Hearings - Testimony
 
Full Committee
A Hearing on the Stafford Act:
A Path Forward for the Nation’s Emergency Preparedness and Response System
Thursday, July 27, 2006
 
Robert Shea
Acting Director of Operations, Federal Emergency Management, Department of Homeland Security

Good morning Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Jeffords, and Committee Members.

 

My name is Robert Shea, and I am Acting Director of Operations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is an honor to appear before this Committee to discuss FEMA’s authorizing legislation, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, commonly referred to as the Stafford Act, its authorities, policies and procedures. I am also prepared to discuss the challenges we face in effectively removing large amounts of debris following catastrophic disaster events.

In authorizing the Stafford Act, Congress made clear its intent for the Federal Government to provide short-term, emergency assistance to individuals, states and local governments and qualified non-profits to help reduce the suffering and repair the damage that results from disasters. Congress recognized that disasters cause human suffering, property loss and damage, and disrupt the normal functioning of governments and communities. When this happens the Stafford Act provides a method of assisting the affected States to render aid and emergency services, and to help with the reconstruction and rehabilitation of impacted areas.

The Stafford Act created that mechanism, and while there have been amendments, the basic provisions remain in place today. Through executive orders, the President has delegated to FEMA, now within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsibility for administering the Stafford Act. FEMA carries out a wide range of activities under the authorities contained in the Stafford Act, from the obvious such as providing assistance to individuals and communities after a disaster, to the not-so-obvious, such as updating flood maps, supporting the monitoring and inspection of dams, training emergency managers, developing “train-the-trainer” programs, and carrying out a robust program of predisaster mitigation.

In preparing for this hearing, FEMA was asked to specifically address two major issues, first, our policies and procedures relating to debris removal after a disaster and second, the impact of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. FEMA appreciates the opportunity presented by this committee to discuss these issues.

DEBRIS REMOVAL
I would first like to address our role and authorities under the Stafford Act as they relate to debris removal, which is a part of FEMA’s Public Assistance Program, and more specifically, our debris removal operations following the 2005 Hurricane Season.

Through FEMA’s Public Assistance (PA) Program, State, tribal, and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations are eligible to receive assistance for debris removal, emergency protective measures and the repair, reconstruction, or replacement of disaster-damaged infrastructure to address the impacts of a Presidentially-declared disaster. This program is operated on a cost-share basis whereby the Federal share of assistance is not less than 75 percent of the eligible cost.

In order to be eligible for FEMA PA funding for debris removal, the work must:

· Be a direct result of a Presidentially declared disaster;
· Occur within the designated disaster area; and
· Be the responsibility of the applicant at the time of the disaster.

In addition, at least one of the following must apply:
· Removal eliminates immediate threats to human lives, public health and safety;
· Removal eliminates immediate threats of significant damage to improved public and private property; and/or
· Removal ensures economic recovery of the affected areas to the benefit of the community-at-large.

FEMA has determined that the removal of disaster-related debris from public property, including public rights-of-way, is eligible for reimbursement. Debris removal from private property may be eligible on a case-by-case basis.

Disaster-related debris may consist of downed trees (vegetative debris), destroyed personal property including home contents and automobiles, hazardous waste, construction and demolition material, or even damaged boats and/or other debris that obstruct waterways. State and local applicants must comply with environmental and historic laws when removing disaster-related debris. Developing and executing a plan to remove and dispose of large quantities of debris requires coordination with numerous entities at all levels of government and, most importantly, with the citizens of the community.

State and local governments are responsible for managing the removal of disaster-related debris from their communities. FEMA provides funding for the removal of eligible debris and may provide technical assistance if requested by the State. These entities manage the operations using their own personnel and may also contract for the service. They are also responsible for monitoring the debris operations to ensure that they are completed in a timely and efficient manner and in compliance with Federal, State, and local laws.

