SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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THE FEDERAL COST OF DISASTER ASSISTANCE
PLEASE NOTE: The following transcript is a portion of the official hearing record of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Additional material pertinent to this transcript may be found on the web site of the Committee at [http://www.house.gov/transportation]. Complete hearing records are available for review at the Committee offices and also may be purchased at the U.S. Government Printing Office.
WATER RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT
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TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
MARCH 26, 1998
Printed for the use of the
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTUCTURE
BUD SHUSTER, Pennsylvania, Chairman
DON YOUNG, Alaska
THOMAS E. PETRI, Wisconsin
SHERWOOD L. BOEHLERT, New York
HERBERT H. BATEMAN, Virginia
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCHOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
JAY KIM, California
STEPHEN HORN, California
BOB FRANKS, New Jersey
JOHN L. MICA, Florida
JACK QUINN, New York
TILLIE K. FOWLER, Florida
VERNON J. EHLERS, Michigan
SPENCER BACHUS, Alabama
STEVEN C. LaTOURETTE, Ohio
SUE W. KELLY, New York
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
FRANK RIGGS, California
CHARLES F. BASS, New Hampshire
ROBERT W. NEY, Ohio
JACK METCALF, Washington
JO ANN EMERSON, Missouri
EDWARD A. PEASE, Indiana
ROY BLUNT, Missouri
JOSEPH R. PITTS, Pennsylvania
ASA HUTCHINSON, Arkansas
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMERRILL COOK, Utah
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
CHARLES W. ''CHIP'' PICKERING, Jr., Mississippi
KAY GRANGER, Texas
JON D. FOX, Pennsylvania
THOMAS M. DAVIS, Virginia
FRANK A. LoBIONDO, New Jersey
J.C. WATTS, Jr., Oklahoma
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
VITO FOSSELLA, New York
JAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
ROBERT A. BORSKI, Pennsylvania
WILLIAM O. LIPINSKI, Illinois
ROBERT E. WISE, Jr., West Virginia
JAMES A. TRAFICANT, Jr., Ohio
PETER A. DeFAZIO, Oregon
BOB CLEMENT, Tennessee
JERRY F. COSTELLO, Illinois
GLENN POSHARD, Illinois
ROBERT E. (BUD) CRAMER, Jr., Alabama
ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, District of Columbia
JERROLD NADLER, New York
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPAT DANNER, Missouri
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey
JAMES E. CLYBURN, South Carolina
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
JAMES A. BARCIA, Michigan
BOB FILNER, California
EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON, Texas
FRANK MASCARA, Pennsylvania
GENE TAYLOR, Mississippi
JUANITA MILLENDER-McDONALD, California
ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS, Maryland
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
MAX SANDLIN, Texas
ELLEN O. TAUSCHER, California
BILL PASCRELL, Jr., New Jersey
JAY W. JOHNSON, Wisconsin
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
JAMES P. McGOVERN, Massachusetts
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
NICK LAMPSON, Texas
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSHERWOOD L. BOEHLERT, New York, Chairman
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota Vice Chairman
DON YOUNG, Alaska
THOMAS E. PETRI, Wisconsin
HERBERT H. BATEMAN, Virginia
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
JAY KIM, California
STEPHEN HORN, California
BOB FRANKS, New Jersey
JACK QUINN, New York
VERNON J. EHLERS, Michigan
STEVEN C. LaTOURETTE, Ohio
SUE W. KELLY, New York
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
FRANK RIGGS, California
ROBERT W. NEY, Ohio
JO ANN EMERSON, Missouri
FRANK A. LoBIONDO, New Jersey
VITO FOSSELLA, New York
BUD SHUSTER, Pennsylvania
ROBERT A. BORSKI, Pennsylvania
JAY JOHNSON, Wisconsin
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCROBERT E. WISE, Jr., West Virginia
GLENN POSHARD, Illinois
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey
JAMES A. BARCIA, Michigan
FRANK MASCARA, Pennsylvania
GENE TAYLOR, Mississippi
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
ELLEN O. TAUSCHER, California
BILL PASCRELL, Jr., New Jersey
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
JAMES P. McGOVERN, Massachusetts
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
NICK LAMPSON, Texas
JAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
England-Joseph, Judy A., Director, Housing and Community Development Issues, Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division, U.S. General Accounting Office, accompanied by David Wood, Assistant Director
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McKinney, Stan, Director, South Carolina Division of Emergency Preparedness, Charleston, SC, representing the National Emergency Management Association
Quinn, Rebecca C., Legislative Officer, the Association of State Floodplain Managers Inc., Annapolis, MD
Shafroth, Frank, Director of Policy and Federal Relations, National League of Cities, Washington, DC
Weed, John, Program Manager for Environmental Program, PAR Technology Inc., Rome, NY, and Gavin J. Donohue, Senior Deputy Commissioner, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY
Witt, James Lee, Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Albert R. Capellini, Mayor, City of Deerfield Beach, FL
PREPARED STATEMENTS SUBMITTED BY WITNESSES
Capellini, Albert R
Donohue, Gavin J
England-Joseph, Judy A
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC McKinney, Stan
Quinn, Rebecca C
Witt, James Lee
SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD
Shafroth, Frank, Director of Policy and Federal Relations, National League of Cities, Washington, DC, policy and letters
Witt, James Lee, Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Albert R. Capellini, Mayor, City of Deerfield Beach, FL:
Responses to questions from Rep. Horn
Responses to questions from Rep. Baker
ADDITIONS TO THE RECORD
Milk Producers Council, Ontario, CA, statement
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Tice, R. Dean, Executive Director, National Recreation and Park Association, letter to Rep. Boehlert, April 3, 1998
THE FEDERAL COST OF DISASTER ASSISTANCE
THURSDAY, MARCH 26, 1998
U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice at 9:50 a.m., in Room 2167 Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Sherwood Boehlert (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. BOEHLERT The Subcommittee will come to order. I think we want to get right on with it, rather than wait until 10:00. Is there any objection from my colleagues? All right, let's proceed.
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The Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee meets this morning to receive testimony on the cost of federal disaster assistance and various legislative proposals to reduce costs and increase the effectiveness of federal disaster assistance.
This is the second in a series of hearings on improving the Nation's disaster relief and emergency assistance programs. So far, the theme that has run through the hearings, as well as the just-completed markup of H.R. 3035 is mitigation. The term embodies prevention and proactive measures to minimize the pain and suffering associated with disasters. Mitigation means building partnerships and reducing costs. With each hearing, with each disaster, we learn more and more about the benefits of mitigation. The old adage, ''an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'' has never been more true.
We are also learning more about the cost, measured not solely in terms of dollars, but by human suffering resulting from a continued reliance on crisis management and supplemental appropriations. We need to change the current culture and approach to disasters. This will take time, and it will not be easy, but we must begin approaching mitigation with the same energy we put into post-disaster response.
The good news is that we're making genuine progress. There does indeed seem to be momentum behind the idea of disaster mitigation. As chairman of the subcommittee responsible for FEMA and Stafford Act programs, I hope to build upon that momentum through hearings and, more importantly, through legislation. The plan is to work closely with FEMA Director James Lee Witt, my colleagues on the committee, State and local officials, and others to produce a bill in the coming weeks. A central component of that legislation will be disaster mitigation.
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One component of our current disaster mitigation program that we will be focusing on is the Nation's flood mapping program. Maps of our Nation's flood plains can serve as one of the most effective tools in limiting the destruction of floods before the waters begin to rise. Unfortunately, the current floodplain mapping program is not providing us with the data we need to make informed decisions about how to manage our Nation's flood plains.
As we will hear later this morning, promising mapping technology already exists that can produce substantially more informative maps of our Nation's flood plains at a fraction of current mapping costs. And that's something that I think excites us all. And Director Witt and I have talked about that. Better disaster mitigation tools, at lower cost to the Federal Governmentthat is, the taxpayers of Americathat is what we're seeking to promote in the legislation we will be drafting in the coming weeks. Cost-cutting and streamlining are important components of the debate over Stafford Act reforms. While FEMA generally gets very good reviews, there are clearly some areas where we can direct some attention, with the hope of seeking improvement, once again, with the full cooperation and support of Administrator James Lee Witt.
Admittedly, though, the administration's bill includes some controversial proposals to promote streamlining and reduce eligibilities for assistance. I say controversial in the sense that not everyone agrees initially, at first reaction, and I think there's need for some better study. But I'll tell you one thing without any hesitation or reservation. And I've said it before, and I never miss this opportunity. When FEMA comes before this committee, when the Administrator sits before us on a bipartisan panel, we almost want to start every session by standing up and applauding, because of the good work this agency does. We are proud that FEMA and James Lee Witt represent the Federal Government so well, so often in crisis situations, where it seems to many that all hope is lost.
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And yet, there is the FEMA worker, there are the FEMA teams out in the field saying, we're from the Federal Government, we're here to help youand boy, this doesn't elicit a snicker or a laugh. This is the hope for recovery. So I am just so pleased, once again, to give words of high praise for this agency.
Today's hearing should help shed some light on the issues that are before us, and I want to welcome, obviously, once again, Director Witt, Mr. Gavin Donohue of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. It won't surprise any of you to learn that we work closely together, and Mr. John Weed of PAR Technology, Incorporated, which had the good judgment to start its company and grow its company, and it's a magnificent enterprise in the heart of central New York, New Hartford, New York, which, coincidentally, happens to be my home town. Their testimony should help us find ways not only to advance disaster mitigation, but to streamline and improve the overall implementation of the Stafford Act. And with that, it is my pleasure to turn to my ranking member, Mr. Borski, for any comments he might care to make.
Mr. BORSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and let me thank you for conducting this second day of hearings on issues related to the Federal disaster relief program. Unfortunately, in recent years, the Nation has suffered an increasingly frequency and severity in natural disasters. At the same time, there is increasing pressure here in Congress to reduce Federal expenditures across the board, including responding to disasters such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Even as we hold this hearing, there are those who insist that any additional spending, which is so desperately needed to respond to disasters, be offset by spending reductions in other areas. I think we all understand the need to be fiscally responsible, but, Mr. Chairman, disaster relief is needed, and there are only limited opportunities to reduce Federal spending for it.
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We could simply reduce Federal eligibilities, or the Federal share, but that would only have the effect of passing costs along to the States, local governments, and the individuals and businesses which have been affected by the disaster. We could repeat the failed attempts of a previous administration and simply decree that there would be more disasters declared, but that obviously will never work. We could expend the availability of, and participation rates in, insurance programs, and while this concept has promise, it is not without its own controversies.
Or, Mr. Chairman, as you suggested, we could follow the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Perhaps in today's parlance, an ounce of mitigation is worth a pound of response cost. Mr. Chairman, I prefer the more reasoned approach of prevention, mitigation, and preparedness for disaster, and I think that the witnesses for today will share that view. I look forward to today's testimony, and to working with you and the administration, and interested parties such as those represented here, to review and improve the Nation's program for disaster mitigation, preparedness, and relief.
And, Mr. Chairman, let me also join with you in welcoming the Director of FEMA, Mr. James Lee Witt, who I think is probably the hardest working and best director of FEMA that we've ever hadcertainly in the time I've been here in Congress. He is an outstanding director, and one who we are proud to work with. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. Are there any other opening statements?
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With that, Mr. Witt, it is a pleasure to welcome you back, and we look forward to your testimony.
TESTIMONY OF JAMES LEE WITT, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, AND ALBERT R. CAPELLINI, MAYOR, CITY OF DEERFIELD BEACH, FL
Mr. WITT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. I'm going to keep my remarks brief this morning, and would ask my testimony to be put in the record, please.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Without objection.
Mr. WITT. I am very pleased to join you today, and also joining me is Mayor Capellini from Deerfield Beach, Florida. The Mayor and I both look forward to talking to you about our favorite subject, Project Impact, and I'm very pleased to be appearing before you again. Mr. Chairman, my last visit here was a good one. We had some plain talk about disaster costs, about prevention, and what you as a committee and we need to look at, and the type of disasters, from floods to blizzards to earthquakes.
Last Sunday, I was in Georgia and North Carolina seeing the effects that tornadoes had on parts of these States. Stoneville, North Carolina, a small town of 1,500 population, was directly hit by a tornado. It destroyed the entire business section of that small town. Every single business, plus homes around the community were destroyed. Two lives were lost. It literally sucked a fire truck out of the fire station and threw it across the street, without leaving skid marks. That's how powerful that tornado was.
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In Meldon, another small community just the other side of it that was hit by the tornado, their factory was destroyed. It's going to take 6 months to rebuild before they can ever put anyone back to work, and that was the major employer of that small community of 2,500.
About 2 weeks ago, I visited Alabama and Georgia, with the flooding there. In Alabama, we visited a little town of Elba. It was really hurt by the flooding, it was hit by flooding in 1990, 1994, and again in 1998. Another community in Georgia was Albany. They evacuated 12,000 people out of Albany, Georgia from flooding. This is the third time that community has been hit by a flood. We did a small buy-out relocation program in Albany before, from the 1994 flood, but we just did not have enough money to do all of the buy-outs that we needed to do. The areas that we bought out did not flood again, no one was harmed and one no one lost anything. But all those other people did.
