Local Officials Want Database of Sandy Recovery Expenditures

Victims want to know when they can expect money and taxpayers want to know where there money is going.  Both are sensible expectations, but not usually easy to answer post disaster.

Local officials in NY are working on legislation to make the expenditures of the billions of federal dollars allocated for H. Sandy reconstruction and recovery more transparent for those affected.  See this article from local paper.

Note that the federal government has a post-Sandy expenditure system in place. It is on the Dept. of HUD website page with the H. Sandy Rebuild Task Force Report. Direct URL is here, though I am not sure how current the data is.

“Connecting Grassroots to Government for Disaster Management”

From the Homeland Security Digital Library, where they have the luxury of full-time staff!, see the abstract and source info for this new report from the Wilson Center:  Connecting Grassroots to Government for Disaster Management

The full report is 139 pages, and the executive summary is on pages 4-5.  Looks like a lot of good material in there.

Excellent New Article – in Environment Magazine

Since Michelin ranks restaurants with stars, the Diva has decided to award stars to documents re recovery. Here is the first one I would give 4 stars to:

Making America More Resilience toward Natural Disasters: A Call For Action, by Howard Kunreuther, Erwann Michel-Kerjan and Mark Pauly. From Environment Magazine, July/August 2013.  The title does not really do justice to the wide array of useful content here, so I suggest you download the full article and decide for yourself how you would categorize it.

Some excerpts:

Hurricane Sandy caused an estimated $65 billion in economic losses to residences, business owners, and infrastructure owners. It is the second most costly natural disaster in recent years in the United States, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but it is not an outlier; economic and insured losses from devastating natural catastrophes in the United States and worldwide are climbing.

According to Munich Re,2 real-dollar economic losses from natural catastrophes alone have increased from $528 billion (1981–1990), to $1,197 billion (1991–2000), to $1,23 billion (2001–2010). During the past 10 years, the losses were principally due to hurricanes and resulting storm surge occurring in 2004, 2005, and 2008. Figure 1 depicts the evolution of the direct economic losses and the insured portion from great natural disasters over the period 1980–2012.2

There is a wealth of useful information in this article, which makes it hard to summarize. It is thoughtful and clearly writtten. I consider this an essential document, one that I think will be a classic in time.

CRS Report on Severe Thunderstorms and Tornadoes

New report ( 26 pp.) by the Congressional Research Service on Severe Thunderstorms and Tornadoes in the U.S.: CRS on Storms May 2013. CRS Report # R40097.  The report addresses 3 issues: (1) forecasting and issuing warnings for several thunderstorms and tornadoes; (2) the role of mitigation; and (3) the effect of climate change.

Thanks to Bill Cumming for bringing this report to my attention.

Leadership During Recovery- a Kiwi perspective

The Diva just learned about an interesting paper, written by Ms Elizabeth McNaughton of NZ, with the title Leadership, Wisdom and the Post-Disaster Recovery Process.  This link will take you to the full text of her report (40 pp.) and some biographical information.

She clearly has walked the walk and talked the talk of long-term recovery. Plus she is an excellent writer. I highly recommend this paper.

Those folks down under have quite a unique sense of humor. Here is a sample:

“So leaders in recovery – when your tutu falls off you need to be sure your frilly knickers are enough. We need to plan for times when we are not at our peak, because no one can be at peak performance all the time. So, what are your plan B’s? How prepared are your understudies? And what are your resilience building strategies? Can you access the wisdom; yours and that of others?”


McNaughton was the National Recovery Manager at New Zealand Red Cross after the Christchurch Earthquake of 2011,and since then has traveled internationally to research recovery experiences in other countries.

Classic FEMA Documents Available from FAS


Thanks to the efforts of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS.org) and to Bill Cumming, a nice collection of about 60 classic documents related to FEMA is stored on the FAS website. The direct URL is here.

A note about a recent addition to that list, at the bottom.  Bill Cumming asked the FAS to add the report titled Coping With Catastrophe; Building an Emergency Management System to Meet People’s Needs in Natural and Manmade Disasters, done by research team assembled by the National Academy of Public Administration in 1992-3. He and I recently reviewed and discussed this 20 year old report, which probably remains the only major assessment done of FEMA during its 25 years of existence as an independent agency. The report is a good example of the value of engaging professional public administrators when dealing with a “wicked” problem, as recommended in the previous posting on this blog.  It’s insights and recommendations were used for many years and some are still current.

Update on Recovery Efforts by HUD, FEMA, and the Red Cross re H. Sandy


I was wondering what HUD is doing re Hurricane Sandy, given the fact that the Sec. of HUD has been given the lead role for recovery for the first time in history. The agency has a page of its website devoted to Hurricane Sandy, but I was disappointed at the results. I was hoping to see some discussion of a strategic approach to recovery , progress to date, or some of the future concerns for the two states where the most damage has occurred, NY and NJ.  But the majoring of the postings have to do with foreclosure rules and details about the CDBG program.

I did find some information about how HUD allocated the initial round of  CDBG money to 6 states affected by H. Sandy. See this article on Feb. 12. If readers know of any more informative sources about HUD’s efforts, please let me know.

There is a website for the HUD Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, but the info is about 2 months old. .

