Obstacles to Changing Climate Change Rules

From the NY Times: Dismantling Climate Rules Isn’t So Easy.  An excerpt:

Regulatory reversals lacking a legal or factual basis would result in lawsuits by citizens, states and industries supporting the regulations. Challengers would argue that the rules are rooted in statutory language, court precedents and in careful documentation of environmental, technological and market facts. On the climate, for example, three Supreme Court decisions established that federal climate action is required by the Clean Air Act’s broad language; and the E.P.A. then, via another rule upheld by the judiciary, documented substantial climate risks.

Problem Not Fixed in LA

Lest you get too optimistic about recovery in LA, here is an article about health and other problems still a concern 11 years after H. Katrina. See: Forgotten People of the New Orleans’s 9th Ward.  Toward the end of this article is a brief explanation of the fundamental problem, which is conservative state property laws make it difficult to tear down blighted and vacant structures.

That has serious implications for the recovery in Baton Rouge.

FEMA Releases Updated National Planning Frameworks

Details from FEMA:

Today, FEMA and its partners released the updated National Planning Frameworks for each mission area: Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery. The National Planning Frameworks, which are part of the National Preparedness System, set the strategy and doctrine for building, sustaining, and delivering the core capabilities identified in the National Preparedness Goal of building a secure and resilient nation.
The Frameworks present a paradigm shift in the way we approach preparedness through a risk-driven, capabilities-based approach. Historically, preparedness was considered a separate, distinct mission area; but now the Frameworks address national preparedness as a whole, through the core capabilities that compose the five mission areas.

National preparedness is a shared responsibility—everyone has a role to play to ensure that our nation can address its greatest risks. FEMA supports the mission of strengthening the security and resilience of the nation by working to improve the ability of all to manage incidents, events and emergencies. The Frameworks do this by creating a shared understanding about how we, as a nation, coordinate, share information, and work together to achieve our missions, as well as define our roles and responsibilities from the fire house to the White House.

Recognizing the need for an all-of-Nation approach to preparedness, and an open and transparent government, input was gathered from the public, stakeholders and all levels of government. FEMA received thousands of comments during the various review and comment periods. As a result, the Frameworks offer practical, real-life examples of things people are doing to keep our nation safe and resilient.

The updated National Planning Frameworks also incorporate critical edits from the National Preparedness Goal refresh, including updated core capabilities, lessons learned from real world events and continuing implementation of the National Preparedness System, including an increased emphasis on cyber threats, and updates on the roles and responsibilities of coordinating structures in each mission area. The updated Frameworks also align with new policies and directives, such as PPD-21, Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, and EO 13636, Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.

FEMA is hosting a series of engagement webinars to highlight key changes to the Frameworks and to answer questions participants may have. All webinars are open to the whole community, including individuals and communities, the private and nonprofit sectors, faith-based organizations and all governments.
For a copy of the document, summary of changes, and webinar registration information visit: http://www.fema.gov/national-planning-frameworks. For more information on national preparedness efforts, visit: http://www.fema.gov/national-preparedness.

See also the comments from readers that follow this announcement from FEMA.

21 States Do Not Meet Emergency Preparedness Standards for Kids

This past weekend, the Washington Post was full of sad stories of children who dies in unregulated day care facilities here in VA.

Today USAToday reports this article: Report: 21 states don’t meet emergency prep standards for kids. The lead in states:

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia do not meet emergency planning standards for schools and child care providers, according to a new report from Save the Children. However, for the first time this year, more than half of states — 29 — reach the non-governmental disaster relief organization’s standards in its laws and regulations.

In an accompanying poll, Save the Children found that 69% of parents mistakenly believe their protections are in place.

Here is the direct URL to the Save the Children report. Note the site requires a sign in to get at the 12 page report.

Update: One reader found an error in the report – see comment. If you find anything that is questionable or wrong, please contact the sponsoring agency so that they can correct the data in their next report.

Canada has Weak Safety Culture re Transport

Transport Canada’s lax safety practices go beyond rail; Self-reporting rules for marine, rail and aviation contributing to ‘weak safety culture.’