What stands out in these trips is the effect that these disasters have had on small communities, the economy of those communities, the mayors of those communities, the county officials, and their budgets, as well as, the businesses themselves, the small businesses that employ the people in that community. A lot of those businesses will never reopen again. A lot of those people who worked in those small businesses will never have jobs there again.
Since 1993, when this Committee increased the funding under Section 404 of the Stafford Act, we have moved more than 23,000 structures out of harm's way. We've made great progress. Places that used to flood are now open spaces, environmentally sound, and no one will ever be harmed again in those areas. But we need to do more. The problem is that in small disasters, not enough funds are generated to provide what is needed to do a buy-out relocation, particularly in floods. We should be moving more people out of the problem areas. The help that we provide is very important, but we need to think about moving towards a more permanent solution than what we have in the past.
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It's almost like a war. For years, we've been on the defensive. It's time to be on the offensive now. And in a war, if you don't go on the offensive, you will never win. We need to get everyone involved, especially the private sector businesses in these communities. Getting the business communities involved in the pre-disaster mitigation is the key element in Project Impact. And, as the Mayor knows, we have a lot of businesses involved across the country, as well as in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
In each community, with the private sector, we're asking them to commit to three actions for pre-disaster mitigation. One, to do something to help your business or your company. Two, to do something to protect your employees. And three, to do something for your community. If we get that part right, we have an initiative that is really going to make a difference. The Mayor can tell you about Deerfield Beach, and he can help to convey the enthusiasm and the commitment local communities have put into this project.
We have other pilot projects that we have started, and you would not believe the enthusiastic response by the business community and corporations. Seattle, Washington, for example, was a pilot community. They have matched the money we put there 6-to-1 from the private business sector to retrofit over 2,000 homes and schools against an earthquake. With a million dollars in seed money, they've already raised 6 million to go with it to make homes safer and schools safer in Seattle, Washington. And now they want to expand it to the regional concept, where more businesses and more communities will be involved with them to make it a safer community to raise their children.
We are excited about this initiative. We want to have it in all 50 States, so that each State has communities to point to, models that they can point to of what can be done. Beyond Project Impact, we have done a lot of work to reduce the costs at FEMA, while improving delivery of disaster assistance. But in those 50 communities that we're looking at before September 30, 1998, we have asked the States to select those communities. Working with the local communities and elected officials, the States have selected and prioritized their high-risk communities. FEMA has asked the States to send in their project import community nominations by September 30.
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We continue to try to change the way we do business, from central processing, to deployment, to meeting the need out there that our customers need in desperate times. But we're looking at other ways to improve such as how we can cut costs, how we can provide better service to these communities and individuals. We think Project Impact presents a real opportunity to create a healthy environment for our country, and also reduce the risk we face in making our communities safer and stronger.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for the courtesy of yourself and other members of this community, and your staff. I appreciate your time, and especially your interest. It's time that we focus on our environment. It's time that we focus on our families. It's time that we focus on our neighbors, our communities, and it's time that we start to end the misery across our country. We need your help, we need your support.
Mr. Chairman, we'll be happy to answer your questions, and I did do something that I want to tell you, Mr. Chairman, you and the committee about. We brought some charts.
[The information follows:]
Mr. BOEHLERT. I was hoping you'd get to those charts because, first of all, they're colorful, but second I think they're very informative. And I know you've gone to a lot of work to put them together. So let's talk us through them, if you will.
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Mr. WITT. Gary Johnson, our Chief Financial Officer, is here and will direct you through this. I wanted to go back for 10 years, in relation to the weather events that have happened for the past 10 years, and association with disaster costs and show you what has happened to our country over the past 10 years. Gary.
Mr. GARY JOHNSON. Thank you, Director Witt. Mr. Chairman and other members of the subcommittee. You have charts to refer to if you can't see my explanation of this. But as Director Witt indicated, I think you'll find some very interesting trends that have resulted in increased disaster costs.
On the first chart, we've attempted to correlate severe weather events to presidential major disaster declarations, and then the related cost to these declarations. We'll deal with the severe weather events first. On the left you are the total number of severe weather events shown by year over the 10-year period. These severe weather events were provided to us by our colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It's important to noteand I will come back to thisthat the severe weather events, do not include seismic events.
In the yellow, you'll see the presidential declarations with the number of declarations on the right. We have charted the number of declarations per fiscal year over this 10-year period. Now, clearly, following a declaration, there are costs to go along with providing disaster assistance. In the green, appropriately colored, are the projected costs for these declarations, with projected costs in billions on the right. You will see there's a pretty clear correlation between the projected costs of our disasters, the severe weather events, and of course the declarations associated with those events.
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Moving to the center chart, the important thing to point out here is that big disasters greatly influence our cost of the disaster relief program. FEMA defines a big disaster as a disaster with a total cost exceeding $500 million. It's interesting to note on this particular chart that we had nine big disasters in the last 10-year period. Our research indicated that the only big disaster exceeding $500 million before this 10-year period was Hurricane Agnes in 1972. You can see that if we didn't have big disasters, our costs for regular disasters are be relatively low compared to the cost of the big disasters. I think it's also important to note that, out of those nine big disasters, six of them have occurred in the last 5-year period. In 1-year1991we didn't have any, and then in fiscal year 1994 we had two: the Northridge earthquake, and Hurricane Alberto.
The final chart on the right indicates that the types of events for which we declare disasters greatly influence the cost. We're identified the percent of the declarations by causal agent disaster type over the last 10-year period and compared it to the percent of obligations by disaster type. What's very interesting to note is that earthquakesand over the last 10-year period we only declared six earthquakesaccount for nearly 35 percent of our obligations from the disaster relief fund. On the other hand, you can see that floods and storms, and hurricanes and typhoons combined account for almost 60 percent of our obligations from the disaster relief fund these storms, flooding and tornadoes relate to the severe weather events NOAA provided us.
It's also interesting to note on this particular chart, that as awful and devastating as tornadoes are, as Director Witt just testified, the relative cost to the disaster relief program is relatively small.
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Director Witt, do you want to add anything?
Mr. WITT. Thank you, Gary. I think you can see over the past 10 years, the increased cost of the disasters, correlates to the change of those weather events over this time. The magnitude of the disaster that we're getting, like the 1993 Midwest floods that covered 9 States and 500 counties is a prime example. It's not like we get a 50-year flood anymore; it's either a 300-year or a 500-year flood. And, you know, Mr. Chairman, when the Corps of Engineers built levees, they built levees for a 50-year to a 100-year flood. And now we're getting 300 and 500-year floods. And that's why we're getting breached levees, overtopped levees, and that's why we're continuing to get the larger floods. And, cities like Grand Forks and Elba, Alabama, and all of them really getting inundated.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Maybe we should change some of the definitions, because it seems that we're getting 500-year floods about every 2 years, it sounds like. Before we go to any questions of you, Director Witt, let's hear from the mayor. Mayor Capellini, it's a pleasure to welcome you here to the subcommittee.
Mr. CAPELLINI. Well, thank you very much Mr. Chairman. Good morning. Good morning, members of the subcommittee. My name is Al Capellini, and I'm proud to represent the city of Deerfield Beach as their mayor. Not only am I here today in the capacity of mayor, but I'm also an engineer that has been in practice for over 25 years, so many of the issues that we are discussing here, I'm not only politically familiar with, but also technically familiar with.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I'm honored to have the opportunity to provide testimony on behalf of Project Impact. I'm also here to give you a quick update on the status of Project Impact in Deerfield Beach, since we were the first community to be the recipients of that effort. I'd also like to introduce our city manager, Larry Deetjen, and our councilwoman, Commissioner Peggy Noland, who are here in support of this. So you can see, that from a community standpoint, the residents of the community are very excited about Project Impact.
We have, as a community, evolved mostly from agricultural into a city that not only combines agricultural, but vibrant tourism, manufacturing industries, and several major corporate distribution centers. We're a city of 50,000 residents, and perhaps many of those residents you may be related to or know, because many people seem to be fleeing down to the south Florida area. Yet, as we continue to grow and prosper, we realize that a menacing cloud hangs over everything that we've done, threatening to undo everything that has been done in the last 75 years in our town. And we believeand we live with the constant and very real threat of a major hurricane crashing into us. And it always happened, and it always seems to happen when we're complacent about these type of events.
And, as you mentioned before, these events are now 1-in-300-year events. We have to recognize that, because it's a 1-in-300-year event, it's not going to happen every 300 years. It may happen 5 years in a row, and not happen for another 1,500 years. And we have to gear ourselves and prepare ourselves for these catastrophic events.
Within the last 75 years, the city of Deerfield Beach has been hit by at least seven major hurricanes, including the hurricane, or the storm of 1928 that killed almost 2,000 people when Lake Okeechobee overfilled its banks. So, as we have grown as a community, we have been painfully aware of the need to build on a solid foundation of prevention and mitigation. Only two weeks ago, a small tornado hit our town. Fortunately, the destruction was minimal and we were able to handle it with our own forces.
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I come here today as a representative of hundreds of other communities in our country who have been pro-active and have taken responsible action to protect their cities from this type of disaster. I'd like to also take a moment here to recognize and thank Joe Myers and his staff at the Florida Division of Emergency Management, and Tony Carper and his staff at the Broward County Emergency Management office, for the excellent partnership and cooperation we have received from them as we have worked to protect our community. Which is why we were absolutely thrilled, as a community, when FEMA approached us about Project Impact.
We have used Project Impact as a tool to reach out to all segments of our society, individual businesses, community groups, to illustrate that there are very simple steps that anyone can take to reduce the risks we face from hurricanes. People in the city of Deerfield Beach are excited about this Project Impact. We are in the process of taking several tangible steps that will prevent disaster losses, and I would like to share those steps with you.
We are increasing the shelter space we have in the community, while ensuring the safety of our children by retrofitting our local high school. We have formed a new public-private partnership business alliance to encourage private industry to mitigate within their own companies. We want to ensure that the jobs we have worked to create over the years in Deerfield Beach remain in Deerfield Beach after the next hurricane. We have also tackled the most expensive aspect of disaster. That is, infrastructure damage. We have developed plans to locate all of our essential city services in one disaster-resistant location, and we'll retrofit our existing water treatment plant to withstand these events.
This is some of the things that we have done so far, and we plan to do even more in the years to come. Before I conclude my statement, I would like to take a few minutes to thank FEMA, and especially James Witt, Director. More important than the assistance that FEMA has offered our community is the way they had offered that assistance.
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As a relatively small community of 50,000 in a State that is heavily populated, we do not always receive the personal attention that we hope for from the Federal Government. And I remember Mr. Witt coming to Deerfield and saying that I'm from the Federal Government and I'm here to help you. And there was a laughter that broke out in the crowd. But he has, and not only has Mr. Witt been personally involved in our partnership, but FEMA's Project Impact is a unique new approach to Federal Government-local government relationships. We don't need any more studies. You have the guinea pigs. We are the guinea pigs, and we think we can get a positive result from this type of approach.
Through Project Impact, FEMA has done three critical things. First, they have acknowledged that local leaders know more about their communities than the Federal Government and the people in Washington. Second, FEMA has endorsed the idea that disaster prevention is a local issue that must be locally driven. And third, they have placed in our hands the tools to begin to do the great things that we need to do.
Director Witt has spoken to us about the enthusiastic reception Congress has given to Project Impact. If I could leave you with one message, it would be to urge you to continue to support and expand this innovative initiative. Any disaster has both a primary and a secondary impact, and sometimes those secondary impacts, which are not always visible at the time of the event, become the most cumbersome to deal with. I have been contacted by a number of local officials in Florida, asking me how they can get involved in this type of program. While we realize that protecting against disaster is a long-term process, the excitement at the local level about engaging in mitigation activity is growing more and more evident.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We realize that all of our efforts to create the best communities we can can be eradicated by Mother Nature if we do not protect what we have worked so hard to build. Once again, on behalf of my community, we are grateful for the generosity exhibited here, and we commend you for your foresight and bold action to support this type of initiative. I look forward to answering any of the questions you have.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mayor. I can understand why FEMA wants to showcase you. You're a success story, and it's the type of thing that was envisioned when Project Impact was launched. Let's hope it can be replicated in many places across the country. And many of us on this side of the table have been privileged to serve in local office. I'm a former county executive in New York, and we have others who've served as mayors or village trustees, so we know you're where the action is.
One quick question of you. What's the State's role in this? Is the State helpingthe State of Florida? You've got the local support, local initiatives?
Mr. CAPELLINI. Yes, we have the State and the county, and Project Impact has selected one county in Florida, and it happened to be Broward County, which is the county of Deerfield Beach, and Deerfield Beach had been the local community.
Mr. BOEHLERT. But how about resources? The State can nod its head and say, gee, we want to encourage you to go forward, but that's the easiest thing to do. Are they lending some financial support and some technical assistance toand I know you might not have this information readily available, but answer now if you will the question.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CAPELLINI. Yes, they are supporting us and the specifics of that support, we can get back to you in a letter from our office detailing exactly what they have provided.
