Presidential Prognostications Shaping Our Disaster Future

Electoral candidates would have us believe that they and their policies are what will make for a new, improved and brighter future.

by Eric Holdeman / July 22, 2016

This presidential election cycle has been full of surprises, so I’m wondering what the future might hold for 2017 and beyond for emergency management.

Electoral candidates would have us believe that they and their policies are what will make for a new, improved and brighter future. At this writing there are two presumptive major party candidates vying for your vote in November. Let’s explore what these two contenders might do for or to emergency management.

If elected, Donald Trump is sure to be as unpredictable as a president as he was as a candidate. The first priority would be building “The Wall,” and when Mexico refuses to pay for it, he will turn to the Canadians and tell them they need to pay for it. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers might be commissioned to build the wall, justifying its involvement with the thought that the wall would function as a levee against the “flood” of immigrants coming into the country.

FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute would be renamed Trump University, and all of us would have the opportunity to max out our personal credit cards to become “Trump Certified” in our profession.

Finally, the phases of emergency management that everyone I know still uses — preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery — would have one more added to the list: retribution. This would ensure that anyone complaining about emergency management policies would be “put in their place.”

If elected, Hillary Clinton would quickly issue a number of presidential executive orders. The first would allow the use of personal email servers for conducting official business — retroactively.
Interns would be banished from the White House, and a good place to send them would be to FEMA. They would be safe there, or at least out of sight, out of mind.

I’m sure there are some elements of what I’ve detailed here that will come true in some small way. However, we know it is not presidents who shape our future as emergency managers, it is disasters — especially the really big, costly ones.

Look to our past. Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew, Katrina and Sandy have given our programs twists and turns as funding was increased for special programs and then dwindled with time.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks were the big daddy of disasters that took emergency management in a hard right turn toward terrorism preparedness. They also funneled billions of dollars to state and local programs in 10 years of full funding. Now that is all winding down, and we are waiting for the next calamity that will reorient us via congressional funding and FEMA policies toward a new direction.

It is a crazy way to prepare our states and communities. What about strategic planning that actually determines how funding should be allocated? Eventually there will be a catastrophic earthquake, for example, that will provide a clarion call to action.

Japan is spending a billion dollars on a seismic warning system. China, without having had such a catastrophe, is spending $300 million. Earlier this year people here in the U.S. were slapping one another on the back when they got $8 million for one year of funding toward what is essentially a seismic detection system. I say “seismic detection” because the program is still lacking a coordinated, multifaceted, multistate and cross-jurisdictional approach for distributing a warning to systems that can then protect people and property.

You really don’t need to fear what Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will do. Emergency management and disaster preparedness are the furthest things from their minds — now and when one of them gets elected.

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

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