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When disaster strikes.


Joe Moore of Arnold, Mo., knows more about floods than he ever really wanted to know.

"We had to have sandbags up constantly," says Moore, who weathered high waters in 1973, 1982, 1986, 1993 and 1994. "I had to repair my house all the time...My furnace and hot water heater always flooded. I had to replace those things every time." After the disastrous 1993 flood and the lesser flood of 1994, Moore decided to participate in the Missouri Community Buyout Program, started after the 1993 floods. Moore sold his house for market value to the city of Arnold and moved his family to higher ground. The city demolished the house, and the site became public land to be used as open space, wetlands or for recreation. When the far-reaching 1995 floods came, Moore watched from a different perspective.

"I felt relieved," he says. "I was laughing. I even drove down to the old house site. I could see the water coming up, and I was so relieved that I could just sit there and watch it. I didn't have to sandbag."

Joe Moore can get on with his life, but people in Pennsylvania and other northeastern states are still struggling to put their lives back in order after massive snowfall and flooding in January of this year. More than 52,000 homes were affected by the flooding in Pennsylvania - 8,000 homes received major damage. The flood caused more than $700 million in property damage and assistance to individuals and businesses.

In the first two months of 1996, President Clinton declared 28 disasters - three times as many as in the same period for any year during the last 20. The nation has seen flooding from Washington, Oregon and Idaho to New York and West Virginia. Areas burned by 17 wildfires in Texas have been approved for federal assistance. Natural catastrophes are not only more frequent, they are more severe. State spending for disasters rose 37 percent from 1992 to 1994, according to a survey by the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), a group of state emergency managers. States spent $1.6 billion in 1994 on emergency management, which includes preparedness, response, recovery operations from disasters and disaster mitigation activities. Mitigation includes planning ahead to reduce or prevent the damage and costs of future disasters.

When a disaster is declared, the federal government pays for 75 percent (and up to 90 percent) of costs, while states are responsible for 25 percent. Sometimes states have problems coming up with their share. Thirty-five states have budget stabilization funds that can, in some cases, be tapped for disasters. Montana, for example, which was flooded in February, allows the governor to authorize up to $2 million from the general fund for natural disasters. Pennsylvania has a tax stabilization reserve fund from which money can be appropriated when the governor declares an emergency with agreement from the legislature. Three states - Alaska, Colorado and Florida - have specific disaster trust funds. Florida's disaster fund is used not only for disaster response and recovery, it also pays for mitigation activities such as retrofitting schools and hospitals with hurricane shutters so these critical structures are safe for the community during major hurricanes. A disaster trust fund can help a state pay for the 25 percent share if a presidential disaster is declared, and it can pay for projects that minimize the effects of future disasters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages states to prepare for natural emergencies in two ways:

* Establish mitigation programs like the one in which Joe Moore participated.

* Create state disaster funds like those in Alaska, Colorado and Florida that receive annual appropriations from specific sources of revenue.


The 1993 Midwest flood was of unbelievable proportions. Of the nine midwestern states affected, Missouri was one of the hardest hit. Officials estimated that damage in the state totaled more than $3 billion. The Missouri Community Buyout Program was developed to lessen the toll of future floods. The program, funded by FEMA, HUD and the state government, is an example of natural disaster mitigation.

By relocating homes out of the flood plain, local, state and federal governments will not have to spend another dime on sandbags, evacuation or flood assistance. Missouri has had 13 floods during the last 22 years that were severe enough to be designated as major disasters by the president. Missouri decided to pay now for mitigation so it would not have to pay later for disaster recovery costs.

The program is straightforward: Local governments identify flooded or damaged homes in the flood plain and ask the owners if they are willing to sell. Local governments then demolish any structure once the property is purchased. This public land could be turned into open space, wetlands or recreation areas.

Has this program worked? In St. Charles County, Mo., the 1995 floods were the third worst on record for the county, located at the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. In 1993, flood response and recovery costs were approximately $160 million. The buyout program purchased 1,374 properties after the flood, including 560 single-family homes and 814 mobile homes for a total of $13.7 million. When the 1995 floods hit, 1,000 families were out of flood danger because of the buyout program. The floodwater in 1995 affected almost all of the 1,374 properties bought out after 1993. The 1995 flood did not reach the same level or last as long, but recovery costs are substantially lower because no claims were filed on the properties that were purchased. Disaster housing assistance totaled more than $8.3 million in 1993. In 1995, only a little more than $200,000 in disaster housing money was given to St. Charles County residents. "The 1993 buyout process was exceptionally successful in reducing the financial impact of the 1995 flood. I hope that we will be able to continue [it] and help to reduce the impact of future floods," says Carl Bearden, chairman of the St. Charles city council.

When the 1993 Midwest flood hit Lincoln Country, Mo., $7.7 million in federal funds was distributed, including $1.5 million in individual and family grants. When the 1995 floods struck, no individual or family grant assistance was needed although much of the same area flooded in 1993 was flooded again. Lincoln County saved money because it bought 226 properties for $3.4 billion, approximately 45 percent of the total federal money spent for the 1993 flood.

