Florida’s Disaster Recovery Guide

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From the Florida Dept. of Community Affairs, Post-Disaster Redevelopment Planning: a Guide for Florida Communities; issued October 2010, 158 pp. This is a very comprehensive document. I think it is the best guidance on recovery issued by a public agency that I have seen to date.

Please send me whatever good examples you have of guidance for public agencies regarding long-term recovery. I would welcome some additions to a small collection.

Resilience in New Orleans

There are so many articles about the Katrina anniversary, it is hard to know which to pay attention to.  Two articles dealing with long-term aspects and resilience in particular are as follows: We’re still not ready for another Hurricane Katrina; by Stephen Flynn, Washington Post, August 29.

With local communities having exhausted their ability to bounce back, the problems with our country’s approach to managing disasters loom especially large. Three are most serious: continued uncertainty in the gulf region about how the federal government would organize to support it after a storm; confusion about how or whether insurance companies would pay claims; and signs that stepped-up evacuation preparedness has not been matched with planning to quickly return people to their communities.

We tend to think of resilience as something achieved or not, but this article indicates that various degrees of resilience may exist just in one block of one neighborhood.  That suggests to me that measuring resilience for a community is going to be a hard job. On One Block, Resilience and Despair, Jourdan Avenue’s Uneven Recovery Reflects New Orleans as a Work in Progress; Finally Back at Home—but No Hot Water August 28, WSJ.

Hurricane Katrina and the Oil Spill — comments in the news

Here are two more takes on New Orleans five years after H. Katrina. Lessons in Resilience from New Orleans, Andrew Revkin’s blog of August 13, citing geographer Bob Kates and NOLA on Hurricane Katrina.

Turning to the aftermath of the oil spill disaster, see The Coast Is Not Clear; Business Week, August 12. The author notes:

Though the BP oil spill’s impact is much less severe than feared, long-term threats remain: wetlands destruction, dead zones, and climate change. They make the spill look almost minor .

Oil Spill – focus shifts to long-term effects

Worries about recovery come to the foreground, now that the well has been capped. See As oil spill cleanup shifts gears, gulf residents fear they’ll be forgotten.

The [LA] state government said this week that erosion eats away 29 square miles — more than Arlington County — every year.

What about the gulf’s “dead zone”? This year, it covered 7,722 square miles of the gulf, an area nearly the size of Massachusetts that lacked the oxygen that some fish, crabs and oysters need to breathe. But fixing it would require making changes all the way up the Mississippi River, which brings down the pollutants that feed the algae blooms that suck out the oxygen — making changes at feedlots in Iowa and sewage plants in Illinois. “I can’t see how they could just restore everything that needs restoration. There’s just too many problems,” said Nancy Rabalais, who heads the LA Universities Marine Consortium….

She worries, in essence, that the gulf will simply be returned to its regularly scheduled disaster.  “It doesn’t have the political attention” that the spill commanded, she said.

In an interview over the past weekend, Adm. Allen was asked to assess the job that BP did. His partial reply is as follows: Allen gives BP a mixed grade.

“The technology that was needed to be brought in for other parts of the world, was [brought in]. It took a long time to engineer it. It took a long time to install it. But, ultimately, it helped us put the cap on and control the well. So I give them fairly good marks there.” But Allen added that where the energy giant’s performance has been lacking is in having a human touch. *** “… they’re a large global oil production company. They don’t do retail sales or deal with individuals on a transactional basis. Anything that’s involved, that has been a real struggle for them….”

Hurricane Katrina – 5th anniversary

Since the 5th anniversary will occur at the end of this month, several organizations have been reviewing the events and accomplishments.  The Brookings Institution has issued a series of reports on what has been learned since  Sept. of 2005; the listing of all reports is on the page titled The New Orleans Index at Five.

Their  overview paper (20 pp) is subtitled From Recovery to Transformation, is a very thoughtful report that provides a excellent discussion of the key elements of recovery.

Oil Spill Update – -Not all clear just yet

NOAA issued a major report on August 4, titled Federal Science Report Details Fate of Oil from BP Spill. Nevertheless, other scientists are questioning the methodology and results of the NOAA study.  See Scientists question government team’s report of shrinking gulf oil spill, Wash Post, Aug. 5.  Some quotes from that article:

* * *  in interviews, scientists who worked on the report said the figures were based in large part on assumptions and estimates with a significant margin of error.