While FEMA does not directly manage State and local debris operations, we do take an active role in providing technical assistance and oversight. FEMA deploys “debris specialists” to advise State emergency management and local officials on Public Assistance eligibility, appropriate contracting procedures and monitoring methods, and environmental compliance issues. In addition, FEMA frequently deploys US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) personnel to assist in providing technical assistance and to work with the State to develop an overall debris management plan for the disaster recovery process. FEMA may also deploy monitors to provide oversight of operations to ensure that the FEMA funding is provided for eligible debris removal, to ensure compliance with environmental regulations and programmatic guidelines, and to reduce the occurrence of waste, fraud, or abuse. FEMA field staff are very experienced in these efforts, however when exceptional expertise is required for complex environmental challenges, we enlist the EPA for that specialized assistance.

The magnitude of large-scale debris operations in some instances can overwhelm the State and local government’s ability to perform or contract for the work. In such circumstances, the State can request Direct Federal Assistance under Section 403 of the Stafford Act, whereby the Federal Government assumes responsibility for removing debris from a specific area because the local community, as supplemented by State resources, is incapable of performing the work itself or contracting for the service. In these situations, FEMA will “mission assign” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to perform and manage the debris mission. The Corps and FEMA are the two primary or lead agencies for Emergency Support Function #3 under the National Response Plan. The Corps’ Debris Planning and Response Team and Subject Matter Experts coordinate closely with FEMA, State and local governments, and other Federal agencies to define requirements for the mission. In anticipation of debris missions and because of lessons learned during the 2005 hurricane season, the Corps has awarded stand-by debris contracts under its Advanced Contract Initiative to minimize any delays in beginning the work in the aftermath of the disaster. We are also working with state governments to encourage similar approaches at the state and local level.

In the cases of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, widespread destruction resulted in unprecedented quantities of debris. FEMA estimates Katrina and Rita resulted in a staggering 118 million cubic yards of debris– more than double the amount of debris produced by the four hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004 and six times the amount of debris created by Hurricane Andrew. To truly understand the magnitude, imagine 368 football fields with debris stacked 192 feet high or every inch of Washington, D.C. covered with half a foot of debris. To haul this amount of debris would require approximately six million average sized dump trucks.

All of the affected Gulf Coast states, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas requested Direct Federal Assistance for debris removal. Although in many areas the debris mission is managed by the Corps, many local communities also made the decision to handle their own debris operations. For the Gulf Coast, we estimate that approximately 46 percent of the debris was handled by the local communities while the Corps managed the removal of the remaining 54 percent. The USACE and local debris operations are now complete in Texas and Alabama. Currently in Mississippi, we estimate a total of 1.9 million cubic yards is remaining while over 44.64 million cubic yards has been removed. In Louisiana, 42.9 million cubic yards has been removed with an estimated 17.1 remaining. In total, approximately 99 million cubic yards of debris has been removed—about 83.8 percent of the estimated total for all four states. The cost thus far is just under $3.7 billion with a projected total cost of approximately $4.7 billion.

Just the act of removing, hauling and disposing of this quantity of debris poses a significant challenge. USACE and the local communities have procured and manage a large number of contractors and equipment. But debris management is far more complex than just procuring and overseeing contractors. It requires a coordinated effort from wide array of government agencies at the federal, state, and local level. For example, a typical debris management organization includes Federal representatives from FEMA, the Corps, and the Environmental Protection Agency and State officials representing emergency management, transportation, and environmental agencies, to name just a few. These agencies coordinate with local officials to ensure appropriate procedures are in place for handling, transporting and disposing of the debris. A number of permits and, in some instances, waivers to state and local ordinances are required from government agencies when handling such large amounts and varied forms of debris, which often includes hazardous waste. Decisions on priorities, pick-up schedules, handling methods, transportation routes, reduction and recycling processes, monitoring procedures, and final disposal options all require coordination with a wide array of governmental agencies. Adding another level of complexity is keeping the public informed on how, when, and where debris will be picked up when operations are occurring at a rapid pace.

Because of the sheer magnitude of devastation and the need to clear debris as quickly as possible from the Gulf Coast, FEMA took a number of measures to expedite the process of debris removal. For example, immediately after the storms hit, FEMA determined, based on its review of the magnitude and scale of the destruction, as well as a declaration of a Public Health Emergency by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, that it was in the public interest to remove debris from residential property in the hardest hit counties and parishes. This decision allowed local applicants to begin comprehensive debris operations immediately. In addition, the Corps activated its standby contracts and procured other contracts to meet the urgent requirement. While we were able to stream-line some approval processes, the conditions on the ground and the statutory and regulatory compliance requirements presented unique challenges that affected the ability of local and USACE operations to remove and dispose of debris quickly. Some of these challenges are unique to this event, and arise from the large scale destruction, or near destruction, of private residences and commercial structures. In particular, the sheer number of structures demolished has caused unprecedented challenges with respect to waste-stream management and compliance with environmental regulations.

