FEMA must no longer be made to respond to all manner of routine disasters, so that when truly catastrophic disasters stike, such as Hurricane Sandy, FEMA and its pocketbook are prepared.
Where FEMA failed in its response efforts and overall preparedness, the National Guard and Coast Guard excelled. Particularly for disaster response, State Defense Forces offer their states important, low-cost force multipliers. More responsibility should be returned to the states in terms of disaster response and recovery. These lessons should have been learned before—from Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf oil spill—yet the nation continues to fall short in terms of planning for catastrophic disaster response and recovery. Amid the disaster, however, Americans came together to help family, friends, and neighbors. The American Red Cross initially mobilized more than 1,000 disaster workers in communities up and down the East Coast.
Modify the Stafford Act to establish clear requirements that limit the situations in which FEMA can issue declarations. Nothing typifies the extent to which states rely on the federal government for disaster spending like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s (R) demand that the federal government essentially give him a blank check to deal with Hurricane Sandy.[8] With his charge that Congress’s refusal to give him that blank check was a “dereliction of duty,” Governor Christie fails to appreciate that Congress has an obligation to ensure that precious taxpayers funds are appropriated responsibly. Yet, with the federal government’s increasing fiscal crisis, including the $17 trillion national debt, the ability of FEMA to continue to pay for routine disasters across the United States will become harder to justify. Without a return of responsibility to the states, the federalization of routine disasters will continue to require FEMA to become involved with a new disaster somewhere in the United States at the current pace of every 2.5 days. As FEMA and the state leaderships of New Jersey and New York continue their shift to long-term recovery, fulfilling these key requirements must be the primary focus of the political leadership and their staffs. The fact is that FEMA spends too much time responding to routine natural disasters, such as small-scale tornadoes and snowstorms, and not enough time preparing for catastrophic natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, which have wide regional impacts. Congress should reduce the federal share for all FEMA declarations to a maximum of 25 percent of the costs. FEMA’s operational tempo and lack of preparedness can be contrasted with that of the National Guard and Coast Guard before and after Sandy made landfall.
The National Guard should continue building on lessons learned from Sandy and previous natural disasters. It is the person whose family is safe and secure who is able to volunteer at a disaster relief center.
When it comes to natural disasters, geography largely determines the relative risk to a community.
Change the current American mindset of disaster response and relief from overfederalization to civil society.
The Maryland Defense Force (MDDF) deployed one Disaster Assessment Team (DAT) in Salisbury ahead of the storm, and had two more DATs and four medical teams on standby that were never required to activate. Another key lesson that can be learned from Hurricane Sandy is the importance of a vibrant civil society to disaster relief efforts. Similarly, churches and faith-based organizations have a unique role to play in disaster relief. Heroism and generosity from individuals, NGOs, and religious organizations indicate all too clearly the importance of civil society in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
Incorporate NGOs, faith-based organizations, and businesses into federal and local disaster plans before disaster strikes.
The nuclear facilities in Hurricane Sandy’s path were designed and built to withstand floods above predicted storm surges and other natural disasters long before Sandy was ever a threat. Beyond plant design, federal law also requires nuclear plants to have preparedness and emergency response plans with local, state, and federal groups approved by FEMA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) before an operating license is granted.