Thanks also to a reader for this source: U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations. Dec. 5, 2013. Setting Up the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. It contains the testimony of Craig Fuguate, DEMA Director, and  and Sec. Donovan of HUD. Fugate discusses the National Disaster Recovery Framework on pages 6-8 of his testimony.Donovan discusses his lead role on recovery on pages 4-5 of his testimony.



Here are some details re recovery efforts by the American Red Cross, as of March 2.

Congress – use, disuse, and misuse of information and knowledge

I often write about the problems of a lack of knowledge base re emergency management in the executive branch, and FEMA is usually the primary focus. I found this article fascinating because I do not know much about members of Congress gather and use information.  Rather frightening actually, especially in view of the crucial post-Sandy recovery decisions slated for discussion later this month.

See: Congress’ Wicked Problem; Seeking Knowledge inside the Information Tsunami.New America Foundation, Dec. 2012. Author is Lorelei Kelly. The full paper is 28 pages, which I recommend to those of you serious about this topic.

The lack of shared expert knowledge capacity in the U.S. Congress has created a critical weakness in our democratic process.Along with bipartisan cooperation, many contemporary and urgent questions before our legislators require nuance, genuine deliberation and expert judgment. Congress, however, is missing adequate means for this purpose and depends on outdated and in some cases antiquated systems of information referral, sorting, communicating, and convening.

Congress is held in record low esteem by the public today. Its failings have been widely analyzed and a multitude of root causes have been identified.  This paper does not put forward a simple recipe to fix these ailments, but argues that the absence of basic knowledge management in our legislature is a critical weakness. Congress struggles to make policy on complex issues while it equally lacks the wherewithal to effectively compete on substance in today’s 24 hour news cycle. This paper points out that Congress is not so much venal and corrupt as it is incapacitated and obsolete. And, in its present state, it cannot serve the needs of American democracy in the 21st Century.

It was not always such: less than 20 years ago, Congress operated one of the world’s premier scientific advisory bodies.  It maintained an extensive network of shared expert staff–individuals and entities that comprised deep pools of both subject matter and legislative process expertise.  Importantly, most of these human resources worked for Congress as a whole and provided symmetrical access and assistance to staff and Members tasked with complex policy decision-making.  Before 1995, committee staffs were also larger and more often shared.  Joint hearings between committees and between the House and Senate were more common as well. While this former system stands in stark contrast to the one that exists today, it also offers encouragement that we can rebuild an expert knowledge system for Congress–one with even greater capabilities– by harnessing the technology tools now at hand.

This paper distinguishes between information and knowledge:  Members of Congress and their staff do not lack access to information. Yet information backed by financial interests and high-decibel advocacy is disproportionately represented. Most importantly, they lack the institutional wisdom that can be built via a deliberate system that feeds broadly inclusive information through defined processes of review, context, comparison and evaluation of the implications for the nation as a whole.  Concurrently, Congress also needs more expert judgment available to it during the policymaking process, which, for the purposes of this paper, means a focus on development of knowledge.

Specifically, knowledge asymmetry within Congress creates an uneven playing field and obstructs forward movement on policy.   In the context of this paper, knowledge asymmetry refers to the uneven distribution of trusted quality expertise inside the institution, which hinders the ability of policymakers to see aligned interests and distorts the policy process.  A good example of this is the disparity between subject matter information provided to committees versus personal staff in DC and back home in the state or district. Committees on Capitol Hill receive the lion’s share of expertise.

Two vital legislative processes deserve attention as well.  Authorization and appropriations cycles form the bedrock of Congress’ workplan. A distorting knowledge asymmetry today is the imbalance between them.  Authorization  hearings, for example, are where members engage in discussion, bring ideas to the table and deliberate on policy substance.  Ideally, they examine assumptions, make tradeoffs, set parameters, review subject matter and set policy. Appropriations is the process where members allocate money.  Authorization, in general, has atrophied considerably over the past decades, with far more institutional and outside bandwidth devoted to appropriations.

Fundamentally, this paper looks at asymmetry in two subsets: expert knowledge provision and expert knowledge sharing.

This is not a call to eliminate lobbying.  Petitioning your government is, after all, part of the Constitution. As retired Representative Lee Hamilton (D-IN) points out, lobbying is part of the normal deliberative process.  He notes that Members of Congress have a responsibility to listen to lobbyists and that they are an important component of the public discussion.   “Our challenge” he says  “is not to shut it down but to make sure it’s a balanced dialogue.”

Ultimately, the political and partisan character of information in our contemporary Congress is not balanced, especially within the ongoing process of policymaking. This current condition contrasts with the broader vision and inclusive capacity of Congress from previous decades, a capacity that provided credible knowledge and bridge building to support the compromises necessary for most policymaking. The issues raised in this paper must be addressed for the policymaking process to get back on track.

Mitigation and Recovery – ASFPM Advice

Some sage and practical advice is offered by the Association of State Floodplain Managers in their recent 9-page paper titled Hurricane Sandy Recovery, Using Mitigation to Rebuild Safer and More Sustainable Communities. (Released 12/13/12)

The paper provides practical suggestions for all sectors to get involved.  One more push toward resilience.