The deadly Lac-Mégantic train crash — and this week’s safety board report into what happened — raises questions not only about government oversight of the rail industry but of other sectors like air, marine and food as well, engineers and transportation experts say.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the worst rail disaster in Canada’s history. In it, the watchdog agency criticized how the federal government ensures regulated companies follow safety rules.



Leadership – some new resources

In recent weeks, two topics have been keeping me up at night:

(1) The sheer volume of guidance, reports, documents, directives and the like that are coming from FEMA and other federal agencies responsible for emergency management.

As  noted in an earlier posting, there is an inverse relationship between the volume of materials to be read and understood and incorporated into planning in practice and the resources (personnel and money) available at the state and local levels of government. I assume also that the Red Cross and many non-governmental organizations also are feeling the effects of sequester-driven and other budget reductions.

(2) Leadership, primarily lack of.  The very agencies who issue the documents noted above are not willing or not able to show the flag and lead the way. Just today, the Wash. Post noted huge cutbacks in the number of meteorologist on staff at the National Weather Service and their ability to perform vital functions n times of weather emergencies are seriously impaired.

Somehow the requirements have to be streamlined and rationalized so that the reduced workforce and resource base can get the most essential tasks and functions done, and at the same time the reports and non-essential paperwork requirements get reduced.

As promised, here is some new material on the topic of leadership:

Two weeks ago the Diva was in London Ontario, participating in an invitational conference on Leaderships held at the University of Western Ontario. The small group of participants was comprised on Canadian and American professionals in the various elements of emergency management. You can see some of the past work of the organization, and in the near future I expect they will post a proceedings of the conference. [(I will feature that fact and provide a URL when it is available.)

One of the documents shared at the conference was the report titled: Leadership on Trial: a Manifesto for Leadership Development (2010). For a preview of the report and ordering info, go to this site. 

Preparedness in National Capital Region is Questioned

US Capitol, Washington

A great deal of federal money, not to mention state and local funding, has gone into the National Capital Region since 9/11.  In the four days since the powerful surprise thunderstorm last Friday night, local citizens and reporters are wondering why recovery is so slow. Among the major concerns are the capabilities of local electric utilities and why the 911 system failed.

In the Washington Post, on July 3, an article questioned the preparedness of the local power companies. And it raised questions about utility regulation and appropriate requirements for putting more power lines underground.  And a Washington Post editorial on July 3 asks more hard questions.

On July 4, the Washington Post published an article saying that regulators in both MD and the District of Columbia accepted some of the blame for not effectively doing their job of overseeing the utility companies.  I find that candor  refreshing!  Regardless of who is to blame, a lot of people are working hard to correct the situation. Even the local CERT chapters are helping out.


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U.S. Offshore Oil Drilling Regulator Speaks Out


Image by The National Academy of Sciences via Flickr

First sign of the new regulatory office at the Dept. of Interior flexing its muscles.  According to Pro Publica on April 27, Chief Offshore Drilling Regulator Criticizes Lack of Oversight for Contractors.

The top regulator of offshore drilling said this week that his agency is exploring expanding its oversight to include thousands of contractors on offshore rigs. The majority of offshore oil workers in the Gulf of Mexico are contractors and the their central role in safety issues came into focus after last year’s Gulf oil spill. BP had leased the Deepwater Horizon rig from the contractor Transocean and relied on the contractor Halliburton to provide casing for the Macondo well.

The government currently regulates only operators of offshore drilling rigs, such as BP, and in turn holds them responsible for any contractors they hire. Experts say that by delegating the supervision of contractors the government is essentially taking the word of rig operators that facilities are safe and comply with regulation.As Reuters reported Monday, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, Michael Bromwich, said he thinks his agency has the authority to oversee contractors and that he intends to do so.

Brownwich expanded on his comments Tuesday at a recruiting event at Columbia University attended by a ProPublica reporter. “It makes absolutely no sense to me why we should not regulate contractors as well as operators,” said Bromwich. “Historically we have only gone against the operator. My question is: why?”

Overseeing contractors could drastically expand Bromwich’s mandate, and it’s not clear whether his agency has sufficient resources to do it.

Implications for the U.S. of the Japan Disasters- update

In response to events of the past week in Japan, fresh attention is being  given to the need for effective leadership and the ready determination of  lead responsibilities in the event of a catastrophic event, especially one with major secondary effects.

