the program.

They have the right to form their own consortia and work regionally or inter-jurisdictionally on projects that relate to them. We think there is some value to looking at that. By no means are we saying this is the only way to do it—this is just a dialog we want to get started.

[Slide 13]

The advantages we see is that everyone who is now eligible remains eligible. We are tired of winning and losing aspects of this. The whole community is increasingly given an opportunity to plan and work together and not have nodes where that is not happening.

The SAA would have increased visibility over activities to protect the state. I know one of the more knowledgeable SAA’s in the country—certainly one of the most experienced ones in the country—and he can’t tell the governor what is going on in her state to a 100 percent level because he doesn’t really know what the port and transit folks are doing.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that. They are operating under the rules and regulations they have. It makes more sense to do complementary planning if we are all in the room together. It’s more difficult. It is messier and contentious at times but we found in this state, I’d like to think, that we have a pretty good way of getting at those solutions.

It isn’t pretty all the time but everyone cares about their jurisdiction and everyone understands their obligations outside the jurisdiction to the whole community. Everyone pitches in and we usually get a fairly decent consensus out of those efforts. That is about what you can respect and probably something we need to do.

Planning together helps us because I learn a lot more about the perspective of another jurisdiction if I hear what their concerns are and what they are trying to solve. It would be easier if we do this all together for Congress and the nation itself to track the results and see how we’re doing in this.

[Slide 14]

One of the things I’ve been more acutely aware of is some of the concerns and considerations people have had. I’d say first of all that change is scary but frankly we made the calculation last summer that change is happening anyway. There was no question that reductions were coming. A better and smarter way to manage the funds that we would get had to occur.

In fact, even if the dollars went up it wouldn’t hurt after all these years to come up with the smartest and best way to spend whatever dollars came to us. We are not going to win this battle we are in if we fail to adapt and change and recognize trends and improve our performance on a regular basis.

So as the dollars decline there will be less for everybody theoretically but in my experience in Homeland Security and urban area programs is that everybody ends up working together for the same objective anyway.

One of the questions that comes up is I’ll lose if I sit down with those other people. I heard this a lot. You know what? We need to be able to sit down and trust each other to come up with a consensus. Sure, you won’t get what you want in every instance but you will do better that way than if we sit here in our stovepipes watching the life get sucked out of most of the programs and having it depend on who has got the best lobby, or if you aren’t legally able to lobby, the best educational outreach program.

That is not necessarily the way to run a railroad or protect a nation. That is why we have come to this suggestion.

[Slide 15]

The conclusion is we need dialog. We don’t need to fight with each other. Everybody’s ideas are welcome. The ideas we get today, the ideas you think about overnight or in a few weeks, the ideas that associations come up with—they can be counter to ours because we make no pretext that we know everything.

Nearly a decade of experience should allow us to reconstitute our system to assure Congress and the nation that their investment in our collective efforts is justified. I read that one without paraphrasing for a reason—I think that is the principle we really need to follow. There are successful building blocks in these Homeland Security programs. It has not been a lost cause. We have done great things.

We have had some fits and starts, too, but we can do better than we have done and with less money we are going to have to do better together than we have ever done. With that I have apparently come to the end of comments. I turn it over to you Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Jim. I do want to mention that on our background page for today’s program we do have links to most of the reports you have has mentioned. Now we move to the Q&A portion of the presentation.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Amy Sebring: My understanding was that the Homeland Security Secretary was given pretty broad discretion on how the funds were going to be allocated for the 2012 grants. Has that taken place yet?

Jim Mullen: The discretion is there. I will tell you that FEMA is proceeding as if that is what is going to happen but I really don’t know if those allocation decisions have been made yet. I’m not really sure that has been adopted.

I think there is every intent to do that. I think Congress is focused on the next budget in terms of the 2013 decisions. That is really where I’ve been focusing my attention. Whatever they do this year they are going to do.

Amy Sebring:
Where do you see this going in the future in terms of NEMA’s effort? What needs to happen over the next months?

Jim Mullen: We are hopeful that there will be some—and we aren’t necessarily going to lead it—but we are going to talk to Congress and our colleagues about ideas we have. I would suspect it is probably incumbent on DHS through FEMA to continue to work with stakeholders and have some meaningful dialog about where we need to go.

I suspect that because they are pretty much constrained by—they have to support the President’s budget because that’s who they work for—that may take awhile for an open dialog to occur. It is very clear to me that the Senate and the House both expect stakeholders to solve the issue and come and tell them together what we think needs to happen.

The reason I say that is I don’t think they want us to have a battle on their conference room table. They want us to come to terms with the realities the country is facing, the budget realities, and they want us to come up with some kind of system.