An example of the types of regulatory challenges includes the number and location of landfills in operation which are permitted for the types of waste generated by Katrina. FEMA may only reimburse or assist with the removal and disposal of debris in full compliance with Federal and state environmental regulations. Thus, debris operations must respect existing permits and other restrictions which regulate the amount certain types of debris per day in certain categories of landfills. Additionally, the disposal of debris from residential and commercial structure demolition requires compliance with regulations regarding hazardous materials, such as asbestos. These regulations require specific handling both in the removal and in the disposal of these materials, permits from the appropriate local and state agencies and, in some instances, concurrence from the Environmental Protection Agency. These are just a couple of examples of the challenges that FEMA and its federal, state, and local partners face and work together to overcome as we attempt to establish an efficient debris operation.

FEMA constantly reviews operations to identify lessons learned and best practices. Following Hurricane Katrina, for example, FEMA developed a number of process and policy improvements to better assist State and local governments in their debris operations. We recently issued a contracting fact sheet that provides local governments with contract language and provisions to incorporate into their contracts that will help protect them from unscrupulous contractors and poor performance as well as optimize their reimbursement from the Public Assistance Program. Other recently developed policy documents address eligibility issues, such as stump removal, which removes the ambiguity over what work FEMA will reimburse.

In addition, we revised our policies to ensure a consistent cost share for debris operations performed both by local communities and under USACE mission assignments. This policy also limits mission assignments to 60 days and will encourage local communities to take control over their recovery contracts earlier in the process. I should note that, when warranted, this time frame can be extended.

Both FEMA and USACE are examining different methods, including technological advancements, to improve the effectiveness of our grant and contract monitoring processes. We are also evaluating different monitoring techniques that have been employed in the field to develop a strategy that assures local government and contractor accountability without over extending our resources.

Another means of improving debris operations is to expand the resources and tools available to State and local governments. To that end, we established a nationwide debris contractor registry that will allow State and local governments to identify contractor resources either in the pre-event planning phase or in a post-disaster environment. From this database, State and local officials will be able to match their resource needs to those available from the registered contractors and then solicit bids and proposals as they deem appropriate.

We at the Federal level will continue to look for ways to improve our support for debris management operations, but our success ultimately relies on the ability of State and local governments to proactively prepare for disaster response and debris operations. It is an extremely important responsibility for local communities, particularly those in high risk areas, to plan for large scale debris operations and address some of the complex conditions they will be confronted with, such as private property debris, demolition, and environmental compliance, which I mentioned earlier. Clearly, local governments are most familiar with their own state and local procurement requirements, permitting processes, local contractors, landfill operations, etc. Looking to FEMA, USACE or any other federal agency to manage local debris operations or resolve many of the complex issues inherent with debris operations is neither appropriate nor realistic.

FEMA has developed substantive guidance documents and policies to assist local communities in developing and executing debris management plans. We also offer Debris Management training to State and local officials, and will continue to look for ways to educate and help communities plan for post disaster debris removal operations. We will provide technical assistance to states and local governments in developing debris management plans before an event takes place and actively encourage them to hire stand-by debris contractors prior to disasters occurring. FEMA will always be ready to provide help at the time of a disaster, but for our efforts to be successful, our State and local partners must be prepared and to act quickly and responsibly.

MITIGATION
In addition to the authorities the Stafford Act gives FEMA to assist State and local governments in repairing critical infrastructure and removing debris following a disaster event, it also provides for a variety of mitigation programs and activities. The overriding goal of mitigation programs and activities is to reduce the potential for future loss of life and property within the disaster area.

In authorizing the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, Congress recognized that greater emphasis needed to be placed on identifying and assessing the risks to States and local governments from natural disasters; implementing adequate measures to reduce losses from natural disasters; and ensuring the critical services and facilities of communities would continue to function.

