Testimony of the Honorable Hal Daub
Mayor, Omaha, Nebraska
Member of the Board of Directors of the National League of Citiesb and Immediate Past Chairman of Public Safety and Crime Prevention Steering Committee
Before the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property, and Nuclear Safety
Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate
July 23, 1998

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Senator Graham and members of the subcommittee. I want to thank you for inviting me to testify this morning on behalf of the National League of Cities (NLC). I am pleased to represent NLC, the largest and oldest organization representing some 140,000 municipal elected leaders from nearly 17,000 cities and towns.

I am in my second term as mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, moving up after service in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981- 1989. Currently I am a member of the Board of Directors of the National League of Cities, and last year I served as the Chairman of NLC's Public Safety and Crime Prevention Steering Committee which is responsible for developing NLC policy on all issues related to public safety. This committee considers and recommends policy related to all aspects of natural and manmade disasters. I am testifying for NLC today as a member of the organization's board.

Before I present NLC's comments on the "Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act," I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and your staff for your outreach to cities and other stakeholders with roles in disaster preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation.

When a community is overwhelmed by a major disaster, the local government must look to the State and federal government for assistance and to coordinate response and recovery activities. So, it is important that we take the same approach as we work with your subcommittee, FEMA and other stakeholders to develop authorizing language for Project Impact.

NLC is committed to a balanced federal budget and deficit reduction which requires us to work with all levels of government to actually reduce costs. We believe this must and can be done without simply shifting federal responsibilities and costs to state and local governments. And we believe an increasing number of severe disasters, as well as increased urbanization and other factors, are largely responsible for escalating federal, state, and local disaster-related costs.

The offsets needed in recent years for federal supplemental appropriations to pay for disasters have largely come out of programs of great importance to cities. So it is no surprise that NLC members support reducing the need for supplementals through cost effective activities to substantially reduce the risk of future damage, hardship, and suffering from major disasters.

Almost two-thirds of federal disaster costs are from damage to public facilities and infrastructure. And we know all disasters are local. Thus it is essential that responsible local officials, both elected and professional emergency personnel, are engaged on a permanent basis in activities to increase our overall capacity to identify and assess disaster risks and to advance established mitigation strategies and priorities.

Title I - Predisaster Hazard Mitigation NLC is very pleased that FEMA has agreed to work with you on this legislation to establish State and local pre-disaster mitigation partnerships which will actively engage the private sector and nonprofit organizations in creating disaster resistant communities. We believe this will help improve and expand the capacity for effective mitigation activities in communities across the country.

I want to reiterate here NLC's commitment and offers to work with FEMA to help increase the awareness of local officials, the business community, and the general public of natural hazards and what they have cost or could cost if we fail to reduce them through hazard risk mitigation. (See attached letters.)

We fully support engaging the private sector in mitigation activities to reduce damage to business and private property and to get their support for developing disaster resistant public facilities and infrastructure. Also, it is essential that we encourage the private sector to limit, and where possible prevent, significant economic disruption following disasters. The health of our communities and our tax base depend on this.

Throughout this Act there is emphasis placed on the importance of federal support to and engagement of State and local governments to accomplish implementation of effective mitigation measures. We are pleased that States are called on to engage local governments in development of our comprehensive mitigation plans and programs, as well as in setting statewide priorities. This involvement will help local officials begin to recognize and analyze existing hazards and to learn how they can be reduced or eliminated through already proven mitigation approaches. We also expect FEMA to provide states and localities, in a timely fashion, information on the successes of Project Impact as they develop. This should include examples of how cities succeed in bringing the business and nonprofit sectors in as partners to create disaster resistant communities.

This involvement of cities will build on the important working relationships most cities already have with their state emergency management offices. Seed money from FEMA will help us initiate community-based mitigation activities and help cities leverage investment from other federal agencies, our state governments, and the private sector.

Setting criteria and recognizing meaningful and definable outcomes are critical if we are to determine what specific mitigation activities work and how well they work in saving lives, reducing recovery costs, and preventing major disruption in local and regional economies. The criteria you set in this Act will also facilitate objective selection by states of the localities recommended to the President for pre-disaster mitigation assistance.

I would like to comment on the Federal Share for mitigation which this Act would establish. A federal contribution of "up to 75 percent" leaves FEMA with authority to cover far less than 75 percent and could complicate a city's ability to develop a realistic mitigation proposal which could compete for federal funding. In many cases we are talking about rebuilding infrastructureprojects which can often require capital debts.