I think the grant reform path to the President’s budget begins to take us—the proposal takes us— is somewhere in that realm. We are going to end up there. It is incumbent on all the stakeholder associations to try to come to a consensus on what they agree on at least and what shape these programs should take.

We are the ones in the country that want to know more about this than anybody. I am a state director. I’ve been a local director for twenty years now. I don’t claim to know everything either. I am still hearing things that are news to me. I think that is probably true of most of us if we are really trying every day.

Coming together we could come up with common principles or ideas that would allow us to give Congress advice before they do something. One of the things that always troubled me about the way DHS came about and the way some of the rules came out was we were always reacting to what people who knew less than we did, as an emergency management community, to what they were telling us had to happen.

We weren’t getting involved early enough before the decisions were made. I would submit to you that while one association or another may not know everything, together all of us know just about everything and we can be very helpful to each other and the nation if we can come up with at least some basic principles.

We have a bunch of them in our paper. I have been encouraging people to look at them and say what do I not agree with or what is missing and tell us and convince us. Together we can come up with a set of proposals or set of concepts, dollar-free, of what this country needs, how we need to do it, who needs to be accountable for it, and how we are going to be able to justify our efforts to you.

That is a proper question for Congress to be asking and proper thing for us as subject matter experts to say that we should be the ones commenting on this. The people on this call and people you represent and work with are the generals and foot soldiers in the war that people should be listening to before they make decisions.

Amy Sebring:
When you talk about stakeholders and the associations--of course you are aware the PPD-8 has a big chunk in there that relates more to the law enforcement community. I know that at the state level you are coordinating with those folks every day. Is NEMA working with any state or national law enforcement associations on this effort?

Jim Mullen: We are willing to talk. The metropolitan police chiefs have talked to us about this. They are approaching it their way. We are open to talk to any law enforcement group. Our association staff have probably been in touch and keeping regular communication with those folks but we haven’t asked anyone to sign onto it.

We have simply said, "Here is what we think. What do you think?" It is a dialog thing. We are not trying to be the support arm, we’re not trying to be the lever—we are trying to drive the fact that we have to talk about this before decisions are made on our behalf without us having the input we probably need.

Isabel McCurdy: I don't know what SAA is. Would you elaborate please?

Jim Mullen: In each state, a state administration agent is identified by the governor. In our state it is the Homeland Security advisor, the Adjunct General to the Military Department. In other states it could be somebody the governor decided to appoint—it could be the emergency management director.

In some states the emergency management director is also the homeland security advisor. It varies. In about half of our states, that is the case. I’m not. I work for the Adjunct General for the State of Washington who is the Director of the Military Department who is the Homeland Security Advisor and the State Administrative Agent.

The emergency manager manages the grants that flow through there. That is the relationship. That is who I talk about when I talk about the SAA. When the adjunct general who is the governor’s principle advisor has to go tell her what is going on in the state, he has to tell her—as far as I know—this is what is going on in your state—in my case, Washington State—this is how we are coordinating, this is the state of affairs of protecting the state you’re the governor of as far as I know.

There are elements of the program that aren’t under him that he doesn’t have visibility on to the level that would make him more comfortable. I think that is true of most SAAs where there are independent programs that are stove-piped beyond the ability to coordinate. We have had some good success in this state lately with the transit folks that are coming into the discussion and I think that is a very good thing.

They are going to join our urban area working group as I understand it. That is a wonderful thing. We need to work to make sure we have everyone in the room and promise not to pick their pockets, but to pick their brains and get the benefit of their expertise. In time I think it will all work out.

Barb Graff:
Jim, many States are suffering significant FTE (full time employee) cutbacks given local and state economies. Talk with us about the ability of states to administer this increased workload associated with this new structure.

Jim Mullen: I think this might simplify the workloads to a certain extent. By shifting this here we aren’t necessarily shifting the burdens we don’t already have. If we had to do more management of more grants and the structure was such that there was more direct interaction at the local level I suspect we could all absorb that a little bit better.

The key thing would be locals holding themselves accountable, states holding themselves accountable—I just don’t think we’d have a big problem with that. The workload is going to remain the same. Even for two or three years after all these monies are gone if the programs disappeared there would be a grant requirement we would have to absorb.

I will tell you this. In my experience is what state budget analysts ask is if we have to track this job and if it is a federal mandate they are more likely to approve that or shift resources if we do need more assets to track and monitor grant performance. I don’t think that is going to be as huge of a problem.

It’s interesting—none of the state directors who had questions about any aspects of the proposal ever suggested it would make it harder for them to administer grants. It was posed to them in our executive session—would this thing make things more or less complicated? They felt it gave them more surety in terms of where the money was coming from and what the rules would be.

My short answer is I don’t think that will be a huge burden. Staffing is always going to be a burden. I’d be interested in knowing if that was creating a burden at the local level because it is one thing for me to say blithely that we can manage that but if it created burdens at the local level we could begin to address that in this dialog.