Congress also recognized the vitally important role that hazard mitigation plays in reducing the physical and financial impacts of natural disasters. Through FEMA’s ten Regional offices, FEMA’s Mitigation Division assists States and communities in incorporating mitigation elements – such as building and design codes that address specific risks, structural strengthening and reinforcement, and natural hazard-focused land use planning – into their decision making processes. Sound mitigation planning and viable mitigation activities reduce an area’s potential for “disaster” after an event strikes. Destruction and distress are lessened; which facilitates effective response and promotes faster recovery.

An important component of DMA 2000 was the authorization of an expanded Hazard Mitigation Planning requirement. I am pleased to report that as a result of this requirement, all 50 States and more than 8,000 localities now have hazard mitigation plans in place. Mitigation planning provides a framework and an approach within which States, Tribes and localities reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards, thus lessening the Nation’s total disaster losses. Developing a hazard Mitigation plan provides additional benefits as well. It helps raise awareness of risk, position State, local and tribal officials to take advantage of the resources available during post-disaster recovery, and enable them to rebuild expeditiously in a way that will mitigate future disaster losses.

State plans are the “gateway” to FEMA grant assistance. States and Territories must have a FEMA approved Multi-hazard Mitigation Plan that meets the DMA 2000 requirements in order for communities within the State to be eligible for non-emergency assistance under the Stafford Act. Both the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program (PDM) provide planning grants to help fund those plans.

There are two levels of State multi-hazard mitigation plans – Standard and Enhanced. The Standard plan meets the minimum requirements for a State plan, and entitles States to receive HMGP funding after a disaster. The amount of post-disaster funding available for mitigation is equal to 7.5 percent of disaster assistance funding (Public Assistance plus Individual Assistance). At this time, all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and more than ten Tribal governments have an approved State-level mitigation plan in place. The Enhanced plan allows the State to receive additional post-disaster mitigation funding of up to 20 percent of disaster assistance funding. The enhanced plan must meet all of the Standard plan requirements and must document the State’s proactive approach and commitment to mitigation, and its capability to manage the increased amount of funding that may be made available. Seven States now have approved Enhanced state mitigation plans: Maryland, Missouri, Oregon, Ohio, Oklahoma, Washington and Wisconsin. Enhanced plans for Florida and Virginia are pending.

State-level plans lay the foundation for an overall mitigation strategy for the communities within their jurisdiction, and make funding available to those communities to develop and implement their local mitigation plans and projects. More than 8,000 local jurisdictions have FEMA-approved mitigation plans. Because many of these plans are multi-jurisdictional plans, the total number of jurisdictions that are covered by approved plans is approximately 13,000. We are extremely proud of these numbers. They provide hard evidence that all our States and thousands of local communities are taking mitigation seriously and thinking strategically about what they can do to reduce their losses from future natural disasters. This provides a robust benefit in both physical and economic terms – which, of course, was the intent of the Congress when it authored DMA 2000. A recent independent study conducted by the Multihazard Mitigation Council at the request of the Congress concluded that, on average, one dollar spent on mitigation saves society an average of four dollars. That translates into hundreds of millions in savings every year - and it begins with sound mitigation planning.

The mitigation planning process is not static. It changes and is refined over time. One of our greatest successes has been our ability to work closely with our State, local and Tribal partners in this effort, drawing on the experience they have gained in preparing and implementing their plans over the last several years.

This past May, FEMA invited one State from each Region to discuss the plan update process. At this meeting, we asked the States to identify some of their successes and perceived benefits from going through the mitigation planning process. These benefits fell into three major categories, which I will briefly summarize:

· Improved Risk Assessment
· Interagency Coordination and Planning Committees; and
· Coordination with Local Planning Officials Although FEMA is encouraged by the progress that has been made, there is still much to be done. Natural disasters can strike anytime, anywhere. The type of disaster, however, varies from one locality to another, and even then differences in terrain and climate can greatly affect the impact of the event and the types of mitigation measures that can be used. After all, elevating your home to protect it from floodwaters will do little good during an earthquake.

