Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Jeffords, and Members of the Committee, my name is Armond Mascelli and I am the Vice President for Domestic Response at the American Red Cross. I am pleased to appear before you today, and I commend you for your leadership in taking a close look at the Stafford Act in an effort to better prepare the nation for the next major disaster.
For 125 years, the American Red Cross has been America’s partner in prevention, preparedness and response to all disasters. Chartered by Congress in 1905 to provide assistance in the time of disaster and to mitigate suffering caused by disaster, the American Red Cross continues to realize this mandate today.
The Red Cross, a nationwide network of more than 800 community based chapters, eight regional service areas and 35 blood services regions, is governed by volunteers and supported by the generous donations of the American people. With 1 million volunteers and more than 30,000 employees, the Red Cross trains nearly 12 million people in lifesaving skills and assists U.S. military families. The Red Cross also is the largest supplier of blood and blood products to more than 3,000 hospitals across the nation.
The Red Cross is effective because it relies on a local network to offer support and provide services to those who are affected by disasters. Simply put, we exemplify neighbor helping neighbor.
To better meet the challenges of ever growing major and catastrophic disasters, we continue to build upon the strength of our local network. We are also reaching out to and partnering with others in the nonprofit, charitable, and faith-based communities like never before. Additionally, we are improving coordination efforts with Federal, state and local officials.
Each year, the American Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters. The vast majority of these disasters are single family home fires. We stand ready to support the first responders in times of disaster, and in addition, provide support for those that find their lives disrupted by disaster.
Individual client assistance has always been at the forefront of the Red Cross response, and in providing this assistance, our first priority is to ensure that those affected by disaster have a safe shelter and are provided with the basic necessities of life such as food, toiletries, bedding and first aid. Our second priority is assisting them as they take their first steps on the road back to recovery. Meeting these immediate emergency needs helps to bridge the gap between a disaster occurring and resources offered by federal and state governments – the very assistance that is provided to individuals through the Stafford Act.
I also want to take this opportunity to explain the role of the American Red Cross in the National Response Plan (NRP). In addition to being a service provider, the Red Cross has a primary responsibility as the lead for an emergency support function in the National Response Plan. We also have supporting responsibilities in six other emergency support functions.
The primary role that we play in Emergency Support Function #6 (ESF6) is mass care, housing, and human services. We are the primary agency for coordinating mass care while DHS/FEMA has primary responsibility for housing, and human services. In other words, the Red Cross coordinates federal resources in support of state and local mass care efforts.
In our coordination role, we process requests from state and local authorities or other non-governmental organizations (with state concurrence) for federal assistance through the appropriate FEMA channels. This is accomplished by a process where the Red Cross ESF6 liaison completes an Action Request Form (ARF) detailing the specific federal assistance required. The ARF is forwarded to the FEMA Human Services Branch Chief, where if approved, it becomes a mission assignment for tasking.
The American Red Cross itself does not mission assign, nor are we mission assigned under the NRP. We provide this expertise as a contribution to our nation and its people in need. It is important to re-emphasize that state and local authorities decide their respective priorities for federal mass care assistance. This is consistent with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) upon which the NRP is based — that all incidents should be handled at the lowest possible organizational and jurisdictional level. We do not have directive authority over any other federal agency or non-governmental organization.
In our ESF6 primary role, we also relay mass care information (like shelter counts and population) from various field locations to higher headquarters for appropriate action.
The limited interpretation of our coordination function, which includes the processing of ARFs for federal assistance and the flow of mass care-related information, is sometimes misunderstood. As a member of the International Federation of the Red Cross movement, our fundamental principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence could be jeopardized if we take on the role or appearance of a federal agency.
In our Preparedness and Response Department, we have created a special office for federal response, headed by a vice president, dedicated to integrating Red Cross response efforts with FEMA, DHS, HHS, CDC, HUD, DOD, DOT and other agencies that wish to engage us in discussions, briefings, planning sessions, and exercises.
While I realize that the NRP may fall outside of the jurisdiction of this Committee, I believe it is important to share this information with you as later in my testimony, I will be urging the need for the National Response Plan and the Stafford Act to work together seamlessly. As both a signatory to the National Response Plan, with mandated primary responsibilities, and as a direct service provider to victims of disasters, ensuring this continuity between the nation’s plan and the legislation that allows for federal assistance to disaster victims, is vital as we all work toward the same goal – assisting those devastated by disaster.
The American Red Cross is mentioned in the Stafford Act, and we believe this is important. It is important for all levels of government to understand the role and importance of nongovernmental organizations in disaster preparedness, response, and relief in the United States.
As requested by this Committee, I will address four major areas for possible reforms of the Stafford Act. The first is debris cleanup; second, I will address preparation and mitigation efforts by individuals and communities; third, I will discuss our organization’s views regarding the Stafford Act’s authorities during catastrophic events, including terrorist attacks and the threat of pandemic flu; and finally, I will provide general recommendations for the Committee’s consideration.
The American Red Cross does not provide or engage in debris clean-up in the wake of large-scale disasters, however, ensuring that debris is quickly and efficiently removed has a very big impact on the well being of our clients and on our ability to provide assistance to those in need. While the Red Cross strives to provide assistance, in many cases starting with evacuation sheltering and feeding operations, recovery cannot being to take place until individuals and families are allowed to return to their homes, assess damages, and to plan and proceed with their very personal recovery. In addition, speedy action contains and reduces potential public health and safety problems.
The wake of Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example. With more than 90,000 square miles of damage – the size of Great Britain – the American Red Cross had shelters opened for more than four months. Our typical sheltering operations last only a few days. Individuals and families often arrive at our shelters when evacuation orders are in effect and leave not long after a storm passes. During traditional responses, Red Cross workers will offer assistance in a client’s home; helping them to assess their needs and allowing us to provide very individualized assistance.