Mr. WITT. In Broward County, the same county that Deerfield Beach is in, the State has also put, I believe something like $10 million, into a buy-out relocation and elevation program as well.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Well, that's the type of thing I think those of us here are interested in seeing. Not just the local government and the Federal Government, but there are governments in between. And if this is going to be a true, effective partnership, each has to play a role.
Director Witt, I've got a couple questions of you that othersand the time limit's going to apply me as well as everyone else. First of all, the thing that you and I have talked about many times, and I want to bring it out once again, is floodplain mapping. I think that is critically important, I think there have been great advances in the technology, and quite frankly I'm somewhat disappointed that we're not farther ahead than we already are. I know what your interest is, and so let me ask you to direct your attention to floodplain mapping if you will. What are you doing to sort of get us into the 21st century?
Mr. WITT. Mr. Chairman, as we've tried to streamline and reorganize and do better and serve our customers better, it's been very difficult with flood mapping. Simply for the fact that under the flood insurance program, all the dollars that support that program are premium dollars, they're not taxpayers' dollars. Mapping costs Come out of the premiums. We now have $442 billion in coverage in flood insurance but we are far behind mapping and remapping our communities. We have communities where part of their neighborhoods would come out of the flood zones if we could remap them. But the problem is, we just don't have enough money to do it.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. So you do agree that this is critically important?
Mr. WITT. Absolutely.
Mr. BOEHLERT. You acknowledge that we're behind.
Mr. WITT. Yes.
Mr. BOEHLERT. All right. How can we partner to work together to get caught up? What avenues would you suggest we collectively march down, in a bipartisan manner, incidentally.
Mr. WITT. I'm going to try to work with OMB and work with the authorizing committees, and of course this committee, and look at what we can do in funding the mapping and remapping of our flood zones for our communities, because it's holding up development in communities. Banks will not loan money unless they know what the flood elevations are, particularly in certain areas. It will cost about $800 million to do the mapping that we need to do to catch up, spread over 7 years. After that, we will need about 90 million dollars a year to keep the maps up-to-date. Half of that could come from the fees we collect from the sale of flood insurance.
Mr. BOEHLERT. All right. It would cost about $800 million to do the mapping we're going to do. Can you estimate, if we did that mapping, how much we potentially would save as a result of that activity because we would tailor our program somewhat differently?
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Mr. WITT. At the present time, it is estimated that the National Flood Insurance Program saves $750800 million annually due to the flood loss reduction measures taken by communities for new construction. These measures are based on the flood maps produced by FEMA. Inaccurate and outdated maps often lead to the construction of buildings that are not adequately protected from flooding. Modernizing the maps will also make future updating easier and less costly once the maps have been converted to computer format and through the application of new technology. FEMA staff have conducted a benefit cost analysis on the map modernization proposal and concluded that benefits exceed costs by a factor of at least 2:1.
Mr. BOEHLERT. So we'd spenda one-time expenditure will, over a period of time, of $800 million would save that much annually?
Mr. BOEHLERT. Now, that to me looks like a pretty good buy. You're not going to have a problem, I don't think, knowing the temperament of this subcommittee, getting authorization. Now, we've got to work collectively to get appropriations, and so I want to help you develop this story, because it's a dramatic story of how a relatively modestin terms of the overall scheme of things, when you're talking about billions of dollarsa modest investment of $800 million in floodplain mapping can save at least that much annually, every single year. I mean, that is impressive.
Mr. WITT. And I think you'll hear later from the company that we're working with in New York State about a new technology in mapping, and they're doing a pilot project for us and it's going very well.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Well, thank you very much. Mr. Borski.
Mr. BORSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Witt, let me ask you, much of the debate on mitigation focuses on physical modifications such as elevation structures, reinforcing structures, and other physical modifications to the structures themselves to prevent damage. On this committee, we are also asked to fund physical modifications such as levees, dams, beach reconstruction and the like. To what extent are communities exploring non-structural options, such as removing structures from damage-prone areas, or perhaps more importantly, addressing development patterns so that new structures are not placed in disaster-prone areas. And should changes in development patterns be the first priority in a mitigation program?
Mr. WITT. Congressman, we have now almost 20,000 communities that are participating in our flood program. By participating in that program, they're required to build to better and safer standards. As a result, we have seen example after example where these standard have stopped communities or individuals from being flooded.
We also have gone to the local communities and the States and given them an opportunity over the next 2 years to adopt new building codes and standards, which I think they need to do, based on the risks they may have in that community or that State. The final rule was published on February 5. It goes into effect for local communities in January 1999, and goes into effect for the States in January 2000, to give the State legislators an opportunity over the cycle that they can meet.
And I think this will help, but people have to take some responsibility themselves. They have to take that responsibility of where they build. We can do our job, and do more streamlining, but still that personal responsibility is there. And we can build better and safer communities. We can keep people in communities from becoming disaster victims. We can't stop the disasters, but we can do a better job in where we build and how we build. And that's important.
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Mr. BORSKI. Mayor, you mentioned in your remarks, I believe, some of this, where you moved some structures from
Mr. CAPELLINI. Yes, you know, just to point out to you, the American Society of Civil Engineers has done an estimate on, for example, water treatment plants. In the next several years, we're going to see construction of $138 billion worth of improvements in the water plants just to meet the EPA requirements. However, those improvements may not include some of these disaster-resistant structures, and I think it's imperative, if we're going to spend $138 billion over the next several years improving a major component of the infrastructureand you can recall back in Hurricane Andrew, when, you know, the water supply was unavailable and people were without water for two or three weeks, and they had to send the armies and battalions down there with water trucks. We think that, part of our plan is to make our structure disaster resistant. We are upgrading, we just happen to be in that cycle where our water treatment plant is being upgraded and we're going to incorporate some of these disaster-resistant items so that we don't have that problem in the future.
Mr. WITT. Let me follow up on what the Mayor is saying. In Pascagoula, Mississippi, they have designed and built a water treatment plant that will withstand a hurricane or flood. They also put in place a self-powered generating system. If they have a hurricane and lose all their power, they can still furnish water for their community. And we saw it in Des Moines, Iowa. When their water treatment plant flooded, it cost $14 million to rebuild it where it would never flood again, but it cost the business community $300 million in losses. And we had to furnish water to 250,000 people for 11 days. So the Pascagoula ecample is a huge improvement from what occurred in the past.
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Mr. BORSKI. Mayor and the Director, I guess I'm very appreciative. What Deerfield's done is, I think, very important, in rebuilding and restructuring. My question is, however, what about where the location of these are in the first place. Is that becoming more of a priority?
Mr. CAPELLINI. Well, yes it is. And in our community, we're almost built out. We're probably 70 percent built. The coastline is built, the structures are where they are. Again, if you recall back to Hurricane Andrew, there was a place called Saga Bay, down in Miami. They had removed many of their structures. Matter of fact, FEMA would not allocate funds unless these structures were either brought up to a higher flood level, or removed from the disaster-prone zone.
But today, you know, we're talking about simple, little adjustments individuals can do to protect their own structure that is there. And we're saying that Project Impact has also given us the education and the tools to go ahead and inform the people that if they do build, that these are the steps they must take in order to be able to preserve their structure.
The South Florida building code is probably one of the more stringent codes in the Nation, you know, second probably to California. But it basically includes many of these things that you said, sir, relative to locating the structure outside the target zone. And we aren't trying to do that.
Mr. BORSKI. Mr. Chairman.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Gilchrest.
Mr. GILCHREST. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mayor, welcome from the great State of Florida. I have a lot of relatives that moved south in the 1950's to your State.
Mr. CAPELLINI. And they're probably still there.
Mr. GILCHREST. They're all still there, and they've significantly increased the population through subsequent generations.
Mr. Witt, just two quick things. Number one, I have a small community in my district on the coast called Snug Harbor that have contacted me recently to see how they can be bought out. They live right on one of the back bays, in an area where when the humidity is high, they get flooded out. So, if I could have someone from your office, or if you could have someone contact my DC office to see what process we would need to start to talk about that.
Mr. WITT. Be happy to, Congressman.
Mr. GILCHREST. The other one is, the mapping situation, seems to me that information is the best tool of mitigation, and going on the offensive, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and all of those things for local communitiesknowledge is one of the best tools we have to save us from these disasters. I know the difficulty of that, and you mentioned the responsibility that people have. And people act more responsibly when they have more information, so the mapping of this, I think, is pretty critical.
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There's a lot of people that do mapping and I'm just curious as to how your agency interacts or collaborates, for example, with NASAthey do satellite photographySoil Conservation to some degree are trying to find out where all the wetlands are. The Corps of Engineers does this. The Department of the Interior does this to a fairly great extent. Numerous State agencies do this. And there's also a lot of private companies, which is what you might have been alluding to in the State of New York. So it seems to me, if a lot of this information is available already in some form, if we appropriate dollars, or pass legislation to increase funding for these mapping activities, I'd really like to see some coordination of all of this between existing and available agencies.
Now, I want to point to something that's happening in Maryland right now.
Mr. WITT. Yes, sir.
Mr. GILCHREST. Maryland, for example, has for a number of years done aerial photography of the whole State. They have recently now begun to coordinate that with satellite photography with some private companies involved in that technology, with soil scientists on the ground, with water quality experts on the ground, and a whole range of other people. And they're putting these maps together, so that you could not only see somebody sitting in a car and the trees very clearly, whether there is a cat in the tree or not a cat in the tree, but they can determine from these maps and this coordination how much nitrogen is in the soil, from agriculture and from septic tanks, where the weeds are, where the flooding will occur, and a whole range of very sophisticated activities that can then be putthis is in a watershedcan be given to a local community.
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Now, is FEMA moving in this direction with this, really comprehensive, coordinate activity?
Mr. WITT. Yes, sir, Congressman, we are. We've worked with NASA, we've worked with a company in California to literally fly an area to map some counties to see what elevation we could get to on a digital-type mapping system. We're working with a company in New York to look at the geographical information system infrastructure on what they're doing. What I want to do is get to the point with all the technology where we can get to within one-foot elevation mapping, very simple mapping, that we can literally let the State and local community do the mapping themselves.
Mr. GILCHREST. You mentioned one foot of elevation. It was interesting, I was talking to some people last week about this activity, which they are now involved in.
Mr. WITT. Yes.
Mr. GILCHREST. And one of the scientists, when they took awhen they put all of this information together, in one of the pictures was a basketball hoop in somebody's driveway.
Mr. WITT. That's great.
Mr. GILCHREST. And they told the people that it was not regulation.
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And they went out and measured that on the ground, and they were correct. The elevation of that hoop, within one inch.
Mr. WITT. We need to talk to them.
Mr. GILCHREST. I'd love to let you know who does that.
Mr. WITT. Well, we would appreciate that because this is so important, and it can save so many lives, property and cost for the future. And also it gives a local community and the State, particularly the mayors and the county government, the tools they need to look at future development, look at the future planning of their cities and counties. And for all of us, it's very important.
Mr. GILCHREST. In closing, I think we have the technology to get this information, and in a timely fashion, and we can appropriate and authorize here to make that happen. But it'sI still don't quite know how we can get it on the ground to the county executives, the county commissioners, the mayors, the county councils, the planning commissionsthis is, I think, the next big push, so we can implement these great ideas.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Gilchrest.
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Mr. GILCHREST. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I was on time this time, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. I mean, the technology is there clearly. That is evident. We know that, and we're going to hear some more testimony this morning that talks about the dramatic decrease in the cost per mile for flood mapping. So the technology is there and we can develop a very good program to make sure that the information is in the hands of the right people at the right time. The problem is, and we've got to work together on this, and this has got to be a bipartisan effort, is to get the resources necessary to do the job that everyone agrees needs to be done. Thank you very much. Mr. Blumenauer.
Mr. BLUMENAUER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I was struck by your notion of avoiding management by crisis and supplemental appropriation, and ranking member Borski's line of inquiry regarding non-structural approaches. It seems to me that we are in a situation where we have lavished huge sums of resources that, to be charitable, might be a little misguided, some of the past levees and dikes built have actually created the hydrology that is worse when the floods occur and encourage more and more people to build in harm's way.
I think Project Excel, your efforts at pre-disaster mitigation are very important, but I guess I would like to offer the question, what can we do on this committee to encourage all the different elements of the Federal team to be pulling in the same direction. Whether that's the Corps of Engineers, Interior, the Department of Transportation, so that the expenditures that are being made on the Federal level combined with what's going on locally create a pattern of investment that is not prone to disasterI mean I think it's no accident that we're having a flood-of-the-century every year or two. It's because we've built it that way, and I wondered if you could comment about ways that we could link with the Federal team to try and break that cycle that just gets us deeper and deeper in the hole.
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Mr. WITT. Congressman, I think we have started. I don't think we're moving fast enough. I know FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, and EPA, and Interior, and all of us have met and worked together very closely. But the problem is exactly what you said. Over the years we've inherited this building stock, but yet we have developed in areas that are still very high-risk. And a lot of times, that development has happened because we feel a safety with levees. And we're getting more intense storms than we ever had in the past. But what a lot of people don't realize too, the development itself has created more floods, simply for the fact that when you pave, when you build more buildings, and when you get a faster run-off of water into drainage areas that were not built to withstand that, this causes a lot of floods.