As of March 1996, more than 4,600 properties in the Missouri flood plain had been purchased at a cost of $60 million. It is estimated that for every dollar spent in Missouri's mitigation program, FEMA saves $2 in future assistance - a figure probably low since it does not consider the savings of other federal agencies and state and local governments from the program.


Florida also is preparing for future disasters. After Hurricane Andrew leveled south Florida in 1992, the Legislature responded by creating the Emergency Management Preparedness and Assistance Trust Fund (EMPATF). The sponsor, Representative John Cosgrove, knew first hand the importance of mitigating future disasters. "One window on my home had a hurricane shutter - and that is the only window that was not blown out during Hurricane Andrew."

EMPATF is funded through a $2 levy on all private insurance policies and a $4 surcharge on all commercial property premiums. Insurance companies collect the money and send it to the Florida Department of Revenue. Establishment of the fund was supported by government officials, citizens and private insurance companies. "Under the hat of mitigation, Florida demonstrated that this not only would reduce the state's losses but also the insurance industry losses. The insurance industry supported the surcharge wholeheartedly after that," says Frank Koutnik, administrator of Florida's Department of Emergency Management. This surcharge produced more than $13 million in 1994 and $14 million in 1995. It is expected to generate $15.2 million in 1996.

EMPATF is earmarked for several different programs and agencies. Twelve percent of the fund goes to the Division of Emergency Management, 40.8 percent to county emergency management organizations, 7.2 percent to municipalities and 20 percent to competitive grants. The remaining 20 percent is used for disasters ineligible for federal money, but large enough that communities and local governments cannot respond by themselves.

Florida has used the money for a variety of projects such as upgrading and retrofitting critical care facilities, installing hurricane shutters on designated disaster shelters and clearing floodway passages so receding water is not blocked by debris. The money also has financed evacuation studies, public information campaigns and research efforts. "This one-of-a-kind program has allowed Florida to advance rapidly in the field of mitigation and emergency preparedness," says Koutnik.

A state can prepare for all types of natural hazards with long-range planning. By creating a disaster fund, states can recover more quickly from disasters, and citizens and businesses can return to work. Disaster funds also can fuel mitigation efforts that lower future recovery costs. States need not wait for a catastrophe to strike before taking steps to recover more quickly - and more cheaply - from the next natural disaster. Establishing a disaster fund and planning prevention programs are two ways that states can be better prepared when Mother Nature strikes again.

"The time has come to face the fact that this nation can no longer afford the high costs of natural disasters," said FEMA Director James Lee Witt in testimony before Congress. "We can no longer afford the economic costs to the American taxpayer nor can we afford the social costs to our communities and individuals."


Only the governor or acting governor of a state can request a disaster declaration from the president. That declaration can be made only if the disaster is so severe that emergency response is beyond the capabilities of state and local governments.

Before a request is made, however, state and local emergency or disaster officials have to look at the affected areas, if possible with a FEMA regional disaster specialist, to determine the extent of damage and the kind of federal assistance needed.

The governor's request to the president outlines the state resources that have been or will be used to respond to the disaster and how state and local governments will cover their share of the costs. The request goes first to the FEMA regional director and then to the director of FEMA who makes a recommendation to the president. The president appoints an appropriate federal official as the coordinating officer and the federal response and recovery assistance goes into action.

RELATED ARTICLE: FEMA: Its Role and Future Plans

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, created in 1979, is the center for the four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. FEMA Director James Lee Witt says the agency is emphasizing mitigation, encouraging the creation of state disaster funds and expanding performance partnership agreements.

Witt often has labeled mitigation as FEMA's "ultimate role." Its FY 1997 budget request contains more than $3 million to pay for state officers to help direct these efforts. FEMA hopes to develop a program that will address unsafe structures and correct past building mistakes before another disaster strikes.

FEMA also would like to see states create disaster funds. The survey conducted by the Council of State Governments and National Emergency Management Association revealed that between 1992 and 1994 state emergency management costs increased. Preparedness costs were up by 5 percent, mitigation costs were up by 58 percent, response costs were up by 6 percent and recovery costs doubled. In FY 1994, state spending for emergency management was $1.6 billion, an average of $6.23 per capita. The study also found that between 1992 and 1994 gubernatorial declarations rose by 26 percent while presidential disaster declarations fell by 50 percent. With rising emergency management costs and less federal aid available, states need to prepare financially for natural disasters.

Performance partnership agreements can streamline delivery of FEMA programs and promote cooperation between the states and the federal government about how to spend valuable disaster money. In the second year of existence, the partnerships focus on grant management to give states more flexibility in using and directing federal funds.

Laura Hagg Nelson tracks natural disaster issues for NCSL.
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Conference of State Legislatures
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article on the Federal Emergency Management Agency; states' ability to respond to disasters
Author:Nelson, Laura Hagg
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jun 1, 1996
Previous Article:Transcending term limits.
Next Article:Passing tax increases the hard way.

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