Resilience After a Disaster – Rhetoric and Reality
THE RHETORIC: Earlier this week, I posted some information about the lengthy study process and new book from the National Academy of Sciences re Resilience. See earlier posting here, including details about their Nov. 30th workshop.
From an intellectual standpoint, the study and the presentations at the NAS this past week are commendable and credible. But my concerns have been practical ones — how will local officials and others responsible for the front lines of emergency management actually adopt the philosophy and apply it in their communities?
Also, of concern is how the federal emergency management agencies (not just FEMA, but EPA, NOAA, HHS, USGS and others) will champion the cause of resilience and include resilience actions and measures into their work. Note: FEMA is one of the 9 federal agencies that support the work of the NAS on resilience.
THE REALITY: This week the FEMA Administrator testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure e Committee on Dec. 4th. At the hearing, when pressed about some of the longer-term considerations for the eastern states recovery from H. Sandy, Fugate took the short/narrow view. Some excerpts:
… when legislators asked FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate about these kinds of infrastructure issues, such as developing a long-term strategy for safer housing on the shorelines, he insisted that such issues, while important, were beyond the scope of his agency.
“Again, this goes far beyond what FEMA does, it goes far beyond the Stafford Act,” said Fugate, referring to the law that created the federal disaster relief system that is in place today.
Speaking about long-term housing solutions in New York and New Jersey, Fugate said, “The Stafford Act is a key part of this initial fix … but it does not get to pre-existing conditions, (and) it doesn’t get to some of the regional challenges that we have in that dense population area.”
Fred Tombar, a senior adviser to the HUD secretary for disaster recovery, noted that his agency is developing plans to provide rebuilding assistance – to be made available to communities that qualify for the Community Development Block Grant Program. The rebuilding assistance would help communities “build back in a way that is smarter and safer than what has been done before,” he said.
The source for these quotes is the coverage of the questions and answers from the House Committee Hearing in this article: House Committte Grills FEMA chief on Long-Term-Fixes in Wake of Sandy.