So, we need to look at the entire structure of what we're doing and how we're doing it now. And you're absolutely correct. We need to do more planning. If a levee in the community floods, do we need to build that levee back that way again? We need to make sure it's good environmentally as well as economically for a community and for our country. I have seen too much of this. I have seen too many lives destroyed and communities destroyed. And I know the mayors and the Council of State Governments, and National League of Cities, and everybody is focusing on it, because this is getting to be astronomical, the losses that we're having. And I think we need to sit down and do a round-table with mayors and county officials and all of us, and say, hey folks, we've got to get our act together.
Mr. CAPELLINI. Can I just add something to that, from a local perspective? Many local communities have developed building codes and what they call land development codes, and they've really been photocopies of previous codes by other communities. And we've come across something very interesting. We have a land development code that says you have to have so many parking spaces, of paved parking area, for so many square feet of this type of, or that type of, a building. And what we've found out is that that is an over-exaggeration of the actual parking spaces you need. And that is in direct conflict of what we're trying to do. And we've had what we call a technical deviation, as funny as that may sound, to every project. Where if an owner comes to us and says, look, I have a boat storage facility. I don't need 90 parking spaces, I only need three. If he can technically demonstrate to us that he only needs three parking spaces, we make that change. And what I'm saying is many communities down the line say, look, you need 90 spaces, and you can't build unless you pave 90 spaces, and it just contributes to the run-off, you know, from the precipitation, and causes additional problems.
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Mr. BLUMENAUER. Well, I commend you, Mr. Mayor. Around the country, we have between eight and 10 parking spaces for every vehicle, and so it does simply compound flooding.
Mr. Chairman, I would hope that you might entertain the notion at some point this year that we might be able to invite some of our friends from the variety of federal agencies to join us at the same timefrom the Corps, from the DOT, from EPA, from FEMAthat we might talk about what they are doing cooperatively to try and get ahead of the curve, not just with an isolated program here and there, but where these pieces are integrated, I think we can meet the objective.
I like what you said about $800 million for a project may result in that degree of savings annually if we do the mapping. I have a suspicion that if we spent the federal infrastructure dollars a little more cleverly, the rate of return would be similarly very high.
Mr. BORSKI. Mr. Chairman, if I may, if the gentleman would yield
Mr. BLUMENAUER. Sure.
Mr. BORSKI. I want to make a point on that point, which is very well taken. According to CRS, since 1989, Congress has provided at least $40 billion in supplemental appropriations, only $23 billion of that to FEMA. What the other agencies are doing is as important, and I think we only focus on FEMA and not the other agencies. So I want to compliment the gentleman.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Very good point, and we will pursue that, and I know Director Witt is anxious to work with us on that. Mr. Lampson.
Mr. LAMPSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Witt and Mayor, for being here at our meeting. You and I've talked before about some of the problems that we've faced in southeast Texas along the coast, our need for reconstruction of one particular highway which was washed out, which provides an evacuation route for a couple of communities. The State, however, is being reluctant to put significant money in until we find a way to address in some way to address the erosion problem which allowed that highway to be washed out three times now.
I've been looking at what problems we faced along there in addition to just people, because there aren't houses along that stretch of highway. There are houses in other areas which are falling into the Gulf in my district because of continued erosion. And some of those, perhaps, need to be let go. I'm not going to say that we've got to protect everything that exists, but I was hoping that you might comment on what policy we might look at for areas where human life is not so much at stake, but national assets, such as the McFadden Wildlife Refuge, which is about 85,000 acres of wetlands that the United States Government chose to buy and to protect, and to put on display for our citizens to enjoy. What we ought to be doing to look at protecting it.
And I'll make one other comment about what one of the potential problems that exist there. As the erosion has occurred in that particular area, it's left pipelines, which are gathering gas and oil from production going on in the Gulf, which is growing quite a bit of late and we're very pleased with that, are leaving those pipelines exposed. And there's one, approximately 24-inch pipeline that is now in excess of five feet above the sand. If something did happen to bump or break, or even intentionally do damage to that pipeline, we could potentially lose huge amounts of what I call this national asset, and I believe a lot of other people do as well.
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So would you comment for a minute or on what you see our policy should be to address an issue such as this?
Mr. WITT. First of all, the wetland issue is something I'm very interested in. I'll give you an example. We did a partnership project in South Dakota with the State of South Dakota and the State Game and Fish Division in conjunctionputting funds from all three into one projec. We bought 1,100 acres joining a major wetland from farmers that increased the size of the wetland. But it also solved the flooding problem of thousands of acres down below the wetland. This project was also a huge benefit environmentally for the waterfowl. Those types of projects are very beneficial.
Considering pipelines, EPA has some very strict standards. We do work with the pipeline industry, particularly in putting automatic shut-off valves in their pipelines, which most of them have now. The State of Texas, I'm sure, has a very stringent law dealing with the pipelines, and oil pipelines particularly. It's the first I've heard of the exposed pipelines down there, but I'll be happy to look into it with EPA for you.
Mr. LAMPSON. We'd love to have you come back down there for another visit, and we'll take you over. It takes a four-wheel drive vehicle to get out there right now, but I believe it is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Mr. WITT. I would love to look at the wetland down there as well, because if you look across our Nation at the wetland issue, particularly in flat land country, those wetlands are very critical for flood events because they can stop a lot of floods.
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Mr. LAMPSON. Well, again, what about the erosion that's allowing some of this to happen. Should we spending some of our emergency money to address the problems of coastal erosion.
Mr. WITT. I would really love to come look at that with you. The State of Texas has an opportunity to prioritize those mitigation-type projects, where it's the most cost-effective and cost-beneficial, and also where it does the most in protection of the public health and safety of those areas and communities. And they've done a very good job working with our Region VI, which encompasses Texas. So we'd be happy to look at it with you, and the State.
Mr. LAMPSON. Thank you. I had one other point. You know, we talk about doing things, and Earl, I think you have been doing work looking at projects that we do on a piecemeal basis and not considering the effect that goeswhat am I trying to saythe reaction to a specific action that we take. And we've got to begin to look at what we do to our coast and so many other things that we've been discussing herethe whole system. We're losing too much when we make an attempt to correct the problem in one specific area. Thank you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Very good observation, and I find myself very much in agreement with it. Mr. Thune.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. James Lee, it's nice to have you with us again today. As you know, our part of the country is no stranger to disasters, and we appreciate very much the good work you and your organization have done and are doing. And Mayor, want to welcome you as well. We credit you with the very pro-active efforts that your city is making in the area of pre-disaster mitigation. Certainly would hope it could be a model for other communities around the country.
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Just a couple of questions with respect to the legislation HR 2446. There's an issue that's been raised by the Game, Fish and Parks Department in South Dakota, as well as I think a number of municipalities about the ability offor public recreation areas which collect fees to receive public assistance. And I know that, you know, in this age of shrinking dollars, local communities are often using the fees to help cover operating expenses. And by eliminating the ability for these entities to receive public assistance, I think we're putting a greater strain on local budgets.
And I guess my question would be, is it the intent of the administration with this to eliminate the ability to collect public assistance, if these municipalities, State recreation areas, whatever, receive any money, or just money over and above the cost of operating expenses. In other words, if they're a profit-making enterprise. And I would, Mr. Chairman, also ask that this letter from the director of the State parks in South Dakota be submitted for the record.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Without objection.
Mr. LAMPSON. Mr. Witt.
Mr. WITT. When we looked at what kind of cost-cutting measures that we could make in the Stafford Act, it was very difficult, because anything that we cut in the Stafford Act, of course as you know and I know, is passed down back to that State or that local community. We also used comments from around the country from different organizations, as well as some of the State and local emergency management. And not all of them agree with our proposal, which you know.
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We tried to look at revenue-generating, private non-profits. And if you look at the Nation as a whole, and you look at revenue-generating, private non-profits, there is a very wide gap in that area, which not only includes State parks and other parks, but it also includes country clubs, it includes art studios, it includes dancing studios, it includes a broad spectrum of things. So, where can you draw that line between private, non-profit, revenue-generating entities? The rural electric associations are a private, non-profit, revenue-generating entity. The L.A. Coliseum in California that we rebuilt was a private, non-profit entity of local government. So, by putting that in, we can focus on where we draw the line to keep it from hurting, or keep it from passing it back to State and local government without harming them and keeping in mind the overall economic responsibility we all have at that level. But it's very difficult on where you draw that line on revenue-generating, private non-profits.
But if you look at revenue-generating, private non-profits, they do set fees, they do set rates. They determine what they charge and how they maintain that area.
Mr. THUNE. Well, and I understand where you're headed with that because I'm sure there are some cases. In most instances that I'm referring to, these are not profit-making enterprises. They are clearly using the fees to offset some of the cost of operation of these facilities, and if and when we get to a point where we're marking up a bill, it's an issue I'd like to address further.
But just one other question, and this is more in the, sort of the broader issue in the context of what we can do in terms of anticipating in the future. And one of the things that I'm interested in is the whole issue of reform of the budget process. In our State, we have a contingency fund, a reserve fund, a rainy-day fund, whatever you want to call it, so that when things like this happenI mean, it's designed for that purpose. And it seems to me that each year, as we get to the point where we have to enact supplemental appropriations, and you start talking about, as a matter of policy, are we going to offset those. You know, those are hard decisions. And it seems to me it would make a lot of sense if we could, on the front end, begin to anticipate in the budget process some of these, you know the disaster assistance needs that we're going to have out there. And I'm curious to know what your thoughts might be about what the Congress can do in terms of reforming the budget process to that end.
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Mr. WITT. Congressman, we have consistently tried to give our advice to the Administration as well as Congress. And our best estimate of what it takes in disaster costs, based on a 5-year average, less Northridge earthquake, has been pretty consistent, as you can see on the chartsabout a $2.4-2.5 billion disaster cost every year. I think we can start cutting that cost, and I think we have been. If we were not already streamlining, cutting costs that we've cut, then that figure would probably be much higher. But we have consistently put that figure in as the basis of a 5-year average in our budget.
Mr. THUNE. Okay. I appreciate that, and I think it's probably the burden is on us if we're going toI mean you're giving us your best guess as to estimates, and I think you have made every effort to make sure the programs is operating efficiently, and we appreciate that. So, I thank you, and yield back.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. Dr. Horn?
Mr. HORN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
It's good to see you here, Director. I think we're all on the same hymnal almost this morning, in terms of concern over mapping and concern with what Earl Warren once called the rainy day fund. And I think both are very important. Now, we don't have the policy guidance over the flood control trust fund, but I think we should with the experience members of this committee have had work with the banking committee to try to get some reasonable regulations and guidelines.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Let me ask you, and make a couple of suggestions here. One is, I'd like to know, do you think that the mapping, with all the modern techniques that have been described this morning by you and some of our colleagues, should come out of the flood insurance fund, as just the best way to do business in terms of the accuracy of the flood insurance. How do you feel about that?
Mr. WITT. The reason we are so far behind in the mapping program, Congressman, is that we have not had enough money. To do the $800 million in mapping, we would have to borrow the money.
Mr. HORN. So we'd need to have a transition, catch-up period before we could really deal with that?
Mr. WITT. Yes.
Mr. HORN. In terms of that trust fund, do you think if we had a policy that if the president did not recommend sufficient money to get the flood control project completed in a timely way, flood insurance would not be imposed on the area?
Mr. WITT. That's an interesting thought. I'll have to think about that one.
Mr. HORN. Well, I'll leave space in the record, Mr. Chairman, to when he gets that interesting thought turned around.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Without objection, so ordered.
[The information follows:]
Mr. HORN. But, it seems to me that if we're serious about this, there have to be some incentives along the line. And, as you know, we faced that on the Los Angeles flood control area. And that would be one thing. The other aspect is, should, as a matter of policy, we say that no flood insurance would be put down if 50 percent of the project had been completed, because presumably that would tide us over. How interesting do you think that thought is?
Mr. WITT. I'd like to talk to you about that one.
Mr. HORN. Well, we could bring that up. I'd like to get a few things on the record somewhere around here, however. After we talk, can we get something put in the record on that?
Mr. WITT. Yes, sir.
Mr. HORN. Okay. Now, let's talk about rainy day fund. Earl Warren during the Second World War, probably our greatest governor along with Hiram Johnson, systematically put money away for disasters and everything else that would occur afterward. It seems to me a good use of the so-called surplus that everybody's talking about here would be to start a rainy-day fund so that the agencies that work with you and help you when we have a disaster we wouldn't be sitting around here for a month or a couple of months trying to figure out how much to appropriate. But you'd have a fund upon which you could readily draw. How does that strike you?
