Introducing FEMA’s CISA

From Homeland Security Today: CISA’s Brian Harrell Focuses on Building Culture of Resiliency, One Threat at a Time.

On the heels of a “bomb cyclone” that slammed the Missouri River Basin with catastrophic flooding and more than a billion dollars in damage, Brian Harrell heads for Nebraska. The mission of the assistant secretary for infrastructure protection is to visit various critical sectors – from public and private electric utility plants to chemical plants – and to discuss with federal and state emergency management leaders the devastation of the recent severe flooding, address security at a chemical facility, and meet with the Nebraska State Police.

“Today I was able to witness the flooding devastation in Nebraska firsthand,” Harrell told Homeland Security Today on Thursday, adding that his department, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), “is dedicated to providing assistance, expertise, and assessments to our dams, utilities, chemical plants, and infrastructure owners and operators in Nebraska.”

Book Review: Disaster Recovery Through the Lens of Justice

Disaster Recovery Through the Lens of Justice, by  Alessandra Jerolleman. Palgrave Publisher, 2019.  108 pp. Cost: $69.99 paper, $54.99 online.

Reviewed by Erika Pham and Sahar Derakhshan, PhD candidates, University of South Carolina Department of Geography, Columbia, SC

Disaster Recovery Through the Lens of Justice is an examination of the nexus between justice and disaster recovery. Author Alessandra Jerolleman aims to combine concepts of justice with resilience and vulnerability, which are used in the context of Zakour and Swager’s (2018) Vulnerability-Plus (V+) theory. She discusses the potential for the application of a capabilities justice framework, and uses the idea of “Just Recovery” to account for the elements of justice and its relevance to resilience and recovery, arguing that resilience and recovery are not possible if there is no justice. She sets out to explain an initial set of four principles characterizing Just Recovery: 1) the ability of the community to exercise agency through free and informed choice; 2) any unequal treatment needs to be justified by the discriminator; 3) the community needs to define adaptation for holistic disaster risk reduction and consider their own contexts; and 4) people require equal access to resources and programs for Just Recovery.

The book consists of eight chapters, the first of which provides a brief introduction and purpose behind the application of a justice framework to concepts of recovery, explaining how the mechanisms behind current policies’ reproduction and magnification of vulnerability and disparate outcomes are not fully understood. Jerolleman introduces the ideas of the next several chapters, allowing the reader to become familiar with the structure and chain of thought for the rest of the book, as well as the concepts to be investigated. These chapters serve to further illuminate the initial set of four principles of Just Recovery proposed by the author, and leads to a final call to action for gauging the role of current disaster-related policies in sustaining injustice.

Each chapter starts with a clearly defined goal, in addition to an introduction of the presented concepts and applied theories, from fields of sociology, psychology, public policy, and political economy. The concepts of deservedness and survivor agency are built through consecutive chapters to further explain the creation of a corrosive community that prevents equal access to resources. The chapters dedicated to the review of disaster-related federal public policies and legislation, their limitations, and their implementation in the U.S., complements the argument of equal access to resources and informed decision-making for a Just Recovery. The author nicely employs examples from Hurricanes Maria and Harvey along with older comparisons from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and other events throughout the chapters; especially, in defining deserving victims, corrosive communities, and disaster capitalism. The examination of case studies, and as the author phrases, the “socio-spatial inequalities”, is fairly and succinctly depicted in the text; however, including some maps or pictures would have helped the readers to better visualize and understand the disparities, for example in the case of New Orleans.

To tie it all together, the author reminds the reader that in examining current policies, assuming a position of non-neutrality is key to unveiling and fixing some of the systemic injustices in place, and asks the pertinent question, “Resilience for whom?” Jerolleman avoids being dry by effectively integrating examples of recent past disasters, and thoughtfully outlines and examines some of the social, political, psychological and economic factors that contribute to the injustices in hazard and disaster landscapes, taking a multifaceted approach to discuss the interplay between different systems and the implications for risk reduction and resilience.

This book is recommended to scholars, managers and policy makers in the field of natural/technological hazards in particular, as well as people who want to learn more about disaster and environmental justice topics in general. What the author does nicely in this book is describe in an accessible manner the typically complex relationships between societal and governmental processes within the hazards and disasters sphere. Finally, the examples from recent events throughout the book are valuable additions to the discussion of Just Recovery, which further illuminates the necessity of considerations and call to action that are raised by the author.






Recovery in PR Mired in Politics and Mud

From the WashPost: ‘Enough with the insults’: Puerto Rico’s governor says Trump won’t meet about Hurricane Maria recovery 

In the brutal months after Hurricane Maria, which killed an estimated 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, the island’s Democratic governor abstained from joining the local chorus lashing President Trump over a botched federal response. But that fragile alliance has disintegrated as Trump increasingly insists that aid to the island be cut off, a demand he reiterated to Senate Republicans on Tuesday.

In his strongest rebuke yet of the president, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló late on Tuesday called Trump’s comments “below the dignity of a sitting President” and “irresponsible, regrettable and, above all, unjustified,” while suggesting Trump has dodged meeting him.

Editorial in WashPost on March 27: The Trump administration has turned bigotry into policy in Puerto Rico

From Wash Post on March 26: HUD inspector general’s office says it’ll look into whether White House interfered with Puerto Rico disaster aid

Puerto Rico Gov Hits Back After Trump Whines About Hurricane Relief Funds

New GAO Report Critical of Federal Block Grants Pledged for Recovery

Disaster Recovery: Better Monitoring of Block Grant Funds Is Needed.  Report ispages long; summary is available. Here is the direct link to the recommendations.

Use of the $35 billion in federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds for the 2017 hurricanes has been slow.Over a year after the first funds were appropriated, much of the money remains unspent because grantees in Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still in planning phases. Also, the Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn’t have the review guidance and monitoring plans it needs for good grantee oversight. We recommended ways to improve the oversight of disaster funding and better meet disaster recovery needs.

Update on 3/26. Here is a another, hard-hitting account of the deficiencies at HUD: Key Federal Agency Doesn’t Have the Staff to Oversee $35B in 2017 Hurricane Recovery Money

A key agency charged with overseeing $35 billion in federal disaster aid Congress appropriated after the record-setting 2017 hurricane season lacks sufficient staff to oversee the funds and is not taking proper precautions against fraud, according to a new report.

A slow start to the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program has led to virtually none of the funds being disbursed, despite Congress approving the spending more than a year ago. HUD’s “ad hoc” approach to overseeing and monitoring the funds has created lags in four states and territories—Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—providing relief to individuals affected by the hurricanes, the Government Accountability Office found.