Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 16, 2012

The times they are a-changin

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 16, 2012

From: Protecting New York City, Before Next Time (NYT, November 2, 2012)

Mayor Bloomberg was explicit:

The floods and fires that swept through our city left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding work. And in the short term, our subway system remains partially shut down, and many city residents and businesses still have no power. In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods — something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable. Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.

Governor Cuomo too:

Extreme weather is the new normal. In the past two years, we have had two storms, each with the odds of a 100-year occurrence. Debating why does not lead to solutions — it leads to gridlock. The denial and deliberation from extremists on both sides about the causes of climate change are distracting us from addressing its inarguable effects. Recent events demand that we get serious once and for all.

Even before Sandy hit, New Jersey Governor Christie was clear.  According to an August 19, 2011 report in  the Star-Ledger, “The governor said, “climate change is real.” He added that “human activity plays a role in these changes” and that climate change is “impacting our state.”

During his Wednesday press conference the President said:

I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it… The temperature around the globe is increasing faster than was predicted even 10 years ago. We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted even five years ago. We do know that there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the globe.

All the way back in 2010 a study by the think-tank CNAWhy the Emergency Management Community Should be Concerned about Climate Change — and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation found that in regard to climate change,

These changes may impact the location, frequency, and occurrence of natural hazards such as tropical cyclones, wildfires, floods,and winter storms. Thus, the historical data that are typically the basis of hazard identification and risk assessment may not accurately forecast future events. Consequently, we need to begin to evaluate and better understand how climate change could affect the identification and selection of disaster mitigation strategies, the types of preparedness activities that jurisdictions undertake,the execution of response operations, and the implementation of long-term recovery strategies.

The CNA report offers a set of policy recommendations.  All are important.  I would argue the results of Sandy (and the Japanese triple header, June’s Derecho, last year’s Irene, Katrina, and more) especially highlight the criticality of mitigation and preparedness.  For too long these have been the weak sisters of the emergency management and homeland security family.

Mitigation and preparedness are given less money and attention because:

1.  Decision-makers at almost every level over-estimate their understanding of future challenges based on their personal experience with past challenges.

2.  Mitigation and preparedness require research, thinking, communication, collaboration, and crafting decisions without the benefit of an immediate crisis to clarify priorities and when no one is “in charge”.

3.  Mitigation and (real) preparedness seldom involve buying big-boy toys or nifty gadgets.  They are less about playing war and much more about playing house.

Mitigation and preparedness are about building smart for the long-term, not just picking up the pieces.

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6 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 16, 2012 @ 7:25 am

My my! All a day late and a dollar short so here is my immediate laundry list.
1. Building within the 300 yard area just behind the mean high water mark of all coastal communities on the Waters of the United States should be subject to a high intensity review by staff consisting of those NOAA staff currently administering the CZM [Coastal Zone Management Act] supplemented by the entirety of the FEMA mapping staff supplemented by STATE CZM officialdom in all coastal states.
2. The current NFIP should be strictly limited by providing federal flood insurances only in communities where detailed risk analysis has occurred, primarily FIRMs, and designated V zones. All riverine and inland flood areas currently provided insurance should have that federal insurance run off and the private sector should provide all insurance against physical damages in those riverine/inland flooding areas and the STATES and Their Local Governments should conduct all flood mapping and remapping with appropriate building codes and zoning rules adopted AND ENFORCED subject to federal penalties.
3. President Obama should immediately upgrade Executive Orders 11990 and 11988 [wetlands and floodplains] and absolutely forbid all federal construction support in the areas impacted unless functionally dependent.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 16, 2012 @ 8:18 am

FEMA at least in theory has always been an all-hazards agency. Sometimes reluctantly.
Currently and in the past the REPP [radiological emergency preparedness program] has been the gold standard in FEMA for preparedness and exercises theoretically verifying STATES and their local governments in off-site situations involving nuclear power plants. The key regulation issued in 1980 is NUREG 0654 also reflected in Titles 10 and 44 of the US Code.
That regulation is now under open review for the first time since 1980.
I received an e-mail from NRC with the following statement with which I agree:
“To clarify, NUREG-0654/FEMA-REP-1, as indicated by the document reference number, is a joint NRC/FEMA guidance document, and a joint agency task force has been formed to evaluate comments and develop the planned guidance revision. Per the memorandum of understanding between the NRC and FEMA, contained in Appendix A to 44 CFR 350, FEMA has the lead in coordinating all Federal planning for the offsite impact of radiological emergencies and takes the lead for assessing offsite radiological emergency response plans and preparedness. As such, NRC recognizes FEMA as the interface with State and local governments for interpreting offsite radiological emergency planning and preparedness criteria.

