New Limitations on Science and Environmental Policy Information

The Diva does not usually deal with national political matters, but a new decision by the Trump administration affects information that is essential to emergency management researchers and practitioners. See this article from the Wash. Post on Jan. 25.

Federal agencies ordered to restrict their communications.   Some excerpts:

Trump administration officials instructed employees at multiple agencies in recent days to cease communicating with the public through news releases, official social media accounts and correspondence, raising concerns that federal employees will be able to convey only information that supports the new president’s agenda.

The new limits on public communications appear to be targeting agencies that are charged with overseeing environmental and scientific policy, prompting criticism from officials within the agencies and from outside groups focused on climate change.

Reuters reported the story with a blunter headline: Trump Administration Seeks to Muzzle U.S. Agency Employees.

“The Nasty Politicization of Ebola”

From an opinion piece by Dana Millbank in the WashPost, see The nasty politicization of Ebola. Here is the lead in:

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, administered a dose of truth to political Washington this week.
For this honest service, Collins was pilloried. Collins shared with the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein his belief that, if not for recent federal spending cuts, “we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this” Ebola outbreak.

On Buying Access to a Governor

Not directly on topic for this blog, but this article highlights a big problem at the state level. It might in part account for delays or roadblocks at the state level with respect to needed EM legislation and policies. See: Secretly Buying Access to a Governor

I cannot help but wonder about state governments that  push back on policy and regulatory changes needed post -disaster, such as requiring storm shelters and safe rooms in the state of OK and push back by real estate interests re dealing with sea level rise along the east coast.

Update:  Be sure to check out the array of comments on this topic.


Toronto Disasters: first the mayor, then the ice storm- updated

Toronto Skyline

Toronto Skyline

In the days before Christmas, a huge ice storm affected the northern states in New England and the southern provinces of Canada.  Usually, a power outage of several days duration that affected at least 300,000 households in a metropolitan area would warrant a local emergency declaration. But not so in Toronto.

See this article for the outcome there, given the fact that the mayor did not want to share power with his deputy, or anyone else. Toronto Ice Storm Leaves Hundreds of Thousands with Power.

In the U.S., our process for requesting assistance from a higher level of government entails a local emergency declaration, then the locality requests assistance from state government, and the state asks for a declaration from the federal government. ( Under very special circumstances, the feds may initiate assistance.) From the comments below, it appears that the Canadian system is quite different.

Update on Dec. 27: From a Canadian newspaper article more info on pros and cons of a local emergency declaration. Thanks to Pierre Picard from pointing out this source.

Learn from Experience? — not necessarily for some in Congress

A new report from the Center for American Progress is titled  States With most federal disaster aid sent climate science deniers to congress.

Since this report is only 8 pages long, I suggest you read it all. One excerpt:

Interestingly, many of the states that received the most federal recovery aid to cope with climate-linked extreme weather have federal legislators who are climate-science deniers. The 10 states that received the most federal recovery aid in FY 2011 and 2012 elected 47 climate-science deniers to the Senate and the House. nearly two-thirds of the senators from these top 10 recipient stated voted against grants federal emergency aid to NJ and NY after Superstorm Sandy.

Another Problem With Recovery After Sandy – Congress

Not only the NY and NJ congressional delegations are furious with Congress, but so is the New York Times – see its editorial on Hurricane Sandy Aid, NY Times, January 2, 2013.  They desperately need federal assistance and in a timely manner to assist with recovery processes.

There is a lot of finger-pointing in Washington about who is responsible for the mess made of the so-called fiscal-cliff negotiations, but there is no doubt about who failed thousands of residents and businesses devastated by Hurricane Sandy and still waiting for help: Speaker John Boehner.

Boehner yielded to the political pressure and now has the bill scheduled for attention in January.

Related Stories:

NJ – development history and issues

More of the “I Told You So” or “We Warned You” dept.: Jersey Shore Development Failures Exposed By Hurricane Sandy

When you are dealing with recovery issues in the northeast, most of the community development has occured over many decades and in some cases settlement patterns began centuries ago.  It is not a simple matter to make major changes or to
begin to pay attention to resilience and sustainable development.

On Dec. 13th, the HS Newswire featured this story on the aging instrastructure whose weakness were uncovered after the super storm: One more example of the weaknesses of our aging infrastructure and they the problems are uncovered by a disaster. Sandy exposes weaknesses of antiquated sewage systems in N.Y., N.J.
Published 13 December 2012

Hurricane Sandy destroyed homes, apartments, and entire communities, and it also exposed the outdated sewage systems in New York and New Jersey; since Hurricane Sandy, millions of gallons of raw sewage have infiltrated waterways in both states, and it could take several years and billions of dollars to fix the systems; New York governor Andrew Cuomo estimated that it will cost about $1.1 billion to repair treatment plants; officials in the field say that much more will have to be done. Raw sewage overflow flooded much of New York and New Jersey coastal areas //

Recovery – NY Style

Here are some useful examples of what “snap back” and resilient recovery plans look like. It remains to be seen how the conflicts and tradeoffs between the two will be addressed.

