Emergency Management Planning - Presidential Disasters

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Emergency Management Planning - Presidential Disasters

  1. 1. Emergency Management PlanningPLAN 4015/6015: Presidential DisastersAnuradha MukherjiAssistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning
  2. 2. PRESIDENTIAL DISASTER DECLARATIONSPresidential disaster declarations are an important instrument ofpolicy and politics in emergency management1. Disaster Relief Act of 1950 and Stafford Act of 1988 gave the president the authority to issue a disaster declaration for disaster caused by terrorism or natural or technological hazard2. Stafford Act enhanced presidential declaration authority by imposing fewer restrictions on types of disasters for declaration3. Presidential authority further centralized and increased after 9/11 by defining presidential declaration authority as a national security instrument (not the case earlier)4. So all major disasters, emergencies, and catastrophic incidents declared by the president are now incidents of national significance under the NRF (National Response Framework)
  3. 3. SIGNIFICANCE OF CHANGES1. President now has vast authority to mobilize federal, state and local resources2. Because major disasters and emergencies are now defined as incidents of national significance, emergency management is an issue of national security (link to earlier discussion on the back and forth between civil defense and natural disasters)3. Terrorism has assumed more importance under the current framework and other types of disasters occupy diminished positions within homeland security (though Hurricane Katrina and Sandy might have swung the pendulum back a bit)
  4. 4. PRESIDENTIAL DISCRETION1. Presidential discretion – the discretion to interpret broadly or narrowly what can be declared as a major disaster or emergency and is made on case-by-case basis2. The declaration legitimizes the disaster and provides federal assistance to supplement state and local efforts and resources3. Declaration happens through a chain of command – governor sends request to regional FEMA director, who reviews and sends recommendation to FEMA headquarters in Washington DC4. Final recommendation to the President – approve or reject – made after consulting with governor(s) and Secretary of Homeland Security (since 2002)5. President may or may not follow recommendation or FEMA’s assessment criteria6. Governor can petition the president directly for declaration to expedite the process7. President can issue declaration even before a governor asks for it8. President can approve a governor’s request for emergency but elevate it to a major disaster later (e.g., 9/11 attacks in New York)
  5. 5. DECLARATION PROCESS1. Governor provides info to FEMA on severity and magnitude of disaster and amount of state and local resources committed to it2. Governors have to demonstrate to FEMA that the state is unable to respond adequately and so federal assistance is needed – most controversial part3. Governors claim that state budget limitations make it impossible to respond adequately OR that they do not have reserve funds to pay for the costs of the response4. Ability to judge ‘unable to adequately respond’ complicated by new media coverage, political pressures on both FEMA officials and president by legislators, and by difficulty of calculating state and local disaster response5. So disaster declarations can be made without documentary evidence that the disaster has met FEMA criteria6. FEMA determines the amount and type of assistance7. State and local governments are expected to share percentage of rebuilding costs, although the president can waive that8. So each declaration identifies the counties eligible to receive federal dollars and the types of assistance (e.g., cash grants, housing assistance, emergency medical aid, unemployment assistance, assistance to rebuild public facilities & infrastructure)
  6. 6. POLITICAL SUBJECTIVITY1. Political subjectivity in presidential declarations - not perhaps for large catastrophic disasters, more in case of marginal disasters2. Distributive politics & news media coverage come into play3. Often pressure from members of Congress whose districts affected (e.g., senators and representatives petition the President as a state delegation to press for declaration)4. States with frequent disasters get more federal assistance for re- development – other legislators think that they have ‘gamed’ the system
  7. 7. MAJOR PLAYERS1. President – Wide discretion, Declarations an instrument of political power, states politically important may get higher declarations2. Secretary of Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Cabinet member3. Director, FEMA – Sends recommendation to President, FEMA spending during declarations not to exceed USD 5 million, If it does, President notifies Congress that the cap will be exceeded4. Congress – Power to approve emergency supplemental appropriation to re-capitalize the Disaster Relief Fund, especially during mega disaster that swallows up the money in the fund, emergency supplement need to be enacted into law and usually comes with pork benefits5. Governors – Have to demonstrate ‘unable to respond’, due to vague language in the Stafford Act this can mean budget limitations, lack of supplies or reserve funds, ‘play the game’6. News Media – Camcorder polities, 24/7 media coverage of events, complicates presidential assessments, political officials seek opportunities to be filmed at disaster sites to show compassion

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