Policy Decisions Need Facts

On June 8th, I did a posting titled FEMA Wants More Responsibility for Recovery to Go to State and Local Governments The article discusses a major policy change underway at FEMA.

On July 19, the Pew Trust released a report titled What We Don’t Know About State Spending on Natural Disasters Could Cost Us. Here are the 2 concluding paragraphs:

In an era of increasing expensive disasters, efforts to adjust the funding relationship among the federal, state and local levels and managing growing costs though mitigation are likely to increase. However Pew’s research shows that states are not comprehensively tracking their disaster spending. The limited available state data strongly indicate that these expenditures very widely across states. Without complete data about state investments and local cost-sharing practices, any proposal tackling intergovernmental spending issues or cost reduction will be operating largely in the dark.  [Emphasis added.]

As federal efforts take shape in the context of increasing expenditures on all disaster phases, a commitment from state and federal policymakers to collect and share comprehensive data is critical. Understanding the full scope of spending on natural disasters will help leaders at all levels of government as they work to control the growing costs of these events in dollars, property losses and lives.

Bottom line:  the change in policy needs to be based on facts and reality. I see a major disconnect here.  I think we headed for growing threats/risks/vulnerabilities while simultaneously seeing retrenching and weakened federal capabilities. It is not going to be pretty.

Your comments are invited.

DHS’s Science and Technology Unit to Help With PR Recovery Planning

From Homeland Preparedness News: DHS Sci. and Tech Directorate Collaborating With FEMA on Puerto Rico Recovery Plan. This is a new approach to recovery plan preparation that I do not think has been used before.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is assisting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in drafting a report assessing hurricane damage in Puerto Rico and outlining a plan to rebuild that is due to Congress by Aug. 8.

DHS S&T has provided FEMA with access to the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC), a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC), to help complete the report. Scott Randels, director of DHS S&T’s FFRDC Program Management Office, visited San Juan in February to begin collaboration on the report.

“To ensure transparency and multiple opportunities for feedback, HSOAC is using agile management methods and plans to release multiple drafts building toward the final products,” Cynthia Cook, the HSOAC project lead for the Puerto Rico recovery plan, said.

EPA Rollbacks Have Deadly Consequences

Inside Climate News reports on new Harvard Study: Trump’s Environmental Rollbacks Put Thousands of Lives at Risk, Harvard Analysis Finds. The authors used EPA’s own risk assessments to estimate the number of illnesses and early deaths prevented by clean air and water rules Trump is now trying to erase.

Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own numbers, two Harvard scientists have calculated that 80,000 more lives will be lost per decade if President Donald Trump’s administration fulfills its plans to roll back clean air and water protections.

The researchers, terming their tally “an extremely conservative estimate,” also estimated that the repeal of regulations will lead to respiratory problems for more than 1 million people. Their essay was published Tuesday in the authoritative Journal of the American Medical Association.

A related article from NPR about the concerns for hazmat incidents and response: Fear And Frustration Over EPA Move To Kill Chemical-Disaster Protections

The Environmental Protection Agency intends to block an Obama-era proposal and effectively shield companies from scrutiny about how they prevent and respond to chemical disasters. At a hearing Thursday, agency officials got an earful from dozens of people who live and work near refineries and chemical facilities across the country.


We Tend to Overlook Man-made Disasters

According to Lloyd’s Ins. and Univ. of Cambridge: Man-made risks forecast to cost world’s cities $320bn each year on average.

Man-made risks like cyber-crime, interstate conflicts or market crashes are a bigger threat to economic output than natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and volcanoes, putting an estimated $320.1 billion of global GDP at risk on average each year, according to Lloyd’s, the world’s specialist insurance and reinsurance market.

The Lloyd’s City Risk Index, built in collaboration with Cambridge University, is a unique study measuring the impact of 22 threats on 279 cities’ projected economic output. The index reveals that 279 cities across the world – the key engines of global economic growth with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $35.4 trillion – risk losing on average $546.5bn in economic output annually (GDP@Risk) from all 22 threats. This comprises $320.1bn to man-made risks and $226.4bn to natural catastrophes.

Once More on the Value of Mitigation

New article from Scientific American: Communities are spending money on disasters at the wrong time: after the damage has been done, not before.

That is the central theme Zurich Insurance Group takes in a recently released report that draws conclusions about natural disaster mitigation by analyzing a series of 12 events—floods, storms and hurricanes—since the summer of 2013.

In its study, the global insurer found that every $1 spent on “disaster resilience” saves $5 in limiting future costs, including post-storm cleanup efforts.

In recent years, various reports have cited savings of $4,.$5, and $6 dollars in costs but whatever the number the message is mitigation pays.

Why So Passive?

The Diva is feeling discouraged this week from the lack of interest and comments from readers. In the past week or so, she posted two really serious articles:

(1) June 8 – FEMA Wants More Responsibility for Recovery to Go to State and Local      Government, which discusses a policy shift by FEMA, which would mean the agency plans to pull out much sooner from the recovery process and expect state and local agencies to manage the long-term recovery.

(2) June 13 – Staffing Problems at FEMA, which discusses the serious deficiencies in the Reservist program as well as staff depletion issues. In recent disasters the lack of staff, and lack of well-trained staff has been a serious limitation to the response and recovery. One has to wonder what the agency plans to do to increase its effectiveness?

This blog reaches several hundred people per day, all of whom seemingly have an interest in disaster recovery. Yet the response to the major issues raised by the two posting noted is limited and passive.

Update on June 16 it took a while but finally several people have provided comments. Thanks!

[Note: recent changes to the blog format  means that those of you who subscribe to the service noting a new posting get that notification from WordPress and not RecoveryDiva, as was true in the past. Sorry, but that change came with the upgrade. ]

Staffing Problems at FEMA

Three articles have appeared lately. From oldest to newest:

(1) Article in Vice News: FEMA Is Facing Hurricane Season With a Vastly Depleted Workforce.

(2) From Reuters: US Disaster Response Stretched Thin As Hurricane Season Starts. An excerpt:

Internal documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show the agency’s disaster-response force is understaffed by 26 percent. And as last year revealed, many of those who sign up don’t always respond when needed. (For graphic, see tmsnrt.rs/2Juw4LV)

(3) Another take on the topic from TheHill: FEMA Scrambles to Hire Response Force as Hurricane Season Looms.

How Corruption Slows Disaster Recovery

How corruption slows disaster recovery.  Much of this article seems obvious but it is worth noting that corruption may not only slow down recovery but contribute to deaths.  A couple of quotes follow:

We believe progress would have been quicker if Puerto Rico’s first big energy contract had been correctly executed. After a disaster, corruption can literally kill.
Our work also identified several ways that Caribbean countries could limit how corruption harms future hurricane recoveries.

Better disaster preparedness – including building code compliance, zoning enforcement in exposed locations like beaches and hillsides and transparent, well-resourced disaster-response teams – would reduce turmoil after extreme weather. That, in turn, would minimize opportunities for the kinds of chaos-related corruption we documented across the Caribbean.