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An Unsettling Story of Non-Resilience

Words, laws, but no money allocated.

To be honest, many of the elements of this story are commonplace when it comes to the world of emergency management and disaster resilience. Check out, “West Virginia’s Resiliency Plan Underfunded, Underdeveloped.”

The beginning of the article highlights the good, “Established by state law in 2017, the State Resiliency Office administers disaster recovery and resiliency money and coordinates flood protection programs.” So there is the recognition that the state needs to focus more on disaster resilience.

The initial actions are there, but when it comes to funding disaster resilience, there is this, “Lawmakers in March passed Senate Bill 677, which created a new trust fund to prioritize nature-based flood protection and prevention solutions for low-income areas with a potential allocation of $40 million.

“Under SB 677, the State Resiliency Office will administer the already existing Disaster Recovery Trust Fund , removed from the jurisdiction of state homeland security and emergency management officials. The fund could be granted an initial one-time $10 million allocation, with the State Resiliency Office Board able to seek $10 million replenishment annually.

“But the bill, which Pew Charitable Trusts worked to develop with lawmakers, doesn’t allocate any funding. Martin told the committee Sunday there was no money in either the flood resiliency fund or the Disaster Recovery Trust Fund.” Which is the typical part of what we see usually. Words, administrative action, which is good, but then no follow through with funding.

More on what I read into in the article:

When they authorized the office to have three people and then gave them disaster recovery as a mission, taking it away from emergency management, there is no way three people can do that work, and borrowing staff from other agencies is not a good solution. They should have left the recovery mission with emergency management. I think they have been set up to fail in that regard.

Then there is this, from the article, about the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program: “West Virginia Emergency Management Division Director G.E. McCabe also addressed the committee.

“McCabe downplayed criticism over West Virginia's lack of participation for fiscal year 2022 in a competition for grant money that supports states and localities with projects aimed at reducing disaster and natural hazard risks.

“That competition was through FEMA's Building Resilient infrastructure and Communities program, or BRIC.

“None of the 1,073 sub-applications FEMA received in fiscal year 2022 for grant money through BRIC and its Flood Mitigation Assistance program were from West Virginia, according to FEMA data.

“Flood Mitigation Assistance is a competitive program that provides funding to states and local governments for projects that reduce or erase the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings that have federal flood insurance.

“McCabe said potential BRIC applicants went the ‘earmark route,’ going after congressionally directed spending with success instead of pursuing competitive BRIC funding.

“The Emergency Management Division has been an applicant for past projects. A PowerPoint presentation McCabe showed said the division is tracking projects for fiscal year 2023 BRIC consideration.”

Yes, congressional earmarks are back, but that is no way to fund disaster resilience when the BRIC program exists. Is it tough sledding to submit an application, you bet, but to not do so seems awkward at best. Likely they took heat for not submitting and have thus reversed course.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.