Mitigation planning helps FEMA and its State, local and Tribal partners to accurately assess their risk. The benefits of this are twofold. First, it helps jurisdictions that are impacted by a natural disaster rebuild in a way that will reduce future damage. Even as we speak, buildings across the Gulf Coast are being elevated or relocated, so they will be safer and more resilient when the next hurricane strikes.

Mitigation should not just be considered once a disaster strikes. Congress recognized that by undertaking mitigation plans and projects pre-disaster, we can greatly reduce the loss of lives and property before disaster even strikes. With this in mind, the DMA 2000 authorized the creation of the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program (PDM).

The PDM program recognizes that by identifying areas at greatest risk of natural disaster and implementing effective mitigation activities in those areas, we can greatly reduce future disaster losses. Based on lessons learned from the PDM FY 2003 and FY 2004/2005 programs, FEMA instituted changes to ensure all funds for PDM projects and plans are awarded as quickly and efficiently as possible. Specifically, FEMA has established a standard application form. This occurs through the required use of the FEMA Mitigation electronic grants management system (e-Grants) to facilitate application development and processing. We have enhanced guidance materials to provide more detail on grant requirements. We have increased offerings of extensive benefit-cost analysis and e-Grants training, and streamlined FEMA application review procedures, the national evaluation process, and the national technical review process to the point where for the FY 2006 program it has only taken 7 months from the time the application period opened in November, 2005, until first awards were made in June 2006.

We also provide a more robust technical assistance program consisting of Web and help line resources for application development, benefit-cost analysis, environmental and historic preservation compliance, engineering feasibility, and planning. Since the Hazard Mitigation and Relocation Assistance Act of 1993 amended the Stafford Act, principal mitigation activities funded under the HMGP include mitigation planning, acquisition of hazard prone properties with conversion to open space (including either demolition or relocation of the structure), and the elevation of structures to or above expected flood levels. These are also principal activities of the PDM program, instituted following the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 amendments. To date, FEMA has obligated nearly $1.5 billion for planning, acquisition, and elevation activities through HMGP and PDM. If we follow the findings of the Multihazard Mitigation Council’s report – that, on average, one dollar spent on mitigation saves an average of four dollars – we can conclude that the mitigation grant programs have saved this country approximately $6 billion.

FEMA strongly encourages the reauthorization of the DMA 2000 amendments to the Stafford Act, in order to ensure their continued success. By planning and preparing beforehand, we ensure better protection for our citizens, their homes and their businesses, and greater savings for the entire Nation.

Even with the assistance authorized by the Stafford Act to help individuals in communities, following a disaster, be it natural or manmade, this nation’s emergency response capability can be severely tested, as has been proven by the enormous challenges the nation faced in recent years. From the flooding in Houston from Tropical Storm Allison, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, back-to-back unprecedented hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005, and a myriad of other disasters that have impacted this nation, we have gained many lessons learned, and used the flexibility of the Stafford Act to expand the bounds of the types of assistance we are able to provide. At times beleaguered, FEMA has always pressed forward with the commitment of putting the lives and welfare of disaster victims first.

There is much that can, and has been done to enhance FEMA’s programs and processes as we move forward, preparing not only our agency, but the nation for the current season or any future disaster. We will continue to engage with state emergency management officials, our federal counterparts, including the Department of Defense, and non-government organizational partners to maximize communication and coordination for all-hazard disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation activities. We are building within FEMA a twenty-first century competency in operations, logistics, procurement and communications to speed much needed equipment, aid and commodities to states affected by disasters. We will also continue to strengthen our mission effectiveness and operational efficiency and establish measures and benchmarks, so we are held accountable for our performance. FEMA will also benefit from the continued integration into the Department of Homeland Security, where the agency has gained access to many valuable resources that strengthen our ability to respond to disasters of any kind.

It is important to note that in a disaster of unprecedented proportions, FEMA’s debris operations, mitigation programs, and indeed all areas of assistance service delivery are under scrutiny by the general public and Congress. We realize that for the individuals and communities picking up the pieces of their lives, we must be able to efficiently and effectively meet their needs. FEMA is looking closely at its authorities and the various after action reports, and we look forward to working with Congress on suggested and recommended changes to the Stafford Act and related authorities.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee, I will respond to any questions you have.

 

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