Some outside scientists went further: In a situation in which many facts remain murky, they said, the government seemed to have used interpretations that made the gulf — and the federal efforts to save it — look as good as possible.

Regarding some of the human impacts of the spill, see  Oil Spill Has Far-Reaching Effects on Children and Families, a new report by Dr. Irwin Redlener, Columbia University. His study found significant impacts on  health, economic stability, and daily routines. August, 2010. From the report:

More than one-quarter (26.6%) of coastal residents said they thought they might have to move away from the Gulf Coast. Among those earning less then $25,000, the figure was 36.3%. Children whose parents think they may move are almost three times more likely to have mental health distress than are children whose parents do not expect to move.

BP Oil Spill–New Spill Estimates: almost 5 million barrels

New spill estimates released August 2 suggest that 4.9 million barrels of oil (give or take 10%), or 205,000,000 gallons have been released from the Deepwater Horizon oil well.  Of that, they estimate that about 16%, or 800,000 barrels (33.6 million gallons) has been captured. For comparisons sake, the Exxon Valdez spilled 750,000 barrels (31.5 million gallons), and this spill now exceeds the former-largest spill, the 1979  Ixtoc I, which released 140,000,000 gallons.  How they achieved this new estimate is described on the  Deepwater Horizon Unified Command page:

The installation of a new containment cap and the subsequent well integrity testing procedure provided the opportunity to calculate the flow by measuring the pressure at the top of the well as the choke and kill valves were manipulated after the main containment valve was closed to trap hydrocarbons.

Also of interest on the Deepwater Unified Command page was the EPA’s release of the results from toxicity testing on “mixtures of eight oil dispersants with Louisiana Sweet Crude Oil.” The result: “dispersant-oil mixtures are generally no more toxic to the aquatic test species than oil alone.” A link is provided on their page to the tests results.

On other note, the spill is having an impact as far north as Canada. According to the Ontario Star newspaper, as fall approaches the issue of migratory birds that winter in the Gulf Coast region has come into focus. Of major concern are white pelicans, which just came off the endangered species list, but many other birds could be “flying to their demise”. This is impacting many segments of Canadian society:

Scientists aren’t the only ones concerned about the impact the spill may have on Canada’s migratory birds. Aboriginal groups who have for centuries hunted ducks, geese and other waterfowl to feed their families are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama to get involved.

The article mentions a program established by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service which has set up the “Migratory Bird Habitat Initiate” in an effort to mitigate this problem. They are paying farmers in portions of eight states to flood their fields in order to “enhance habitat for migratory birds”.

The Diva will be back from vacation tomorrow. Claire, thanks for letting me stand in for you!

Guest Blogger, Kim Stephens

Oil Spill Disaster–BP Muzzling Scientist?

Chairmen Waxman and Markey Question BP on Scientific Suppression

The Committee on Energy and Commerce seems to be just as concerned as we are regarding the suppression of scientific research from experts hired by BP. Last Thursday, July 29, a letter was sent to BP requesting their appearance on Aug. 6 to address the matter. From the Committee’s page:

Following recent reports indicating that BP has hired academic experts to study the oil spill and imposed confidentiality agreements on the independent scientists, Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) requested full disclosure of the contracts today from BP.

“Mitigating the long term impact of the oil spill will require an open exchange of scientific data and analysis,” write Reps. Waxman and Markey to BP America CEO Lamar McKay.  “Any effort to muzzle scientists or shield their findings under doctrines of legal privileges could seriously impede the recovery.”

The  two congressmen ask BP to brief the Committee on Energy and Commerce by August 6, 2010, on the matter, and provide “copies of all contracts that BP has executed with any third party consultant, scientist, or academic, from the period April 20, 2010, to the present, relating to assessing the environmental and health impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.”

See also this article from the LA Times.