Hundreds of thousands of people, however, were not allowed to return home following Katrina, forcing our nation’s responders to remain in response mode, and preventing individuals from beginning their long road of recovery. The quicker things can be restored, the quicker people can proceed to re-establish in their communities.
Preparation and Mitigation
First and foremost, since Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the Disaster Mitigation Act (DMA) of 2000, mitigation and preparedness efforts have gotten some traction, however they have not necessarily seen their full potential. I urge this Committee to review the findings of the DMA as intended by the Congress, and recommend that consideration be given to whether or not those findings have been addressed adequately.
The American Red Cross works with individuals, communities, states and the federal government to help our nation, and our citizens, be prepared for any disaster that comes their way. Red Cross programs are configured to disaster risk, that is, we design programs for individuals and families to prepare for natural disasters that are conducive to their geographic areas. As we rely on the neighbor helping neighbor philosophy, we encourage local communities to become more aware of potential hazards that could adversely impact their regions and prepare accordingly.
The Red Cross firmly believes in the importance of preparedness and has developed numerous tools and resources offered in a number of different languages to help families prepare for any unexpected disasters, from a house fire to a hurricane.
Over the past several years, organizations that help to prepare communities, as well as local, state and federal governments, have made efforts to streamline our messages on preparedness. Studies have indicated that having a single message helps individuals better understand what they need to do to protect themselves and their loved ones during times of disaster.
The private sector also has had an impact on improving mitigation. For instance, most mortgage lenders require that homeowners maintain and obtain some level of homeowners insurance. For most Americans, insurance is a personal risk assessment, but now that mortgage companies require such insurance, this has gone a long way to help those who do experience disasters.
Recently, the President has directed the Department of Homeland Security to create a better national Emergency Alert System, to include sending emergency alerts to cell phones, Internet sites, and hand-held computers. In addition, the President directed that the system extend from use in a nuclear attack to include other disasters such as terrorist attack, natural disasters, or other hazards to public safety and well-being. During a disaster, every second counts. We believe this is a good move on behalf of the Administration to enhance the ability of individuals to respond to impending threatening incidents.
Yet, there is more that can be done to help improve mitigation and preparedness efforts.
Despite these efforts by the American Red Cross and others, the message on preparedness needs to be better articulated to the American people. There are steps that each and every person should take to help ensure they are better prepared for any disaster that may come their way, including:
Get a Kit – Every household should have prepared and ready to go a disaster kit that includes enough food and supplies to last each family member for three days. This could be an old knapsack or backpack with water, basic first aid supplies, any critical documents (such as photocopies of driver’s licenses), necessary medicines, a change of clothes, and a small amount of cash. This kit should be replenished as necessary to ensure that food, water, and medicines are fresh. This should be the one thing that anyone needing to leave in a hurry can grab to take with them. In addition, families should consider any special needs, including those of loved ones as well as their family pets.
Make a Plan – this plan should incorporate such things as where an individual and their loved ones would go in the event of a disaster, how they would communicate with a friend or loved one to let someone know where they are and that they are safe, particularly when critical infrastructure like phone lines are down.
Be Informed – either by your local Red Cross or another organization that offers critical trainings on making a disaster plan, a communications plan, and first aid/CPR. Knowing what to do during a time of disaster is critical to ensuring one’s safety and the safety of their loved ones.
More than 800 chapters of the Red Cross in communities across this nation stand ready to help their neighbors become better informed and to provide guidance on making a plan and steps for building a kit.
While the Stafford Act appears to work well for major natural disasters including floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, it does not incorporate other disasters, such as manmade disasters, bio/chemical disasters, or pandemic situations. Moreover, there appears to be some questions as to the applicability to the special circumstances of catastrophic disasters.
We suggest that if there is going to be one Federal resource for individuals to receive assistance after disasters, it must be comprehensive and flexible enough to accommodate all disasters. While in response to large scale disasters, particularly after 9/11, Congress quickly acted to provide assistance to families of those impacted, it could be more efficient for agencies that support the Federal response to have Congress address potential needs in advance of an incident.
I encourage the Committee to consider, if possible, making the Stafford Act more flexible to provide for responding to disasters other than just natural disasters, allowing it to be nimble and to adapt to unanticipated human needs or other national priorities.
There are a number of more general recommendations on reform of the Stafford Act that I would like to provide the Committee for consideration.
· Congress should restore the post-disaster mitigation program at the 15 percent level of disaster costs for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). HMGP grants are used for such things as rebuilding at a higher building code level, for purchasing repetitive loss properties, and for projects that will prevent or minimize the next disaster. We believe that every dollar spent on mitigation, is a dollar well spent.
· Congress must adequately address the cap on disaster repair for the Individual and Family Grant program. The American Red Cross, as well as many other organizations and emergency management officials, believe the current cap of $5,000 should be raised to a more effective and realistic level.
· Congress should reinstate the Mortgage and Rental Assistance Program. The Mortgage and Rental Assistance Program was eliminated in the DMA. However, Congress utilized the program for recent catastrophic disasters such as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. The program allows for disaster victims to receive federal assistance to pay for mortgage and rental costs when displaced from their homes in a major disaster. The program should be reinstated and allowed to be used for future disasters.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Jeffords, and Members of the Committee, I thank you for providing me with the opportunity to share my thoughts and recommendations for changes to the Stafford Act.
The American Red Cross has a long history of our work to better prepare our nation’s citizens for any disaster, and to help them respond when disaster strikes. I am pleased to have had this opportunity to be here today, and would be happy to answer any questions that you might have.