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Mr. WITT. Congressman, when I was the State director in Arkansas, the State legislators appropriated a five-million-dollar disaster fund every time they met. They also put in place a million-dollar mitigation fund, where we could declare disasters. The State declared the disasters without any Federal help, we did our own temporary housing program, and our own public assistance program, without any Federal help. But we had a disaster fund. West Virginia has a rainy-day fund. I think it's about $62 million, I believe they set up a rainy-day fund, so when they have a disaster, they can respond to that disaster. A lot of States have done that. The Deerfield Beach mayor has a disaster, rainy-day fund. Stan McKinney, the NEMA president, is going to testify later, I think he will tell you how many States that have this. I just talked to, I think it's Gary McConnell in Georgia. They're now putting legislation in to do the same thing. Many other States are taking some responsibility to do this.
We know that we're going to have disasters. We know disasters have financial effects, and we're going to have to pay for them somehow.
Mr. HORN. Have you and your staff had a chance to sit down over the years and say, what other creative things could we be doing with the flood insurance fund. And if so, I wonder if, Mr. Chairman, we could get this committee and the Banking Committee in the same room at the same time and, since we've been dealing with the effects of this, and the problems we have in levees and dams and so forth, that it would be wise if we listened to the director and saw what the administration would like to recommend in this area. And I would hope we could do that, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. WITT. Congressman, I'd be
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Mr. BOEHLERT. We will, excuse me, we will Dr. Horn, by all means.
Mr. WITT. Let me also say that we have been looking very seriously at the flood insurance program, and we're also looking very seriously at the repetitive losses in that program. We hope that we will be able to come to Congress with some language and some changes that we would recommend in the future too.
Mr. HORN. Yeah, one of them might be that in the early period of mandatory flood control, if we could use that money to finish the problem, seems to me that would make sense.
Mr. WITT. They need to be finished.
Mr. HORN. Right.
Mr. WITT. No doubt.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Dr. Horn. Mr. Wise.
Mr. WISE. Thank you, and good to see you, Director Witt. Let me say that I can count as a plus that I've gotten to know you and your very able staff, and Rita Calvan in the regional office. Let me say I wish we'd gotten to know each other perhaps sitting next to each other at a WVU game, or something like that
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As opposed to the fact that in 1996, one of our counties was four times a national disaster area, and we've been, I think, six or seven times declared in the last 2 1/2 years. So, we have gotten to know each other well, and I greatly appreciate the efforts that you and all of FEMA staff have made.
I'm, as you know, and we've talked about it a lot, very interested in Project Impact, and we're appreciative of the fact that Randolph and Tucker Counties in West Virginia have been designated in Project Impact, Randolph County being one of those counties that was four times in a federal disaster area in 1 year, and Tucker County three times in 1 year.
The question I'd like to ask, and to see Director Witt if there's some things that we can be doing here to assist you. You have been a great one at bridge-building, and trying to bring different folks together, whether at the State and local level, or at the Federal level, to try and coordinate efforts. That's what flood mitigation, hazard mitigation is all about, and certainly Project Impact. You and I have had some discussions in the past on the need to bring the myriad of Federal agencies and State agencies. I mean remember participating with Miss Calvan back in 1996 and 1997, holding meetings in five separate counties on what can we do to avoid this in the future. I think the first time we started out with 10 agencies around the table, and after every meeting, somebody would call and say, hey, you didn't invite me. And by the end, we had somewhere around 15, whether you get into Soil Conservation Service, rural development, State department of highways, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, department of natural resources, EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, andone meeting, even the department ofsurface mining agency showed up. And so, everyone's involved in permitting, everyone's got a certain piece of the pie. Could you discuss a little bit about what efforts are being made for that kind of coordination? I know that you've been working aggressively on building those working relationships, and is there anything that the Congress should be looking at in that regard?
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Mr. WITT. Congressman Wise, several months ago I requested a meeting, asked for a meeting with all of the Federal agencies at the White House. We had all of the Federal agencies in the Old Executive Office Building for a meeting on Project Impact and prevention. And we talked about what each of us could do, even within our existing program dollars that we had. In programs that we are implementing, we could look for opportunities to encourage prevention, and we could participate with communities across the country in promoting these prevention projects.
EDA, HUD, EPA, Corps of Engineersall of these agencies and their programs have a tool that can be used to do the prevention with Project Impact in every single community that we work in, if we focus on it. What I would encourage this committee to do is, when they're testifying, ask them what they're doing in prevention and to help facilitate that. We, most of the agencies are trying very, very hard to do this. A lot of the agencies probably will either reprogram or need some more money to make it happen in their areas. I know HUD, and the Department of Energy, and EPA, and Corps of Engineers, and Secretary Daley and EDAthey're all pulling to try to help make this happen.
Mr. WISE. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, if I could just suggest that that might be an area that this committee could look at, is ways that we could encourage further that type of coordination, because, the Director, my observation has been has been very active in trying to pull different groups together. Eachthere are limited resourcesbut each, it's unique, I mean, one has authority to dredge streams up to $500,000; somebody else has authority above that; and pulling all that together in a teamwork approach can behe added, if you noticed, the Director very tactfully added several agencies that I had missed. And so there is a real need to pullthat's why he's so good at this job, I might add.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Wise, this is an area that Mr. Blumenauer brought to our attention a little bit earlier. I think that there's general agreement within this committee that we should do something to try to bring these diverse groups together and make certain they're all singing from the same hymnal, the same verse, Amazing Grace.
Mr. WISE. Yes. As they say, amen.
Mr. WITT. Thank you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Let's see, Mrs. Tauscher.
Mrs. TAUSCHER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would vote for a song called the Amazing James Lee.
I got elected 17 months ago, and I have been both pleased and proud to have met many members of the administration, and certainly our federal employees, who I think work tirelessly for the American people, and I think that certainly you have to be very high on that list. I don't turn on C-SPAN, or CNN, or back home in California, I've actually flown out with you to California at the very early morning hours, and watched you go for 12 hours. And I can't thank you enough for what you've done for the American people, and specifically the people of California in my district. We greatly appreciate not only your leadership, but all those hours you put in. It's really very impressive.
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Mr. WITT. Thank you.
Mrs. TAUSCHER. I do have a question, actually it's in two parts. The pre-disaster mitigation program: how do we find a middle ground so that States have the kind of control they probably wish they had, at the same time that we're not creating another layer of bureaucracy, and not having another group of people that we have to deal with in these very time-consuming issues?
Mr. WITT. I think we've come a very long way on the mitigation program working with the States. I don't think we're there, where we should be, yet. Mike Armstrong, our Associate Director of Mitigation, and the national State directorsNEMAhave set up a mitigation committee. Mike and his staff are working with them. What we're trying to do is streamline the Section 404 mitigation program, basically where the States will set their priorities, will set what projects they want to select and pick. Let the States do the cost-benefit analysis for that project, and certify that, and let them do the job. The only requirement that we have, by Federal law that we have to make sure we maintain, is the NEPA requirement, and so we have to do that. But we are trying to devolve that down with the States. We've given the States the flexibility now to use the mitigation statewide, instead of
Mrs. TAUSCHER. Just in the specific
Mr. WITT. Instead of just in the communities that are declared. We've also given the States a 5-percent flexibility in mitigation to use as they see fit for the public health and safety of an area, or communication, or whatever it is they need. So, I think we will get there. And we're also doing a re-engineering of the public assistance program, the public infrastructure. And basically, in this re-engineering, in working with the States, this will devolve a lot of that responsibility back to the States, working with local government and expediting the dollars faster to close the disaster out faster. And I think we'll make it much smoother and much easier. But it is going to be more responsibility back on the States.
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Mrs. TAUSCHER. I have another question, to change the subject just briefly, on wetlands. I'm very concerned, as I think many members of this committee and my other colleagues are about the disappearance of wetlands. You know, wetlands change topography, they get drained, they become developments, and then all of a sudden, they have some flooding, and then I'm concerned about us then rescuing and buying out the people that have now bought these homes. How do we stop this counterintuitive chain of events from happening, and are there things that we should be looking at.
Mr. WITT. Absolutely. We're working with the State Floodplain Managers on their national level. We're also working with the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation. I was at their national banquet Saturday night, and they're coming to meet with us to work with the State Floodplain Managers, Sierra Club, and FEMA all as a partnership in looking at not only the wetlands, but also looking at our water, and environmentally across the board, and seeing what we can achieve in a partnership, in conjunction even with Project Impact. So we are looking at that. And they're very excited about it.
Mrs. TAUSCHER. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. Director Witt, and Mayor, we thank you for your testimony. There are several members of the committee who were, because of conflicts, not able to be here today, but have expressed an interest in submitting to you in writing questions that they have, and we would appreciate, as always, a timely response.
Mr. Mayor, Director Witt, thank you very much.
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Mr. CAPELLINI. Thank you.
Mr. WITT. Thank you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. The second panel for today is a panel consisting of representatives from the General Accounting Office, with Ms. Judy A. England-Joseph, Director, Housing and Community Development Issues as the lead, and she will be accompanied by David Wood, of General Accounting Office. Ms. England-Joseph, we welcome you here. Mr. Wood, glad to have you with us once again. We ask that you try to summarize your testimony, but because of the importance of what you have to say, we're not going to be arbitrary. Take the time necessary to say what we need to hear. Thank you very much.
TESTIMONY OF JUDY A. ENGLAND-JOSEPH, DIRECTOR, HOUSING AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT ISSUES, RESOURCES, COMMUNITY, AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIVISION, U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE, ACCOMPANIED BY DAVID WOOD, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. No problem, Mr. Chairman, and I'll try to keep it under five minutes.
Dave Wood is the Assistant Director within GAO responsible for the work that we do at FEMA.
It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss the cost of Federal disaster assistance and approaches for lowering those costs. Our statement is largely based on our work for the Senate bipartisan task force on funding disaster relief and our past reviews of various Federal disaster assistance programs.
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Our Nation spends billions of dollars each year on Federal disaster assistance. According to data we compiled for the Senate task force, Federal agencies obligated nearly $120 billion in constant 1993 dollars for disaster assistance from Fiscal Years 1977 through 1993.
Post-disaster recovery accounted for by far the largest portion of the assistance dollars, about $87 billion, or nearly 73 percent of that total Federal assistance during this period.
Now it must be noted that a major portion of this obligation was for loans, and to the extent those loans were repaid, we would have to reduce the amount of actual Federal costs within this category.
Disaster mitigation accounted for the second largest category of Federal assistance obligations, about $27 billion, or nearly 22 percent; and the remainder reported to the task force was obligated for immediate response to disasters, which was about $3.4 billion, and for preparedness activities, which was about $2.3 billion.
The occurrence of large disaster-assistance costs in the 1990's has been attributed to a number of factors. The sequence of unusually large and costly disasters in close occurrence was unprecedented. Furthermore, increases in population and development, especially in hazard-prone areas, increased the potential losses associated with these events.
For several of these large disasters, the Federal Government bore a larger-than-usual share of the cost. The Federal share under the Stafford Act is at least 75 percent for public assistance projects, but for several recent disasters, the President has raised the Federal share for some of these costs for example, to 90 percent for the Northridge earthquake and 100 percent for Hurricane Andrew.
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There has also been an upward trend in the annual number of presidentially-declared disasters. And, finally, more facilities have been eligible for disaster assistance.
Approaches for lowering Federal disaster assistance costs generally fall within three categories. One approach is to establish more explicit and/or more stringent criteria for providing Federal disaster assistance. The flexibility and generally subjective nature of FEMA's criteria has raised questions about the consistency and clarity of the disaster declaration process. More explicit criteria could provide a number of potential benefits.
A 1993 national performance review report concluded that clear criteria need to be developed for disaster declarations to help conserve Federal resources.
We, too, have reported that clear and up-to-date criteria are needed because eligibility decisions effectively determine the level of Federal spending for Federal assistance and help to ensure consistency and equitable eligibility determination.
We have also reported that disclosing the process for evaluating requests would help State and local governments decide whether they have a valid request to make, enable them to provide more complete and uniform information, and minimize doubts as to whether their requests were treated fairly and equitably.
A second approach to reduce the cost is to emphasize mitigation through incentives. There are a number of approaches that can provide Federal incentives to encourage hazard mitigation such as linking mitigation actions with the receipt of Federal disaster or other assistance.
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To the extent the availability of Federal relief inhibits mitigation, amending post-disaster Federal assistance could help prompt cost-effective mitigation. Providing relatively more disaster assistance to States that have adopted mitigation measures than to States that have not, may encourage hazard mitigation actions.
Quantifying the effects of mitigation efforts, however, can be difficult. Specifically, determining the extent to which cost-effective mitigation projects will result in Federal dollar savings is uncertain because it depends on the actual incidence of future disaster events and the extent to which the Federal Government would bear the resulting losses.
A third approach is to rely more on insurance and, as you know, insurance spreads the burden of the loss borne by victims over a larger number of individuals.
As early as 1980, we reported that the combination of insurance and mitigation measures can be a better means of fairly and efficiently providing Federal disaster assistance than other forms of assistance, such as loans and grants.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, the growth in the size and number of federally-declared disasters in recent years is unprecedented and there is a potential for increasing, or continuing increases in those costs.
We look forward to working with the subcommittee as you consider various proposals and both Dave and I would be happy to answer any questions you and other members may have.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. You have given us what we have come to expect from GAO, a very concise, a very meaty presentation, so I thank you for that.
