Disaster Declarations--A Look Back

This is the Disaster Zone Column from the April IAEM Bulletin

by Eric Holdeman / May 8, 2019

IAEM Column, Disaster Zone, April 2019--Disaster Declarations

It has always been FEMA's goal to make disaster declarations more of a science and less of an art. While they keep trying, I think that Picasso is still very pleased with the “art aspect” of disaster declarations. In reality, the politicians like having “a bit of art” included since that gives them flexibility in handing out federal funding.

There are all forms of ritualistic disaster declaration and funding practices ordained by FEMA. One is the preliminary damage assessment that is done by joint teams of state, local and FEMA inspectors who go to previously locally inspected damage sites to do a joint inspection. It is the “show and tell” aspect of illustrating the level of damages sustained in a disaster.

The FEMA region is the one that does this on the ground work and they go back to their offices and write up a recommendation that goes to the FEMA Headquarters and then gets forwarded to the President with a recommendation to approve or disapprove the disaster declaration.

I can recall only one circumstance when this process was short circuited. That would be the Northridge Earthquake that occurred in January 1994 during President Clinton’s administration. The earthquake happened in the early morning hours and by that afternoon there was a Presidential Declaration. I would call it a CNN Damage Assessment in the White House that sped up that action.

Check out the chart below of the record of disaster declarations going back ten years. This includes two years of the Trump Administration and all the years of the Obama Administration.

Information provided below is courtesy of Jerry Quinn and FEMA. Jerry acknowledges that any transpositions, omissions and errors are his.  See also his notes below explaining the columns.

 

Major Disaster Declarations box score 02/23/19

CY

Denials

Declared

Lag, Days

Range, Days

IA Included

Denial %

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018

10

59

58.44

2-173

27.12%

14.49%

2017

10

55

53.33

2-213

26.83%

14.06%

2016

16

47

35.36

2-72

38.3%

25.4%

2015

14

44

45.89

4-91

25%

24.14%

2014

15

45

44.44

2-129

15.56%

25.00%

2013

13

62

45.94

2-115

8.06%

17.33%

2012

12

47

31.32

3-79

38%

20.34

2011

12

99

38.36

2-170

30.30%

10.81

2010

11

81

41.8

4-106

22.22%

11.96

2009

5

59

35.3

1-96

35.59%

7.81

LAG = Average number of days between the FEMA defined incident start date and the Presidential major disaster declaration date.  Data from FEMA website.

Calendar year reporting to coincide with Presidential terms.  FEMA has changed over to tabulating on a federal fiscal year basis

Of 59 declarations for CY 2018 a total of 10 major disaster declarations have no Public Assistance obligation; the oldest such state declaration is Alaska DR 4391 declared 9/5/18.  Havasupai tribal declaration DR 4389 (8/31/18) is the oldest tribal only declaration with no PA obligation

Intentional or not the Portal delivery model appears to be slowing the obligation process.  Delayed obligations are expected to increase eligible costs due to construction cycles.

The number of Presidential major (only) disaster declarations has increased in the past two calendar years. The number of such denials and the rate of denials (based on governor requests) is down.

The percentage of Presidential Major disaster declarations including Individual Assistance (IA) has decreased in the past two calendar years.  Between CY2013 and 2015 IA inclusion was lower; the lowest IA inclusion rate was in 2013 @ 8.06%

2015 – 43 under Stafford Act; one (1) under Compact of Free Association (Micronesia) Typhoon Maysak  4/28/15 – not Stafford/DRF funded. 2016 One under Compact of Free Association (RMI)

 

by Eric E. Holdeman, Senior Fellow, Emergency Management Magazine

He blogs at www.disaster-zone.com

 

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