Avagene Moore: Jim, thanks for your thought-provoking presentation today. I take from what you said that you didn't get the amount of input or feedback you hoped for from stakeholders re: Homeland Security Grant Reform Report. Why do stakeholders not grasp that they have a lot of clout? What can we do to emphasize this to local practitioners and to your state peers?

Jim Mullen: I think it is really important—and maybe it is because I can’t see an issue without commenting on it anyway and those of you on the call who know me know that I am not shy—but I would say one of the things that is a block is when representatives or association staff or some group hears something—it’s how much news do they want to take back. What is the feedback mechanism within association? How much independence out of necessity or structure does a committee chair have or association staff or outreach person in D.C. have?

That’s a question that each association has to answer—if they are satisfied that they are getting this information. I would have liked to have heard from presidents, vice presidents, officials, and board members of any of the associations more about any concerns they had with the proposal because that is how we can answer those questions or adjust our approach.

I don’t want to be critical of anybody but I do think probably there was a combination of—here was something that was running against what everybody wanted to see happen. Everyone wanted to see the bleeding stop and have the abruptness of the cuts in Homeland Security be halted so we could take a deep breath and let locals in particular begin to adjust to the reduced dollars.

As much as the reduction is a problem, the abruptness of the reduction has been a greater problem because all of a sudden you are going as fast as you can and then you have to slow down to half speed, and relaize then you’ll have to cut your speed by another half in a year and you begin to wonder why you are running at all. Why are you even in the race?

My guess is there was a conflict between the push to save what we had and re-adjusting to what some of us think of as the new reality. Frankly, I think the only way we’ll ever get increases is if we reform the structure of the grants and can show people beyond the shadow of a doubt what we are doing and what would be possible if more funds were put into it.

I honestly believe that if we were doing this kind of project and it were successful we would be more successful in getting resources because Congress would know exactly what they were getting when they appropriated the money and allocated the funds.

Al Goodman:
Are natural hazards considered in this process?

Jim Mullen: To an extent, I guess—one of the things I expect would be a little controversial is the notion that we accept in the grant proposal that mitigation has to be in every conversation on the Homeland Security investment side. The reason is I believe that if you leave the pre-disaster mitigation (PDM) program on its own you are going to watch it shrink.

In fact, it has been shrinking in the past two to four years. The power of the argument is if you retrofit a building and mitigate against an earthquake—and I’ll use my parochial area as an example—you can convince over time in discussion a fire chief that he doesn’t have to send his search and rescue people in to save as many people and put his people at risk if we mitigated the building.

You can convince a public safety professional of the power of mitigation in preventing damage and minimizing negative consequences and risks to their own people that belongs in the discussion with all the other things that relate to disaster preparedness. Yes, I think there is a point when we should do it.

Some of my friends in PDM and I think I have a few left despite supporting this proposal argue that we will lose if get in there. I think we should trust our argument. Mitigation makes more sense than almost anything that we do. Pre-disaster mitigation, identifying the risks and moving forward—that is the proper place for it.

We are not going to win that argument with our stovepipe program with the leak in the bottom of the boat. We are going to have to win that argument by plugging it in with the other activities and saying we belong in here to. I think that is true whether you are a port or transit authority, or city or county—we really need to look at what is most important and look at those things. I think that is the way to go.

Amy Sebring:
I was struck by your remarks and I guess I’ve heard it before about the cadre staffing. Because there is not any long-term assurance from year to year you will have funding for specific positions, a lot of the planning work has to be farmed out to contractors. Do you want to address that a little bit more?

Jim Mullen: I’ll try not to destroy any future career opportunities by saying how I feel about contracting but I will say this—it is much better if you are going to develop a sustained effort to have a sustained staff. Contractors can do some things but they can’t do everything and they certainly can’t possibly match the value of a local Homeland Security person who is trained and who understands preparedness principles and understands the community they are planning for.

You may need some outside expertise to do some of that work. You may need outside expertise to put together the telecommunications meeting you are going to have to discuss what you really need but you really don’t need to have contractors for the sake of contracting and certainly not at the expense of staff.

I will say this—this is right off the Top Off two exercise where I began to form some of my judgments about the overuse of contracting. We were sitting in a room planning for the top off two exercise and we pointed out that we needed to do a recovery piece in this, and we sort of did at the end. That was the first time anyone said in King County in Seattle that we need to talk about recovery after this event. This is a huge issue.

The contractor was totally blown away by this. They said, "What do you mean?" There’s an effect on the urban economy. How do we measure that? We would probably get an urban economist. Where do we find one? The whole idea was there is no concept of the long range impacts to that community of that event.