Do you think there's sort of a disaster creep? Is it more likely as the years go by that a Federal disaster will be declared than it has been in years previous.
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. I would say that a disaster that occurs today in 1998 would have a greater likelihood of greater damage and greater effect and impact on population than that same event occurring in the same location in 1978, 20 years ago. That's largely because of development and population. It's hard to separate those out, to hold constant other factors that really might affect the amount of disasters, but in fact there has been an increase in the number of disaster declarations and there may be a number of factors, obviously that could affect that.
Mr. BOEHLERT. It's tough for us to deal with this in a very objective way and I think you suggest we should be more objective in establishing criteria and less subjective. But I'll tell you there isn't a one of us that doesn't, you know, have tears in our eyes as we watch nightly television and the reports of everything being lost by a family far removed from our individual congressional districts.
Let me ask you this. Currently the cost of disasters fall under four entities. You've got the victims, you've got the State and local governments, you've got the Federal Government, and you've got the insurance companies. Overall, do you have a sense of who pays what on a proportional basis?
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Do you think it's split evenly among the four? Address that if you will.
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. It's really a difficult question to answer. If you're talking about all disasters, not necessarily federally-declared disasters, then, perhaps the costs for many small disasters in a locality would result in the community, either the individual victims businesses, and the local government probably would have to
Mr. BOEHLERT. Let's talk about the Federal disasters.
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. For federally-declared disasters, when we're talking about really large disasters, like Hurricane Andrew and the Northridge earthquake, where the government chose, or the President chose, to fund up to 90 or 100 percent, then clearly the Federal Government is stepping in and paying a much larger share than what the local government or State government may have to provide.
The problem is really measuring the business loss, the human loss, associated with property and a lot of that data, other than through insurance companies, is awfully difficult to obtain. If people don't have insurance, you really have no idea of the real impact to communities and a lot depends on the type of disaster, where the disaster hit. Is it high residential, is it high business, is it high public buildings? And depending on that mix, there would be a different set of factors in terms of
Mr. BOEHLERT. So, there are just a whole lot of variables. It's hard to just get a good grasp on it. Were you here for all of Director Witt's testimony?
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Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. Yes, sir.
Mr. BOEHLERT. And you heard the discussion, I have a particular interest and others have expressed that same interest in pre-disaster mitigation, particularly you're talking about flood plain mapping.
And Director Witt, among other things, and this should have perked up your ears as someone who likes to look at numbers, he said if we spent $800 million, we can save that much annually and, boy, that looks like a pretty darn good return on an investment.
We are going to hear some testimony from the next panel. Among other things, apparently it is costing in the neighborhood of $15,000 a mile for flood plain mapping using the technology that's commonly in use today. And we're going to hear about a plan that would reduce like to $3,000 a mile. Boy, that seems like a very good investment, and I know in your testimony you talked about mitigation and pre-disaster mitigation. Have you looked at various options we have with pre-disaster mitigation and what the return might be on each? For example, address the issue of flood plain mapping.
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. We haven't done the type of analysis that you're talking about although work that we've done several years ago regarding flood insurance and quality of flood plain mapping clearly has affected the ability for anyone to know whoof the population that should be getting insurancedoes get insurance and how to hold mortgagors accountable for the requirement to have flood insurance as part of the mortgage in mortgaging for a home. So there are lots of issues about the qualities of those maps that have been longstanding, and I think that any effort to try to focus on that aspect of pre-disaster mitigation is an excellent idea. Whether $800 million is, in fact, what we would save, or could save, with an investment of $800 million, it's hard for me to be able to judge.
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We were noting on these charts back here about a third of the disasters appear to be flood or storm damage and so, perhaps, if that $800 million were an investment that could reap some real return, then you are affecting about a third of the disasters that we're faced with as a country.
Mr. BOEHLERT . Well, Director Witt isn't noted for just figuring around figures loosely. He usually gives them thought so you sort of scratch your head from this side and say, my goodness if you could get that sort of return on investment, or even a fraction of that return, you ought to consider it.
My red light is on, so I thank you and I will turn now to Mr. Borski.
Mr. BORSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. England-Joseph, in response to a question from the chairman, it seemed to me that you said that similar events result in greater damage today than 20 years ago. Is that a fair assessment?
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. Yes, sir. Simply because of population and development in those areas.
Mr. BORSKI. Is there anything we can do about that?
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. There may be things we could do, whether we would want to do them may be a different issue. I think, obviously, trying to discourage development in areas where people obviously want to move would be one approach. But that would be, obviously, extremely difficult to do.
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Mr. BORSKI. We're basically stuck with high bills at this point in time.
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. I think that some of the mitigation activity that you are seeking to try to address might help. I think with greater insurance and certainly with some discussion about other criteria for approving the types of payments that the government would allow, would encourage more mitigation activity. For example, maybe not building in certain areas, or for homeowners not purchasing in areas where they feel they may have more of a risk. And clearly, knowledge, as you all were talking earlier with the flood plain mapping, just educating the public on what they may face would have an extreme impact, I think, in terms of decisions that they may make at a person level.
Mr. BOEHLERT. If the gentleman will yield.
Mr. BORSKI. Sure.
Mr. BOEHLERT. And I won't take it out of your time, but we have to talk about codes here and code enforcement and one of the things that just boggles my mind is that we can go in in a Federal disaster area and provide assistance and discover that the code is lacking and only 2 years hence come in and have the disaster assistance provided and the code is still lacking.
I mean, I think we ought to get serious in terms of the Federal Government. We can't tell everyone what to do with his or her life but we darn sure can say to communities, look, you've got a big stake in this thing and if you expect us to be responsive, you've got to be responsible and let's work together.
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I mean, I've been to disaster areas where home were built to code and they stand out like an oasis in the middle of the desert and all around them the homes are just devastated and the home built to code was able to withstand the disaster.
I thank you for
Mr. BORSKI. I appreciate the chairman's comments on it.
Let me ask you this. Did you review disaster aid programs of other agencies other than FEMA that we were talking about earlier and are there savings available or even advisable in other agency programs?
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. In the work that we have done, I would not be able to say that we have. But the Senate task force that we did work for was trying to look at all Federal agencies and what their involvement has been. Also, there has been work done by GAO in the crop insurance and disaster loan areas where I guess about 4 years ago, some legislation was passed to try to improve some of the problems associated with those two programs and my understanding is they have improved with some cost savings.
But we haven't really looked at other Federal programs in that way.
Mr. BORSKI. Let me ask you this. Do you believe that either streamlining Federal disaster program operations or devolving Federal programs to the States will help achieve meaningful Federal disaster cost reduction?
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Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. In many ways a lot of what occurs today is decentralized and devolved to States and localities. In fact, that is where much of the tension occurs, particularly in the public assistance area, where without real clear specific criteria, there is a lot of debate that goes on between the State level and the Federal level as to what really is appropriate to be paid, appropriate costs.
So streamlining might help if the criteria were clearer, but I think that we're faced with the fact that a lot of this is not easy. It is very hard to determine exactly what we want to hold as the criteria out there for every single thing that might occur since we can't anticipate every single thing.
But I think more needs to be done to ensure that, if we are going to continue to devolve, or if we do devolve to an even greater extent than we do now, that States and localities are in a much better position to make the kind of decisions about what Federal payments could or should be made to recoup their costs.
Mr. BORSKI. You wouldn't see significant savings to the Federal Government, then, in your view. We've achieved a lot of the savings already?
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. Oh, from streamlining and devolvement? No, I would not. I don't think that they are the kinds of administrative costs that you might be thinking of.
Mr. BORSKI. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Dr. Horn.
Mr. HORN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the GAO for its usual fine presentation. This is very helpful background. Sometime if you could bundle up all of those reports on page 14, and send them to me marked personal, I'd appreciate it.
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. I'd be happy to.
Mr. HORN. You might have asked some of the questions I asked Director Witt. I don't know if it's beyond the scope of GAO to comment, but I'll put them to you anyhow.
And one was, if the President doesn't recommend sufficient dollars to solve the problem, that we shouldn't impose mandatory flood insurance as a policy matter. Do you have any reaction to that?
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. We don't have a position within GAO on that, but in large measure there are certain aspects of the flood insurance program that are mandatory, certainly as it relates to federally-insured mortgages.
Any federally-insured mortgage company is required to ensure that borrowers meet their flood insurance responsibilities, and that is included in their loan decision.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HORN. Now you heard a number of members on both sides talk about the need for mapping in an accurate way and that's relevant to the use of the flood insurance one way or the other. Does GAO have any position on that? And have you looked at other trust funds around the Federal Government as to what sort of administrative costs are permitted by those trust funds.
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. No, we haven't. As you were asking your question, though, we were talking among ourselves and I think that if the Congress were to try to allocate or appropriate some amount of money to flood mapping that we would want to ensure that those are clearly earmarked as a part of the NFIP; otherwise once it's in that fund, it can be spent for just about anything related to the claims for floods. So that's one thing I'd want to be sure, that that was clear. But beyond that, the flood insurance program administrative costs are included and are supposed to be part of the premiums that are recouped or paid into the fund.
Unfortunately what we're faced with today is a fund that has borrowed now from the treasury to the tune of over $800 million. So what we are faced with is a problem in terms of needing to come to the Federal Government perhaps and to write off that $800 million, or to try to determine whether the Congress is willing to increase the premiums associated with those policies.
I believe the most recent analysis we've seen about this $800 million is that even with premiums paid over the next 5 years, that the fund would only be able to reduce that $800 million by about 20-some percent so the fund is faced with a real problem.
Mr. HORN. Have you in your work on this or any other project looked at what foreign governments abroad have done and to see if we can learn something from them in how they handle disasters. The two most reform-oriented governments in the world that surpass ours is Australia and New Zealand and they must occasionally have disasters, but I'd just be curious what type of a setup do they have to deal with it, whether it be insurance, mitigation, or whatever, and I don't know if you have counterparts in these countries, but I think it might be useful, we could learn something from other people.
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Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. That's an excellent question. We had not done that work but we do have counterparts, certainly in the audit function, in those other countries and it's probably something we could pursue.
Mr. HORN. And that would include, obviously, Latin America where they've had a number of disasters and, certainly, the European countries which are somewhat similar to us in the sophistication of their governments.
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. Absolutely.
Mr. HORN. Thank you very much.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you, Dr. Horn. Mr. Wise?
Mr. WISE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If I could go back. Did I understand the GAO report in terms of the increased costs that the Federal Government is facing in the increased numbers of disasters.
I'm reading on page 7, there's also been an upward trend in the annual number of Presidential disaster declarations. What I'm trying to get a handle on is whether or not that's due a lessening of standards by which a disaster is determined, either Congressional, or at the Executive level, or is it because, you pointed out other factors as well, increased population in certain areas, and things like that.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. It's likely, perhaps, to be a little bit of both.
I would say for sure we would respond from a population and development perspective but because the criteria are really not that clear in terms of the basis on which those declarations are approved, it's often difficult. The IG, I think, recently did a study that would indicate that there aren't good data to compare like types of requests for declarations and to be able to see any consistency in terms of the approval of those so there is an issue about the kind of information and the kind of criteria that FEMA, in its recommendation process to the President, and the President in making that decision, might use.
Mr. WISE. The chart back there that FEMA testimony references, that deals with severe weather events over a 10-year, or 10-year trend, compared against presidential disaster declarations, would you in agreement with that chart as far as what it indicated.
Mr. WOOD. We haven't done any correlation like they've done of weather events. As Mr. Witt pointed out, it doesn't have any kind of geologic or seismic event information on it.
Mr. WISE. The sense I had from that is it was pointing outthe implication can be that there are environmental occurrences taking place that can be influencing that as well, whether you want to get into global climate change or whatever. El Nino, or. The CBO analysis. Have you done anything similar to that?
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WOOD. No, we haven't. This is the approach we would have takento look at some correlation between weather events and declarations.
Mr. WISE. And but do you have any reason, based on your data, to dispute that?
Mr. WOOD. No.
Mr. WISE. Good. That's all I have. Thank you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Is that it?
Mr. WISE. Yes.
Mr. BOEHLERT . Okay. Thank you very much.
In responding to Dr. Horn's question about Australia and New Zealand, do I detect an enthusiasm in pursuing that? And we'll volunteer to go along with you.
Thank you very much. And once again, we're accustomed to getting very fine reports from the GAO and yours is no exception. Thank you.
Ms. ENGLAND-JOSEPH. Thank you, sir.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. The third panel, the final panel of the day, consists of Stan McKinney, Director of the South Carolina Division of Emergency Preparedness. Mr. McKinney is representing the National Emergency Management Association. We have Ms. Rebecca Quinn, Legislative Officer from Annapolis, who is representing the Association of State Floodplain Managers. From the National League of Cities, we have Mr. Frank Shafroth, Director of Policy and Federal Relations. John Weed, a Program Manager for Environmental Programs, is here today representing PAR Technology, Inc. And from the State Department of Environmental Conservation from the State of New York, we have the Senior Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Gavin J. Donohue.