During the evaluation of public comments and development of the guidance revision, the NRC will rely on FEMA’s expertise to identify required guidance changes impacting offsite plans and preparedness. While a FEMA docket number has been established to allow a central repository, comments will be reviewed by the joint NRC/FEMA NUREG-0654 Task Force for disposition as appropriate.”

For those really interested in the subject of emergency planning and preparedness I suggest you follow the official docket, perhaps even commenting, at FEMA Docket 2012-2026!

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 16, 2012 @ 8:25 am

And back to other recommendations: THE CONGRESS!

The Banking Committees in Congress should be stripped of all jurisdiction over HUD and housing.

The Banking Committees should also be stripped of all jurisdiction over the NFIP!

And the federal disaster relief effort should be stripped from the oversight of the Public Works committee.

All of these should be under the jurisdiction of other committees or new permanent joint committees.

And now that the long term recovery mission of FEMA has departed to HUD, FEMA should be allowed to consolidate and the mitigation and preparedness effort raised to the Deputy FEMA Administrator level [two already exist]!

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 16, 2012 @ 8:29 am

I would also consider that the VP of the USA become the key emergency manager subject of course to Presidential oversight and delegation and that FEMA be removed from DHS, not necessarily becoming part of the Executive Offices of the WH, but made essentially the permanent staff of the VP as the principal domestic crisis manager of the USA. This should be done by statute not Constitutional revision.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 16, 2012 @ 8:39 am

Below is a portion of my filed comment on FEMA Docket 2012-2026! I will let others judge the applicability to this blog and post!

“My comment goes to the necessity for a fundamental revision of the REPP and its implementing regulations. It is my opinion that NUREG-0654 in all its versions and supplements should be revised to focus exclusively on the radiological aspects of emergency planning and preparedness in offsite safety. Those planning guidelines not based on radiological protection of the public should not be in any way a criteria for determining a planning deficiency or an exercise deficiency. The focus should be solely on radiological protection of the public leading other programs, functions, and activities of FEMA to evaluate the non-radiological aspects of emergency preparedness that are linked to offsite efforts but no determinative of real world or exercise performance. After all E.O. 12657 still requires FEMA to ensure that where STATES and local governments decide to decline or fail to adequately participate in planning or real world response FEMA will have in place a system to do the job. NRC case law and policy reveals that it has been determined that while FEMA is the expert agency on off-site non-radiological planning it is not the expert agency on radiological protection of the public and in fact relies on DoD, DoE, EPA, HHS, and NRC for that expertise.”

Comment by Noth'n changed...

November 16, 2012 @ 8:03 pm

Noth’n has changed whatsoever for given wind gust to 186 mph and a ’38 storm that left Providence flooded and 600 deaths, the storm of 8121 and the great gales of the 1800′s and 1700′s so recorded…folks have been told Not to build on the seashore or else and or else has happened once again…rto someone’s surpise as well as the resulting damage by a nor’easter?

As far as the VP becoming the key emergency manager subject of course to Presidental oversight, well, not supporting any such and especially within this administration with a joker for VP and a President who should be held for his intentional breach of trust for the “bumps on the road” ya know, our wonderful Ambassador and three brace Patriots at the “Benghazi Massacre” and his oversight to make sure we do not insult the Muslims which this “Chicago city street slicker” has gone to far in his reach to apologies to the Islamic clerics and the militant Islamic Egyptian Brotherhood and a Libya who let a criminal go despite promise to our nation and now calling the Arab world to use oil against the US and Israel -

Enough – enough!

God Bless America and let’s rid ourselves of this “Chicago thug” -

“Treason I Shout and Shame on You I Say” -

I reside here on Cape Cod far from the waterfront and still pay high premium, however those on the waterfront, they have no business securing insurance or complaining as all have been advised to stay distant from the shore – what do we expect when living so close to the ocean – you want to gamble, better to go off to the casino than to gamble with Mother Nature’s wrath and the corruptness and ineffective WH which states so emphatically that “the bucks stops at the WH” and then fingers are pointed elsewhere –

I assure you all that with the Middle East and a Germany with its fast deployment
on the march, we have a no confidence in this WH and now for sure, fewere and fewer trust this “Chicago city street slicker” who flew immediately to Egypt to apologize for America and now we see the Islamic fundamentalists and this Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood with such hatred in their hearts and who profess such devotion to the “Quar’an which professes Peace and Love, Transquility, Respect for other despite difference though apparently these clerics with self-agenda such as this “Rev Wright-Obama pulpit” so willing to enable the “Brutes of Tehran” to hold WMD in hand – what a shame….

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