The issuance of municipal debt requires a long-term sure source of revenue to ensure full and timely payment to our bondholders. Consequently, the flexibility to FEMA to change its share can wreak havoc in our ability to make our own capital improvements and commitments.

NLC applauds the proposal in the Act to create an interagency task force to coordinate all pre- disaster mitigation administered by the federal government. If the task force functions as it should, it could reduce duplication and result in efficient use of federal funds. It would also be helpful if the task force could serve as the place where records of overall federal pre-disaster mitigation assistance are kept. A comparative review of this assistance and its effectiveness could be most helpful for guidance in the future.

On the Act's sunset in 2003, we are hopeful that reauthorization of Project Impact, or an improved approach to pre-disaster mitigation, would be considered if Project Impact proves to result in significant local, state and federal savings. If we are successful, more and more communities will initiate mitigation activities and may need some seed money to help them move toward becoming truly disaster resistant communities.

Section 202. Assistance to Repair, Restore, Reconstruct, or Replace Damaged Facilities

Under this section of the Act, I would like to comment briefly on several issues of concern for cities:

The requirement that a nonprofit must apply to the SEA for a disaster loan and be rejected or receive an insufficient amount to make repairs before it could receive assistance could create a serious problem. For example, if the Red Cross were the primary service provider for persons and families displaced by a disaster and Red Cross shelters were damaged and unsafe, wouldn't it be important that needed repairs be funded immediately? Wouldn't waiting for SBA approval or rejection of a loan request create a hardship after a major disaster?

I would like to encourage the subcommittee to include in your Report on this Act language directing FEMA to provide opportunities for public comment prior to the adoption of any new or modified policies that would have potential funding impacts on state and local governments, and that the Agency does not apply such policies retroactively. It is essential that FEMA adhere to "due process" in developing guidance and regulations for this Act, particularly if FEMA chooses to clarify what public facilities are determined necessary to meet a need for governmental services and functions after a disaster.

NLC is pleased that the Act includes under "Other Eligible Activities" the costs of the National Guard and Prison Labor as well as base and overtime wages for city employees and extra hires who perform eligible work plus their fringe benefits as appropriate.

Recommendations NLC fully supports the recommendations in the bill to:

evaluate after 18 months the implementation of pre-disaster mitigation and make recommendations for a process to transfer more authority to states and localities for administering the program and a process for considering private sector pre-disaster mitigation initiatives;

_ establish a cost estimation procedure;

_ have the OCC conduct a study to examine the effectiveness of this hazard mitigation program, including a review of its goals and objectives, the cost benefit in terms of mitigation, disaster avoidance, and dollars saved and report this to Congress within 3 years;

_ have the OCC estimate the reduction in Federal disaster assistance resulting from implementation of the Act;

_ determine the current and future availability of disaster insurance for public infrastructure; and

examine analytically the major disasters and emergencies which have been declared since 1974, describing the implied criteria for these declarations and how they have changed over time, and make recommendations for appropriate future criteria that should be considered when making disaster and emergency declarations under the Stafford Act.

In addition to these studies and reports recommended in this legislation, NLC would like to encourage the subcommittee to commission a study to provide us all with the best possible information on actual disaster costs incurred by local, state and federal levels of government. This information is essential if we are to determine if pre-disaster mitigation really reduces disaster costs. NLC would be pleased to help with collection of this data.

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you again for inviting me to testify on behalf of the National League of Cities and I urge you to look to the League for continued cooperation as we work together to launch a national mitigation program and partnerships to reduce disaster costs at all levels of government.

National League of Cities
February 9, 1998

The Honorable James Lee Witt
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C St., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20472

Dear Director Witt:

As President of the National League of Cities (NLC), I want to congratulate you on the excellent job you are doing as Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I also wholeheartedly agree with your long-term policy focus on preventing disaster losses through mitigation and disaster preparedness. This could benefit all Americans, particularly taxpayers, and could prevent catastrophic damage to private and public property. This focus will be central to protecting vital public infrastructure.

NLC is a national organization representing the interests of forty-nine state municipal leagues, more than 135,000 locally elected officials, and 1,400 direct member cities. Through the state leagues, we work with 17,000 municipalities.