US Flag flies in Scottsville

Image by MEL810 via Flickr

Who Would Be in Charge if it Happened Here?

Congressman Markey’s Letter to President Obama: Who’s In Charge If Nuclear Disaster Hits America? Greenpeace.org, March 13.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) raised concerns today that the United States does not have a coordinated plan to deal with a similar nuclear disaster as that which is currently happening in Japan. In a letter sent to President Barack Obama, Rep. Markey, who is the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, pointed out that currently no single federal agency appears to have designated command in the event of a nuclear disaster here on U.S. soil.

“I am concerned that it appears that no agency sees itself as clearly in command of emergency response in a nuclear disaster,” … “In stark contrast to the scenarios contemplated for oil spills and hurricanes, there is no specificity for emergency coordination and command in place for a response to a nuclear disaster.”

The federal government’s nuclear accident response plan — the Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex to the National Response Plan — says that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “is responsible for coordinating Federal operations within the United States to prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.” Yet the plan also indicates that, depending on the type of nuclear or radiological incident, the coordinating agency may instead be the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), or the U.S. Coast Guard.

Where Would Expert Leadership Come From?

Nuclear Agency’s Assessment Lags. Wall St. Journal, March 17. Some selected quotes:

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s failure to quickly and accurately assess the potential danger posed by Japan’s nuclear disaster is raising questions about the United Nations organization’s ability to respond to such crises.
Teams of nuclear experts from the U.S. and elsewhere rushed to Japan after this past Friday’s earthquake there, but the IAEA is only Thursday sending its director general, Yukiya Amano, with a team. IAEA officials say the agency is doing everything that it can and that it has been frustrated by a lack of cooperation from Japan.
The agency’s inability to quickly dispatch a team of experts has made it almost entirely reliant on the Japanese government for information at a time when much of the world is looking to the IAEA for an impartial analysis of the risks and likely outcome of the nuclear emergency.

Flaws in Japan’s Leadership Deepen Sense of Crisis. NY Times. March 16

Never has postwar Japan needed strong, assertive leadership more — and never has its weak, rudderless system of governing been so clearly exposed or mattered so much.

Wanted: Better Risk Assessment and More Effective Regulation

In the past few days, several commentators have discussed how complex and interconnected life is these days and on the need to do more than let business interests run unbridled.  Here are a few examples of thoughtful commentary:

Robert Reich in the Huff Post, March 15. Safety on the Cheap.

Profit-making corporations have every incentive to underestimate these probabilities and lowball the likely harms. This is why it’s necessary to have such things as government regulators, why regulators must be independent of the industries they regulate, and why regulators need enough resources to enforce the regulations.

The Costly Lessons from the Long Tail of Improbable Disaster, by S. Pearlstein. Wash Post, March 16.

The lesson to be drawn from all this is not that we should roll back the clock and return to a simpler and less interconnected existence. It is, rather, that more attention must be paid to the extra risks that come with all the advantages of modern life. There may be a significant cost involved in preventing low-probability disasters, or having sufficient infrastructure to deal with them when they cannot be prevented. But as we are reminded by this week’s events in Japan, that cost is likely to be less than the cost of ignoring those risks and doing nothing at all.

Harold Meyerson, Wash. Post, March 16, From Japan’s devastation, our Lisbon moment?

What the systemic failures on Wall Street, in the Gulf of Mexico and in Japan should teach us is that the need for active, disinterested governmental regulation is rooted not in any radical impulse, as the American right continually contends, but in a sober, conservative assessment of the human capacity for mistake and self-delusion, not to mention avarice and chicanery. We can underestimate the risks of a particular undertaking, even when we think we have guarded against them. We fall prey to our own sense of infallibility, often as a way to rationalize what is otherwise a risky endeavor. When those risks go bad, the consequences often fall on those who didn’t take those risks themselves, as the millions of Americans who lost their jobs thanks to Wall Street’s follies can attest.

As of March 17, articles are beginning to appear about the problems that the national government of Japan has been having in its effort to regulate the nuclear power industry in their county.  Some articles are only available in full with a subscription to the WSJournal.