Given this fact, and building on the success seen during Hurricane Sandy, more states at high risk of natural disaster should look to establish these forces.
Part of the problem driving the need for emergency spending is the increasing volume of disaster declarations issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) over the past two decades. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 (Stafford Act), the controlling federal statute for disasters. As the litmus test for federal disaster dollars, the Stafford Act fails to clearly establish which disasters meet the federal requirements and which do not. He has watched for years as FEMA paid for disasters all over America that were far less damaging than what New Jersey experienced after Hurricane Sandy. That means that states must begin planning for disasters as they once did from 1787 to 1992, before federal disaster declarations skyrocketed. This high operational tempo is affecting FEMA’s overall preparedness because it keeps FEMA perpetually in a response mode, leaving little time and few resources for catastrophic preparedness.
This way at least three-fourths of the costs of a disaster are borne by the taxpayers living in the state or states where the disaster took place. However, due to the nature of the incident, and the evidently robust state force responses from New York and New Jersey, only 12,000 of the 60,000 guard personnel were activated for Hurricane Sandy.
The Coast Guard’s aging fleet can no longer keep up with the increased mission-set of the service, including disaster response and recovery. When it comes to preparing for disasters like Hurricane Sandy, it takes on profound importance. Over the past 57 years, FEMA has compiled data on all of the larger natural disasters that have occurred in the United States.
The information communicated should be as specific as possible and tailored to the particular disaster.
Presently, 28 states have chosen not to authorize an SDF, including several states at high risk of natural disasters or terror attacks.
Any disaster response must include such organizations, since they are often the greatest source of relief in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Perhaps one of the most important elements to restoring a community after a disaster is ensuring business involvement. It is quite clear from the emergency spending doled out after both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy that the absolute worst time for Congress to appropriate funds is right after a disaster has occurred.
Indeed, FEMA’s lack of preparedness will come as a surprise to no one, nor will the sometimes-tenuous nature of the U.S. Each declaration issued by FEMA drains the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), a fund intended for emergencies that overwhelm state resources.[5] The more declarations issued, the faster the DRF needs replenishing.
Under this act, the federal government pays 75 percent to 100 percent of disaster response bills as long as FEMA has issued a disaster declaration. The first step is for states to allocate money to disaster relief funds that will give them the ability to fund their own disaster response and recovery operations directly. It is the big-box retailer whose employees are accounted for and whose stores are assessed for damage that can donate bottled water and clothing to the victims of a disaster and reopen rapidly to serve its battered community. For most businesses, money spent on preparing for disasters directly impacts their profits. The information is publicly available, searchable by state or year, and contains details, such as impacted counties, and news articles related to the disaster. Many members, therefore, have high levels of training and professionalism stemming from past experience that makes them invaluable for high-risk states, acting as force multipliers for response efforts in the aftermath of natural disasters or domestic attacks. Further, emergency management plans and exercises will provide the SDF with greater guidance on its role in state response in the event of a disaster.

Due to the bureaucratic nature of government responses, these organizations play a crucial role in reaching out to the victims of disaster in a rapid, responsive, and adaptive manner. While basic supplies can be provided by government and nonprofits in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, only businesses can efficiently meet the various needs and demands of a community.
Specifically, the roles, responsibilities, and resources of all stakeholders need to be established before a disaster strikes.
After a disaster, the government should make it easier for homes, businesses, and infrastructure to be rebuilt by temporarily suspending requirements like those in the Davis–Bacon statute, which effectively mandates wage premiums for those hired to work on federal construction projects.
Some, however, have incorrectly blamed global warming for an increase in disasters like Sandy, as well as the resulting increase in emergency declarations. Before Hurricane Sandy made landfall, nuclear skeptics and opponents were already likening the storm to the Fukushima disaster in Japan and raising alarm about flooding, power outages, and overheating spent fuel pools. Utilities can, however, undertake cost-effective actions to reduce potential outages and speed up power restoration in the event of catastrophic disasters, such as performing rigorous testing and analysis of aging transmission and distribution system assets to determine when various assets should be repaired or replaced, and the lowest-cost approaches for doing so. State and local governments took a leading role to prepare their communities for the disaster and mobilize once the storm hit. If FEMA reserved the DRF and its resources for nationally catastrophic disasters, the need for emergency spending would drop significantly. After two decades of an increasingly active and generous FEMA, governors have slashed preparedness budgets and drained any disaster rainy day funds over the past 13 years. Congress should continue to make sure that this and other modernization programs mature consistently and efficiently to ensure that the fleet remains capable and competent in future disaster relief. Community members can use this actuarial data to develop a better understanding of the natural disasters likely to occur in their area and, therefore, make better decisions about how to prepare. It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides.”[35] This includes in the aftermath of a disaster. Instead of stimulus spending, the government can encourage these investments by suspending and streamlining unnecessary regulations following a disaster.
These offices, together with state and local agencies, should work closely with civil society organizations to create disaster response plans that assign roles and responsibilities to best take advantage of all the resources and capabilities that civil society possesses. Additionally, Congress should repeal or waive environmental regulations that allow various environmental organizations to block or delay rebuilding efforts or much-needed improvements that could help mitigate disasters in the future. Power may not be restored in certain areas even after local repairs are completed because of the interconnected nature of the power system. From Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf oil spill Americans have been taught these lessons before, yet the nation continues to fall short in terms of planning for catastrophic disaster response and recovery. One way to accomplish this is to align declarations with the various scales used for disasters (such as the Saffir–Simpson Scale, the Richter Scale, and the Fujita Scale).
Unfortunately, politicians often feel that they and the federal government must be seen in control after a disaster, even if government control is ultimately detrimental to true relief. In 2011 alone, President Obama issued more FEMA declarations than President Reagan did in eight years and President George H. Doubling the per capita threshold to a minimum of $5 million (and a maximum threshold of $50 million) would significantly reduce the number of events that would warrant a federal disaster declaration.

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