Short-Term Recovery:

Winter looming, New York rushes to repair homes hit by superstorm Sandy: Hiring private contractors to repair homes quickly, New York responds to disaster relief in its own entrepreneurial way. Will the city be able to get people back in their homes before year’s end? [This article is based in part on the testimony that NY Congressman Nadler gave at a House Committee Hearing on Dec. 4th, part of which was the basis for my posting yesterday.]

This article covers the inherent conflicts in the recovery process: how to get rapid action on repairs and recovery for homeowners  — in this case in the winter time, in a location where the usual types of temporary housing are not an option. What remains to be determined are ways to mitigate the likely future storm damage.

Long-Term Recovery Plans:

Bravo to Mayor Bloomberg for his understanding of and commitment to a recovery process that results in a more resilient NYC in the future.  On Dec. 6th the Mayor spoke out about long-term recovery intentions:

Disasters and Big Government – political philosophy

This topic keeps growing, so I will add articles that bring out additional dimensions.

As a continuation of the topics I write about yesterday, I want to share an editorial in NYT today: A Big Storm Requires Big Government. Here is the concluding paragraph:

Does Mr. Romney really believe that financially strapped states would do a better job than a properly functioning federal agency? Who would make decisions about where to send federal aid? Or perhaps there would be no federal aid, and every state would bear the burden of billions of dollars in damages. After Mr. Romney’s 2011 remarks recirculated on Monday, his nervous campaign announced that he does not want to abolish FEMA, though he still believes states should be in charge of emergency management. Those in Hurricane Sandy’s path are fortunate that, for now, that ideology has not replaced sound policy.

Another take on the topic of the disaster policies of Romney and Obama, from the Wash. Post on October 28. This one includes quotes from nationally known researchers, such as Kathleen Tierney.

One more perspective, from NBC News.

Rebuttals to the NY Times editorial:

(1) The Heritage Foundation’s response to the NYT article. Matt Mayer commented on October 30 as noted here.

(2) The Wall St. Journal’s article was titled: A Big Storm Requires Big Bird? Necessary government doesn’t justify         extravagant government.

(3) A neutral commentary from the Christian Science Monitor.


An example of bad consequences for failure to use federal money for flood mitigation. Romney is now taking the heat for a 2004 decision in Massachusetts.

The view that politicizing a disaster is normal, is the theme of this article in NY magazine, October 30.

Emergency/Disaster Management – the politics

Given the intensity of the pre-election political debate as well as the near-term arrival of Hurricane Sandy in the nation’s capital this is the time, several critical political issues probably will get some visibility (if not solutions) in the near term. Once the storm clears, there will be intense scrutiny of FEMA and the availability of federal funds and assistance to state and local governments for response and recovery activities.  More specifically,

(1) We can expect some debate about supplemental appropriations by Congress to pay for the expected tens of billions of dollars of damage likely from the catastrophic storm events.

(2) A review and discussion of the form and functions of FEMA.

(3) Effects of sequestration on FEMA.

Re (1) above, here are some details from Roll Call today; essentially saying that funds are available at FEMA presently to assist states with disaster response. Same topic as explained in the Wall St. Journal today.

Re (2) quite a bit a discussion ensued today:

In a  recent ( but pre-Sandy) interview, Romney indicated he wants to abolish FEMA and make the states assume responsibility for disaster relief and assistance.  There might also be a  privatizing effort in there too.

Today, CNN picked up this topic and the Romney spokesperson quoted this morning is sticking to the story.

By afternoon today, Romney is quote as saying he would not abolish FEMA, but gave no details about the agency would do if the states had the main role and functions.

Also this afternoon, a writer with weighed in, saying abolishing FEMA was a terrible idea.

My opinion:  I fully expect that his position will change when his Republican colleagues who hold congressional offices in some of the 10 or more states affected by  H. Sandy want their share of federal money for response and recovery, under the current national emergency management system.

Oct.30- hate to say I told you so, but Romney has a”clarified” his stance on FEMA and federal aid about 24 hours after I wrote this posting.  See this report. It would be political suicide to do otherwise.

Re (3) Here is what Ezra Klein has to say in his blog re how costly cuts to FEMA will result from sequestration in 2013.