Over the years, cities have worked closely with FEMA when overwhelmed by both natural disasters and terrorists incidents. Recovery in these instances would not have been possible without help from the federal government, principally FEMA. NLC's staff has worked productively with your staff to encourage cities to improve disaster preparedness and to reduce, through mitigation and enlightened zoning and land use planning, loss of life and damage to both public and private property. We would like to see even greater collaboration between FEMA and NLC. I believe NLC could come to the table with a variety of ideas and suggestions for cost reductions. Currently, we are working with a coalition to develop proactive approaches to disaster cost reduction.

Last fall, NLC in cooperation with a broad coalition of national, state and local groups opposed many of the Stafford Act amendments FEMA recommended to Congress and the Senate appropriators attached to S.1034. While we supported many of the provisions in the bill designed to reduce costs at all levels of government, we opposed the proposals which would have simply shifted federal costs to state and local governments. NLC's key priorities are federal deficit reduction and a balanced budget. We believe this should be accomplished through equitable cuts across the federal budget, not through shifts of responsibilities and costs to local government. Also, appropriators regularly dip into programs important to cities to offset disaster supplementals. For these reasons, NLC would like to work more actively with FEMA and Congress to find ways to reduce natural disaster costs.

With this in mind, NLC would like to augment FEMA's efforts to educate local elected officials about the importance of disaster preparedness and mitigation. Damage to and loss of public property from natural disasters represents, by far, the bulk of the costs stemming from these events. Disaster costs will never diminish significantly without reducing the vulnerability of public property.

In light of this, we would like to help in any way we can with your Project Impact Initiative. We would be pleased to work with FEMA to develop criteria for Project Impact and to contribute ideas toward an equitable selection process. The criteria could include performance measures to evaluate progress and report successes A state-by-state competition might be the best way to encourage communities to learn about the project and to communicate with their state emergency managers. Although Project Impact may only be able to reward a grant to one community in each state, increased understanding of the importance of mitigation and mitigation activities would occur in many localities.

Please consider these offers and suggestions and let me know what you think. Have your staff contact Frank Shafroth, NLC's Director of Policy and Federal Relations, to discuss how we can increase our cooperation. Mr. Shafroth can be reached at (202) 626-3023.


Brian J. O'Neill
Councilman, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

National League of Cities
August 8, 1997

Mr. Brian Cowan
Program Assistant
Office of Policy and Regional Operations
500 C Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20472

Dear Brian:

Thanks so much for meeting with us this morning. I know you have plenty of responsibilities without having to take lots of time with the concerns of NACo and NLC. However, I am optimistic we may be able to make your job easier and ultimately contribute to the short and long- term success of FEMA's Disaster Resistant Communities Initiative. As I said this morning, I believe NLC must find effective ways to grab the attention of elected officials and get them seriously committed to natural disaster mitigation in their communities.

On my return to the office, I checked our direct member list and our committee membership rosters. Deerfield Beach is an active direct member of NLC and they have one of the city's commissioners on our Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee (PSCP). Commissioner Gwendolen Clarke-Reed of Deerfield Beach is committed to improving how her city deals with natural disasters before, during and after they occur. I am sure she is enthusiastic about FEMA's Disaster Resistant Communities Initiative. I am also confident that she will report to the PSCP Committee on the progress of the initiative and we could encourage her to write an article for the paper when things have progressed to a stage that there is something positive to report. We could also encourage the mayor and/or the commissioner to participate in workshops at our semiannual meetings. In addition, the Mayor and Gwen will probably share the results of the initiative with all Florida cities through the Florida League of Cities. These are suggestions on what we can do in the context of Deerfield Beach to build, within our membership better understanding of the importance of mitigation, as well as more interest and enthusiasm at the local level for moving forward with appropriate mitigation plans and activities.

Other direct members of NLC which have been selected to participate in this initiative are: Oakland, Calif., Pascagoula, Miss., Seattle, Wash., and Wilmington, N.C. We can report their progress occasionally if this is appropriate or do something that might include all of them at some type of event or in a special publication possibly.

Attached are several articles from "Quality Cities, April, 1996" published by the Florida League of Cities. I get the impression that counties are indeed responsible for emergency management in Florida. However, as I read between the lines, whatever the counties have done may not seem sufficient in the eyes of some local governments. As the articles indicate, many cities have hired or designated an employee to be the local emergency manager. None-the-less, even with a local manager I am certain there is still considerable local dependence on the counties to take the lead.

Again, many thanks for meeting with Don Murray and me this morning. Do let me know where and when we can help generate interest among local governments in the mitigation initiatives FEMA will undertake with seven localities and the progress we expect they will demonstrate.


Cameron D. Whitman
Senior Legislative Counsel