Disaster Zone

More on Measuring Mitigation from Pew

We are in a Humpty Dumpty moment in time.

by Eric Holdeman / September 27, 2018

I had the opportunity yesterday to chat with Anne Stauffer, the project director for the latest Pew report on disaster mitigation funding. See Natural Disaster Mitigation Spending Not Comprehensively Tracked.

As noted in the study, the biggest problem with understanding how much money is being spent on disaster mitigation is that it is not being tracked within states, on the whole. I equate it to the question formulation. She noted that if the question has never been asked before, it is likely that no one with financial responsibilities has tracked the expenditures. To dumb it down to my level of thinking, the question might be asked: "How much money do you spend on food?" Asked that way, I think most people would look at the amount of money spent at the grocery store. In reality, "food" should be any expenditure at any time for substances that are swallowed for nutrition. Thus, the money you spend dining out and the money you might spend on snacks, popcorn at the theater, an ice cream cone, etc., should be accounted for. FYI, I budget $750 a month for food/other items you buy at the grocery store. Dining out is another budget category at the Holdeman household. 

There have been attempts by the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) and the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) to have their respective members report on how much money is being spent in states and local jurisdictions on emergency management. Those efforts have been incomplete at best. 

I do think that tracking mitigation money should be easier to document, since there is less of it, and the number of jurisdictions getting the funding, pre- and post-disaster is limited to the number of disasters — for the most part. 

In talking with Anne, I mentioned Project Impact, which was not a term or program she was familiar with. This is not surprising because the effort in the James Lee Witt era of FEMA only lasted from about 1996 to 2001 (it was killed by the new Bush administration on Feb. 28, 2001 — the same day as the Nisqually earthquake in Seattle — how ironic is that!  I am likely one of a few emergency managers who participated as a local emergency management director who is still working professionally. 

Anne pointed out that Congress was voting yesterday to provide more funding for pre-disaster mitigation funding (called a moon shot of sorts). Hopefully it is not an Apollo 13-like program that goes part way and explodes. 

My last point is this. I'm all for mitigation and the funding of it. The challenge we face is that I think we are on a path to build in all the wrong places, with all the wrong materials, with weak building codes that continue to put more and more personal property and infrastructure in harm's way.

All the president's money and all the president's men will not be able to mitigate the damages being designed into where and how we are building. We are in the designer Humpty Dumpty moment in time! Don't put Humpty on a wall to begin with! No matter how much immediate economic benefit is realized.