Each of you would be asked to summarize your testimony if you can in five minutes or thereabouts. We are not arbitrary here because the business we're dealing with is very important, but we do like to try to maintain a schedule because there are other demands on the room and our time.
And I would ask that you would be on notice that you might receive some questions in writing from the panel following your presentations and we would ask that you be timely in your response.
We will go in the order listed, so from left to right, your right to my left, my left to your right, we'll start with Mr. McKinney.
TESTIMONY OF STAN MCKINNEY, DIRECTOR, SOUTH CAROLINA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS, CHARLESTON, SC, REPRESENTING THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION; REBECCA C. QUINN, LEGISLATIVE OFFICER, THE ASSOCIATION OF STATE FLOODPLAIN MANAGERS INC., ANNAPOLIS, MD; FRANK SHAFROTH, DIRECTOR OF POLICY AND FEDERAL RELATIONS, NATIONAL LEAGUE OF CITIES, WASHINGTON, DC; JOHN WEED, PROGRAM MANAGER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRAM, PAR TECHNOLOGY INC., ROME, NY, AND GAVIN J. DONOHUE, SENIOR DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION, ALBANY, NY
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Mr. MCKINNEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. It is really a pleasure to be before you today and with these distinguished colleagues and following our friend and, as I've said to him before, American's emergency manager James Lee Witt who has done a tremendous job in directing both Federal, State, and local emergency management functions across the country to make them more responsive and enhance our capability.
Thank you for inviting NEMA to be here today with you to present testimony before your subcommittee. As most of you know, NEMA represents the State Directors of Emergency Management in the 50 States and territories of the country who are responsible to our governors across the country for an integrated and responsive emergency management system and protecting the lives and property of the citizens within each of our States.
NEMA has testified before this subcommittee several times in the past and we commend you for your ongoing efforts in the past as well as today, and in the future, to strengthen and enhance the Nation's emergency management system and we certainly pledge our continued support in that endeavor in the future.
The focus of today's hearing, of course, is the Federal cost of disaster assistance. It has been an issue of concern to us since 1994 when a Senate bipartisan task force that was referenced earlier in testimony, appointed by the 103rd Congress, released a report on Federal funding for disaster relief.
That report, as many of you all know, concluded that Federal disaster assistance in some instances discouraged individuals, communities, and State governments from taking action to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.
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The report implied that State and local governments were not doing enough in the area of disaster preparedness and were, in essence, waiting for Federal bail-out when disasters strike.
The perceptions created by the Senate task force report caused a great deal of concern among the States. We knew better than anyone the enormous amount of resources being devoted to emergency management, yet there was no data readily available to support our case.
In an effort to better develop a picture of State contributions to emergency management, NEMA, and the Council of State Governments, conducted an extensive survey of the States in 1996 and again in 1997, providing a comprehensive overview of State spending for disaster preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.
The 1997 survey found that in Fiscal Year 1996, emergency management spending for the 44 reporting States totaled more than $2 billion. Per capita spending by States for emergency management increased from an average of $6.48 in Fiscal Year 1994 to $8.96 per capital in Fiscal Year 1996.
Over the last 4 years, the survey revealed that State cost for mitigation or disaster prevention rose 440 percent. In addition, State gubernatorial disaster declarations rose by 87 percent between Fiscal Years 1992 and 1996 while Presidential declarations actually only rose by 34 percent.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC These statistics prove that the majority of emergencies and disasters that occur in our Nation are handled at the State level and never receive Federal disaster assistance.
Those disasters that do overwhelm State and local capabilities do indeed receive Federal assistance as authorized through the President's Disaster Assistance Program.
In considering the cost of disasters, Congress appears to have formulated the issue in terms of actually how to cut disaster costs only for the Federal Government. NEMA believes that the issue should be framed to asked what the legitimate cost shares for disaster assistance should be between local, State, and Federal Governments.
This issue can best be resolved by capturing local, State, and Federal costs for all disasters, rather than shifting costs from the Federal Government to State and local government, and, potentially, to individual victims of disaster.
NEMA has been successful in capturing State disaster costs. However, there is no data currently available on local costs. Today we come before the subcommittee with a request that the Congress commission a study on the cost of disasters to all levels of government and that the study be objective and give equal consideration to the amount of funds State and local governments appropriate on annual basis to build and maintain an effective emergency management capability as well as those extraordinary costs incurred because of emergencies and disasters.
NEMA believes this study would provide a useful framework for identifying ways to reduce the overall costs of disasters and establish equitable cost shares between all levels of government.
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We ask for your support, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, to commission such a study before any new restrictions are placed on State and local governments' eligibility for disaster assistance.
NEMA would be pleased to serve as resource for the subcommittee, based on our own experience in capturing our State disaster costs.
This subcommittee, and others within the Congress and the Federal Government, have asked NEMA for its recommendations on reducing the costs of disasters and I'll touch on two specific recommendations today.
Those are increasing pre-disaster mitigation and, secondly, implementing a management State concept for the hazard mitigation grant program and, potentially, the Public Assistance Program.
The only true way to reduce our future exposure to natural and man-made hazards is, indeed, to reduce our vulnerability as has been discussed this morning to those known hazards through sound mitigation activities before disasters occur.
To be effective, this must be done by State and by community-by-community. Congress appropriated, in the FEMA Fiscal Year 1998 budget, $5 million to pilot a pre-disaster mitigation program that you have spoken about this morning, called Project Impact in an attempt to make communities more disaster resistant.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC FEMA is requesting $50 million in its Fiscal Year 1999 budget request to continue this program. NEMA truly believes the project impact is a worthwhile demonstration project concept and supports this budget request.
We also believe that the most effective National pre-disaster mitigation program would be one that provides incentives for government and businesses to engage in hazard mitigation, promotes multi-agency partnerships for the purpose of integrating mitigation resources to maximize the impact on reducing losses, and thirdly, brings a unified structure to isolated mitigation efforts through a Federal-State mitigation strategy.
States are putting money into efforts to mitigate against disasters. The 440 percent increase in mitigation that I referenced, regarding that mitigation spending, shows that States have indeed embraced FEMA Director James Lee Witt's philosophy that mitigation is the cornerstone of emergency management.
It is true that most mitigation to date has taken place immediately following a disaster, certainly which has been the case in South Carolina.
However, States are working diligently to secure both funding and public support for pre-disaster mitigation. FEMA's effort to establish a national pre-disaster mitigation initiative is an important step in encouraging State and local governments to commit resources before a disaster strikes.
The roadblock to increased pre-disaster mitigation at this point is the lack of funds. There is not enough money available to the States to do all the mitigation that is needed. FEMA would recommend that Congress create and fund, on an annual basis, a national pre-disaster mitigation program that provides grants to States to address their most pressing mitigation needs actually before the disaster occurs.
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Grants could be provided based on established criteria that must be met, such a State mitigation strategy with a prioritized list of mitigation initiatives. A program of this nature would make a major difference in what we are able to accomplish in protecting lives and property from disasters and may be the only viable way to substantially reduce the overall cost of disasters in our country.
NEMA believes that some level of devolvement of the hazard mitigation grant program and Public Assistance Program to the State would streamline Federal disaster assistance process and reduce bureaucracy, unnecessary oversight, and administrative costs.
FEMA's been examining the management State concept for the hazard mitigation grant program. NEMA supports the concept and suggests that it could actually be expanded to include the public assistance program as well.
We encourage this subcommittee to direct FEMA to work with the States to pursue a management State arrangement that, in broad terms, may be based on a self-assessment of capability by the State and its partner, FEMA; mutually-agreed upon roles and responsibilities, flexibility based on each State's unique needs; and ongoing training and guidance to ensure that FEMA and the State understand and are able to successfully carry out their new responsibilities.
In summary, NEMA and the States share your concern about the cost of disasters, we encourage you to address cost-cutting and streamlining measures based on data obtained through an objective study of Federal, State, and local government costs. NEMA fully endorses the reduction of future disaster costs through pre-disaster mitigation programs. We believe that devolving more authority for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and the Public Assistance Program to the States will indeed reduce administrative costs, eliminate duplication, and streamline the Federal disaster assistance program to improve services to victims.
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Thank for the opportunity
Mr. BOEHLERT. That you very much. The study you referred to is something we are actively considering. I think it is fair to summarize you prefer carrots to sticks.
Ms. QUINN. Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and the committee. Thank you for inviting the Association of State Floodplain Managers. We appreciate the opportunity to appear before you again.
Big and little floods are our most frequent natural disaster or natural hazard that occur each year and they impact more people and communities than any other.
The association's members include the State Coordinator for the National Flood Insurance Program from almost every State, but we also have individual members who are local officials from counties and towns, academic researchers, and engineering planning and environmental professionals. Including 12 State chapters, we represent over 3,500 members.
We appreciate your interest in mapping because our members use them every day. It was actually one of the founding reasons for the organization of our association and we are glad to see the growing awareness of their importance.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I was reminded the other day that some of us have been accused of seeing mitigation in just about everything we come in contact with.
Actually we occasionally get called ''disaster junkies,'' but I like to think of it as feeling good about doing good.
I know that President Clinton knows what hazard mitigation is. He's seen disasters and he's seen what works. And, although he wasn't talking about disasters, when I heard him say that ''any carpenter will tell you that the time to fix the roof is before it rains,'' I knew we had him hooked too.
The association is aware of the committee's interest in authorizing a pre-disaster mitigation program and we strongly support that interest. Our written testimony includes a number of aspects related to reducing costs.
We also refer you to the recently-adopted paper, adopted by the Western Governors' Association. But today I want to focus on pre-disaster mitigation, which most of us in this business know is really what we do in the lull between two disasters.
When Congress created the NFIP, it gave us an excellent model. At its core is a simple concept: figure out what you are doing wrongbuilding houses flat on the groundand stop doing it. Build them elevated or build them somewhere else.
Paired with having exposed people invest in their own recovery through insurance, you can't beat the model.
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The only way to put a limit on our exposure to hazards is to stop doing whatever it is we are doing that puts people, property, lifelines, and infrastructure at risk. That's the only way we have some hope of rectifying past development decisions that have occurred without benefit of today's knowledge.
This model has applications to how we design and build our infrastructure which accounts for the largest percentage of the Federal, State, and local disaster dollar. We need to review infrastructure that doesn't get damaged and learn what works.
Let me turn quickly to some other key aspects of sound pre-disaster mitigation planning.
Floodplain and disaster managers have learned that planning, at its best, is a process. It is not a document. It engages players from different government agencies, from the community, from the corporate sector. That's one of the really exciting elements of Director Witt's Project Impact.
It sets the stage for these players to do what they do best. Planning is the process that helps the community figure out how best to change how it deals with hazards, how to prioritize, how to recognize that mitigation is economic development, it's community development, it's safe housing opportunities, it's protecting the environment. See, didn't I tell you it's woven into everything?
Public buildings and infrastructure. The FEMA charts are interesting, but I think it is important to try to break apart that disaster dollar. How much goes to public assistance? How much to individual assistance? How much goes to debris? Some of those costs, I don't think we'll be able to deal with. We need to focus on those that we can deal with.
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And I believe public infrastructure and buildings is part of that. Every community should find out what it has at risk. Its own buildings and infrastructure. After all, these facilities serve the community as a whole. When a building such as a water or wastewater plant is found to be in the flood plain, the community should look at how great is the risk. And we all know they are built in the low spots for very good reasons, because of gravity.
But that doesn't mean that every building is at risk. We need to know how great is the risk. They should figure out the most reasonable and cost-effective solution. Sometimes that means insurance. Sometimes it means do nothing. Sometimes it means alter the way floodable space is used and sometimes it means developing retrofit measures.
Those measures, as the Mayor from Deerfield Beach indicated, can be factored into ongoing upgrades and renovation. It's not always a post-disaster problem.
But it also means, if we think about it in advance, that we have well-thought out options to include in the repair process when the next disaster occurred. It is not a rush to just put it back the way it was.
Now, let's look at the impacts and costs sustained to help citizens.
FEMA's individual assistance program accounts for a pretty significant percent of its disaster dollars. For me, I think that is a pretty easy target to deal with. Guess how that number would change if every building, if every house in the mapped flood plain had insurance?
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Well, it wouldn't go away but it would get smaller and I think pretty quickly. And so would be disaster costs incurred by SBA, by HUD, and those that are buried in the casualty loss deduction.
With Congress' help and reforms to the NIFP, FEMA's Federal Insurance Administration has shown steady increases in the number of insured buildings.
Keep in mind that flood insurance, even subsidized insurance, doesn't cost the taxpayer. As Congress envisioned, for the average loss year, and, admittedly, we haven't had one of those recently, the income collected pays for administrative costs and claims. Over 3 million property owners are investing for their own disaster recovery.
The last aspect of mitigation that I want to touch on is projects, such as retrofitting that water treatment plant or buying out homes. They can achieve only so much in any given year and in any given community so we have to create the environment to make wise decisions, to invest limited dollars. Which takes me back to mitigation planning.
I like buy-out programs. I managed one for the State of Maryland for over 10 years without Federal funds. But realistically we know that buy-outs make sense in only some communities. Other options need to be explored and again Project Impact has given FEMA the opportunity to highlight some excellent examples that work.