Oil Spill Disaster-More Conflicts in Regulatory System

David Dykes — the federal regulator now leading his agency’s investigation of the BP oil spill — has spent five years as a senior investigator and office chief enforcing oil industry safety in the Gulf of Mexico. For much of that time, his brother was a top executive at an energy company with significant activities under Dykes’s purview. But David Dykes did not formally recuse himself from matters involving his brother’s company. No rule required him to do so. Unlike many federal agencies that make employees distance themselves from matters involving friends, relatives or former bosses, the nation’s chief oil regulatory agency had no such policy.
Now, in the wake of the BP disaster, Congress is pressing the agency formerly called the U.S. Minerals Management Service to clamp down on potential conflicts of interest. The case of David and Rodney Dykes highlights the challenges of the task. The oil industry of the Gulf Coast is an insular world in which rig foremen and the federal inspectors charged with regulating them sometimes work side by side, or grew up in the same towns and even homes.

Also in the news this weekend–BP’s use of dispersants. From the LA Times on Saturday, July 31 read Gulf oil spill: Did Coast Guard allow excessive toxic dispersants?

From the article:

Documents released by a congressional committee Saturday show that the U.S. Coast Guard appeared to flout a May 25 Obama administration directive that sought to limit the use of chemical dispersants on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to “rare cases.”

“BP carpet-bombed the ocean with these chemicals, and the Coast Guard allowed them to do it,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House energy and environment subcommittee. “After we discovered how toxic these chemicals really are, they had no business being spread across the gulf in this manner.”

Haiti 6 Months Later: Recovery is Slow

Claire is on travel this weekend and asked me, Kim Stephens, to add this blog posting.

This summer has been filled with images of oil-soaked marshes and underwater engineering feats and failures; the worst oil spill in our nation’s history has taken our attention away from the worst earthquake in our hemisphere’s  history.  Unfortunately, there really isn’t a lot of good news to report with regards to Haiti’s recovery.

As testimony to the flagging recovery, images of Haiti still show piles of debris clogging the streets,  the National Palace remains in ruins without any signs of reconstruction,  and a make-shift camp, erected soon after the quake, still sits directly across the street from the Palace.

Marking the 6 month anniversary of the earthquake Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, John Kerry issued the following statement:

“As we pause today to remember the lives lost and communities devastated as a result of the terrible earthquake in Haiti, we must also assess what we have done for the recovery process and how we can do better. Frankly, the results are mixed. Although the initial rescue effort was commendable for its quick response, the reconstruction process has been considerably slower and too many critical priorities remain unaddressed. Rebuilding Haiti requires not just resources, but decisive action, vision, and leadership from the United States, the international community, and the Haitian government. The window of opportunity is rapidly narrowing for an effective, coordinated international and Haitian effort that can make a real difference. We will all be responsible if progress grinds to a halt. I urge my colleagues in Congress to do their part by swiftly passing the Haiti Empowerment, Assistance and Rebuilding Act, as well as the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill.”

For a good assessment of the situation, read the report entitled “Haiti at a Crossroads” . This report was issued to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by the majority staff who traveled to Haiti in June in order to determine “the effectiveness of relief and recovery efforts”. From the report’s introduction:

On May 25, 2010, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Kerry-Corker Haiti Empowerment, Assistance and Rebuilding Act of 2010, S. 3317. This bill authorizes $2 billion over 2 years to support the sustainable recovery and long-term rebuild- ing of Haiti. The legislation establishes a policy framework that emphasizes just, democratic and competent governance and invest- ments in people, particularly women and children. It tasks the U.S. Agency for International Development to put together a comprehensive rebuilding and development strategy for Haiti. And it establishes a senior Haiti policy coordinator responsible for advising and coordinating U.S. policy toward Haiti.

The committee takes seriously its responsibility to oversee the expenditure of the funds that the U.S. Government has pledged and spent in Haiti, and to ensure that the administration has the policy, personnel, and processes in place for effective use of funds within the strategy. While any sustainable strategy for rebuilding Haiti must be Haitian-led, given the dire circumstances in Haiti and the decimation of Haiti’s civil service, the United States and other donors must take an active role in guiding the reconstruction process. This report highlights 10 critical issues for Haiti’s rebuilding that require urgent attention by the Government of Haiti and the Obama administration.

The ten critical issues:

  • Establish a feasible, comprehensive rebuilding strategy
  • Build leadership and capacity in the Government of Haiti
  • Empower the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission
  • Address the resettlement issue
  • Hold elections expeditiously
  • Donors need to speak with one voice and improve coordination
  • Coordinate U.S. assistance efforts with the Government of Haiti and other donors
  • Rebuild Haiti’s decimated civil service
  • Maintain security gains
  • Bring the broader Haitian community into the rebuilding process