It was totally focused on the event. Why? Because that is what their contract was—that was their reason for being in our city and county at that time—to carry out that contract. Now , if you are working for Barb Graff as an employee and that question comes up, they know that in addition to handling that event and getting through that thing, there are consequences that have to be followed.

In fact they knew that before it happened. They are working on those issues on a regular basis and they have the people tied together to do that. They are attempting to achieve a kind of rhythm from beginning to end, or a loop or circle of activity that allows them to continue to work together. When you need specific expertise then you go buy it but it never supplants the core responsibilities of the government that has brought them in.

That core responsibility includes planning for consequences, planning for response and planning for recovery. All that stuff needs to be done in house. Contractors— it wasn’t their fault we were restricted from using staff as if that was something really bad and contractors were something that was the panacea for all ills.

I think it was a disservice to contractors as well as local governments that philosophy was allowed to prevail so powerfully for so many years and I hope we are getting farther away from that.

Amy Sebring: I guess I was driving at the fact that you have to do your planning year-to-year. This is our budget process in the United States. We go through it every year—in other words not having a longer term view of what is needed over the next five years.

Jim Mullen: The other thing is that our idea is if they adopted some version of grant reform that was along the lines we were talking about, there would be more certainty and time given to actually measure the performance of these programs, evaluate them and make course corrections and do whatever you need to do.

That is the agility and adaptability that we’ve been talking about. You wouldn’t be dinged if you idea didn’t work. If your idea didn’t work that is a good thing because then you know what you should not do. That is part of any evaluation.

I’ll go back to a single finger print project we did in law enforcement years ago. We got a National Exemplary Award from LEAA (Law Enforcement Assistance Administration) and then we terminated it because the evaluator said it didn’t work. It was embarrassing a little bit but in fact it didn’t work until twenty years later when technology got to the point where you could make identification.

We were running more effective than ever but you couldn’t convict anyone based on that. If you couldn’t do that—that’s what we were trying to do is find a way to connect criminals to a crime. We couldn’t be sure it was right. Even though it improved the performance and it was faster it wasn’t as accurate and we couldn’t depend on it. We abandoned it until technology caught up with our bright ideas.

You want your evaluation to say if it worked or not. You need to know the answer to that, be unflinching and say that it was a nice try—it wasn’t wasted money—it’s learning that is occurring.

Carla Marable: How will natural hazard mitigation activities be funded in light of the 9/11 act which prohibits the funding of non-terrorist activities?

Jim Mullen: First of all, I think it could be fixed in legislation. We are not making a legislative proposal. We are saying how things should be. In the course of that discussion you could amend that if there is a consensus among us that we should do that.

Many things have a terrorism nexus. For example, if a bridge is important and you want to mitigate the bridge, the social value of the bridge may be that grandma is on the other side and that is how her groceries get to her and how her son and daughter get groceries to grandma once a week and check on her to make sure she’s okay.

The national defense value might be that we need that bridge to connect nodes of the nation’s defense. The actions you take to protect the bridge against terror can also be actions that have a benefit for a natural hazard or any accident that occurs. There is a tighter linkage than one might think.

If we keep trying to parse these activities out into each narrow node I think we limit the effectiveness and not increase the effectiveness. That’s a discussion that should be out there. We aren’t making a proposal for action so much as saying these are some concepts that need to be involved.

That’s a good question but we fully intend to engage with that. Quite honestly I will tell you from the officials of NEMA that I represent we come down hard on anything like this that we suggest we have to be very strong and loud in our support for mitigation of natural hazards as well as terrorism hazards.

The 9/11 Commission didn’t do everything right and maybe they did the best they could but it has been ten or twelve years. We can take a look at that, too. That’s a part of this retrenching—what now makes sense?

Amy Sebring: On our last program we had David Miller on with us speaking about mitigation. He talked a good bit about integrating mitigation into everything we do.

Jim Mullen: I think it is the only way mitigation is going to survive. Only for our sanity and for our grant programs did we start breaking up mitigation, response and recovery into these little silos. It was one break in the chain. I actually have a slide from a previous presentation—I think if Barb Graff is on the call she will remember it—where I built a house called "emergency management" and there were four pillars underneath it.

I pulled the mitigation piece out and it collapsed in flames. I think that is true. The supply change for emergency management starts with mitigation effort if you want to think of it that way. Response and recovery—if there is a break in any of those things the whole system fails. We need to see it holistically and not see it in a narrower context.


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. On behalf of Avagene, myself, and all our participants, thank you very much for joining us once again to share this information. We also want to thank your assistant Lee Root for helping us prepare this program. We wish you every success both at NEMA and in Washington state.

Note: If you have additional comments about how the grants program can be improved, please share them. Look for links to Jim’s blog.

Our next program is planned for June 27th so please plan to join us then. Until next time, thanks to everyone for participating today. Have a great afternoon. We are adjourned.