The Association of State Floodplain Managers believes that one of the best things this committee can do is to foster State and local capabilities. Create an environment in which the best thing for us to do is to reduce risk and reduce exposure.
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How do you do that? We suggest that you adopt a sliding cost share for disaster assistance. States that maintain their status quo would continue to receive a specified Federal share. Those that invest in solving their own problems should receive a higher percentage.
What do we mean by investing in solving problems? Lots of things. I can talk about planning again if we want. But they don't all cost a lot of money. Higher standards for new construction, the planning process, foster planning at the local levels, engage in hazard awareness, encourage property owners in the business sector to fix their own problems, develop and maintain a commitment to capability.
What do we mean by capability? Speaking from our own expertise, we believe every State should demonstrate a commitment to flood plain management by having a long-term capability to support communities on a day-to-day basis.
We're excited about your questions about code. Remember, though, it is not just code enforcement that is important. It's code compliance by the builder. A sliding cost share for disaster assistance could foster stronger building codes, especially for flood plain development.
Our association surveys States every 3 years and we're seeing that strong codes and standards are taking hits despite the benefits they show. A number of State legislators are trying to weaken good State programs. Why? Because they don't really see enough benefit.
Page 83 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If this committee ties disaster assistance to a sliding scale, we think that won't happen.
I'll close with some recognition for the efforts FEMA is going to to involve its State partners in improving administrative procedures. A number of States have achieved a high degree of capability. Taking advantage of that is a good step for FEMA to make.
But this is also the sort of positive reinforcement that Congress needs to build on. Even if only a few States assume this role, FEMA's small and excellent staff will be better able to focus on the needs of other States.
Since I am from Maryland, I would take a moment to address Mr. Gilchrest's concern about Snug Harbor. That points out the vulnerability of manufactured and mobile housing, which is the fastest-growing housing type in the country. And, always, at high risk.
Thank you for this opportunity. I'll be pleased to answer your questions.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. Mr. Shafroth?
Mr. SHAFROTH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am bringing thanks to you. We had hoped that you would join us at our annual meeting three weeks ago to thank you for your leadership on the property rights issue last year. And I'm going to talk about how that relates to some of your remarks today, but I'm also extending the thanks of our 3,000 elected leaders that hoped to see you just a few weeks ago.
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Also I wanted to tell you that several years I thought we'd found the answer to this problem. I asked Dr. Rivlan how she'd managed to eliminate natural disasters in the President's budget for the following year. And she said, ''Well, I just assumed by the law of averages that we won't have as many disasters next year as this year,'' so she hasn't found the magic bullet.
I'd like to make about eight points, Mr. Chairman. First that I hope that we resolve the current dispute going on in the House Appropriations Committee. We're concerned that something that would take those members of the congregation who suffered a grievous loss and asking them to pay more beyond their own misery and suffering is not only not productive, but it's probably counterproductive.
Because it's those extra dollars that could be used for mitigation purposes, so we hope the House will join the Senate in understanding and respecting what's going on.
Second, I support my colleagues on this panel and others who said that we think a Federal study to determine the prevention or mitigation efforts that have proven most cost and people protective and preventive, followed by a joint prevention and mitigation effort that involves all three levels of government, not passing the buck, or passing the responsibility, or devolving it to any other level of government, but making it a joint effort, is important.
In the testimony we submitted, we made a number of recommendations. You had some good discussion with the General Accounting Office. Both of my colleagues have already said a study that really looks fairly at the current allocation of costs at all three levels of government is awfully important if we are going to determine a joint solution.
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We hope FEMA will join in this. I don't want to rain on the parade of effuse praise for Mr. Witt today. I note that in our testimony we've submitted, we sent a letter to him on Feb. 8, requesting a joint effort. Certainly if the committee could help in getting a response from FEMA for the organization representing 17,000 cities, that would be terrific.
We also included a number of our policy recommendations. I'd like to take about just a few. You talked about a carrot-and-stick approach. Obviously that is something we would support. We think the current Federal approach is more anti-carrot and pro-stick. We think if FEMA were to be encouraged to develop a competitive national pre-disaster mitigation program, that would force and encourage State and local officials to identify mitigation priorities and develop long-term comprehensive mitigation plans and activities, based on Federal criteria and guidelines.
You heard my colleagues say there are some State legislators today who see no benefit in proceeding down that course.
Second, I think if we authorized and encouraged all Federal agencies to develop pre-disaster mitigation programs, it would be good. This committee just voted this week to authorize an extraordinary amount of money for BESTEA. It would be good to have some provisions in there dealing with the subject we're talking about.
Third, we would like to see support for local governments as you said in code enforcement, Mr. Chairman. But we have a mixed message from the House of Representatives saying if, in fact, you develop a pre-mitigation land use and zoning code in your community, under the House-passed legislation, you would be subject to liability for an unauthorized taking and go directly to Federal court.
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So one part of this House is sending a message do not take pre-mitigation efforts because you increase your liability. So we would encourage not only getting all of the Federal agencies together, but, under your leadership, Mr. Chairman, getting your other colleagues in this room.
Next, we've got around the hall the Commerce Committee and a wholly Jihad with the Banking Committee on financial reform legislation dealing with the insurance industry, with the mortgage industry. There's nothing in there dealing with the very topic you're talking about.
Again, if we could go over there for a few minutes and say, Gentlemen and Ladies, we ought not to be providing mortgage insurance or any other kind of financial assistance without some pre-mitigation requirements to reduce the long-term costs to the Federal Government, to State, and to local governments.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, we urge emergency interoperability communications capacity. Last year, Congress, reached an agreement between the Speaker, Leader Lott, and the President to provide more emergency communications capacity to State and local governments. That was incorporated in the balanced budget law, but incorporated in a way that 75 percent of the country will never benefit from and most small communities won't possibly be able to afford. Let me clear here about what I'm discussing.
I think you remember the Air Florida crash in the Potomac River a number of years ago. There were 42 Federal, State, local, regional agencies that responded to that crash. No two agencies were able to communicate. We understand that there was about 2 1/2 minutes to get a passenger from that plane out of the Potomac River, because the water was so cold. You can imagine the difficulty when you have 42 agencies and they can't communicate to each other in rescuing a human being from those icy rivers.
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Similarly, we have that problem across the country. The Justice Department issued a report 2 years ago saying States and local governments have less than 50 percent of the spectrum they need to respond immediately and effectively in an accident.
That has real cost impact in lives and property because of the inability to respond as quickly as possible. We certainly hope this committee might provide some guidance to other committees again to say that last year's law was an effort in the right direction. It singularly failed either in producing something immediate and in reaching the largest metropolitan areas that cover 75 percent of the American people.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, very much. I'll be happy to answer questions.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. Mr. Weed.
Mr. WEED. Mr. Chairman, I would like to defer to my colleague at New York State DEC who will follow, with your permission.
Mr. BOEHLERT. All right. Fine.
Welcome, Mr. Donohue.
Mr. DONOHUE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Borski. Thank you for inviting me to testify here today. I'm Gavin Donohue, the Senior Deputy Commissioner for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
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As you know, Mr. Chairman, New York also has tremendous coastal resources, reaching from the South Shore of Long Island, up the Hudson River to Troy, and across the shores of the St. Lawrence River and Lakes Erie and Ontario.
Severe storms can cause tremendous damage to the Long Island/New York City coastal area, home to millions of people, while those who live along Lake Ontario know the great fear that rising lake levels can cause. And you know from your own district, Congressman Boehlert, floods cause devastating problems to residents, businesses, and natural resources across much of upstate New York.
Became of Governor Pataki's strong concern for the well-being of New York's citizens, businesses, and environmental resources, he has directed DEC, where possible, to devise means to avoid the occurrence of natural disasters. Although new York's abundant natural resources make it prone to many types of natural disasters, some cannot be mitigated in advance.
I will therefore focus my testimony on an innovative approach that DEC is taking to avoid future floods, which may affect many New York communities. We firmly believe that the activities being undertaken in New York State can work on a nationwide basis.
To provide you with some perspective about New York State, there are over 52,000 steam miles, 570 miles of Great Lakes coast line, and 120 miles of ocean shoreline.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Does that include Lake Champlain?
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Mr. DONOHUE. No comment.
New York has 1,530 square miles of estuaries, bays, and harbors. All told, there are 1,487 flood-prone communities in New York State, about 8 percent of the national total.
Among its many functions, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation serves as the State's flood plain manager. In this capacity we work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Corps of Engineers, Natural Resources Conservation Service, State agencies such as the State Emergency Management Office, local governments, and members of the private sector to provide the best possible protection to lives and property that are risked from flooding.
With that brief background, I would like to make the following three points as they relate to flood disaster mitigation, and cost containment.
Number one, the national flood insurance program provides the basic legal framework needed to reduce the costs of flooding. Many of the market incentives that FEMA uses leverage enforcement of the NFIP through the private sector. While this approach is commendable, it is not enough. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation believes that this flaw can be overcome through new mapping techniques.
Number two, the total cost of disaster assistance can be reduced by improving our information base, and making this information accessible to both the public and private sectors. Unless people have a greater understanding of the risk of a natural disaster, and the costs associated with that risk, they will continue to rely too heavily on the Federal Government for post-disaster assistance.
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And number three, flood insurance maps are fundamental public education tools that make the risks and costs associated with flooding more understandable. Unfortunately, the current FEMA maps are outdated, confusing, and inaccurate. Bad information on flooding risk creates problems for developers and community officials.
For example, developers must pay to derive base flood elevations prior to any development of over five acres in size. This creates an impediment to development and problems for local governments, many of which lack the engineering expertise to review individual flood elevation determinations.
DEC has embarked on an innovative program to develop a three-dimensional color infrared computer model of New York State. All of the data in this electronic version of the State meet national map accuracy standards. The USGS National Mapping Division is quality-assuring all of our information. The digital version of the State will be completed later this year.
There are clear advantages to these electronic maps. Through them, DEC can model and test the impacts of natural resource events such as floods. We can also evaluate potential environmental regulatory impacts of developments using these maps.
We refer to these maps as digital ortho-image flood insurance rate maps or better known as DO-FIRMS. The DO-FIRMS are computerized visuals of flood hazard areas. Because of their precision, they will have a vertical accuracy of six inches, not two feet like current FIRM maps, and horizontal accuracy of 10 feet, instead of 300 to 1,000 feet in existing maps.
Page 91 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The DO-FIRMS will show each structure that is at risk, how deep the water will be at each structure by any of a series of floods and the value of each building. DO-FIRM maps can be made at 15 to 20 percent of the cost of the current FIRM maps.
DEC anticipates that the DO-FIRM maps can be completed in months, while the FIRM maps may take years to complete. There are other cost benefits to the DO-FIRM approach. With this new information, we should be able to reduce the costs for flood insurance to homeowners and businesses by 10 percent and increase the policy base of flood insurance. In New York State, policy holders currently pay $40 million in premiums. Collectively, DEC staff estimates that DO-FIRM maps could save flood insurance rate payers $4 million a year.
We are now piloting this process in Schoharie County with PAR Government Services, in cooperation with FEMA. We anticipate excellent results when this work is finished this spring and will be happy to share the result of this project with the subcommittee.
Our effort is being funded in part through a FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant resulting from the January 1996 flood.
While DO-FIRM maps represent one means of mitigating potential disasters, I also would like to comment briefly on the legislation that was discussed in the hearing notice. Not all disasters can be avoided. And when a natural disaster occurs, assistance on all levels of government must be swift and effective. Congressional action to refocus Federal disaster planning, so that mitigation efforts are encouraged along with this post-disaster relief, is extremely important.
Page 92 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC For that reason, the State of New York supports the position of the National Emergency Management Association to increase federal pre-disaster mitigation funds. We concur with the need for additional Project Impact appropriations in Fiscal Year 1999.
In summary, Mr. Chairman, Governor Pataki recognizes the importance of mitigating disasters wherever possible. By using techniques such as the DO-FIRM maps, we will be able to guide development toward the most appropriate locationsreducing, if not eliminating, the costs to our businesses and citizens of post-disaster flood damage.
Congressional action to encourage and fund mitigation as Federal policy is needed to encourage this and other innovative approaches to disaster preparedness.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak. We look forward to answering any questions you may have.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Commissioner. And now, Mr. Weed is the clean-up hitter.
Mr. WEED. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. First of all, I would like to thank the chairman and members of the committee for holding this hearing and providing us the opportunity to discuss our ideas for reducing disaster costs.
I am John Weed, Program Manager for Environmental Programs at PAR Government Systems Corp., a subsidiary of PAR Technologies.
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In support of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, PAR is pleased to provide testimony today and assist the subcommittee in reviewing the Federal costs for providing disaster assistance.
PAR is a technology-solutions provider and specializes in applying geospatial technologies and engineering services for water resources data management, watershed modeling and mapping, as well as computer software engineering.
PAR has a long history of affiliation with Federal Government labs regarding geospatial data systems, geographic information systems, image analysis, and modeling and simulation. This technology-oriented experience has provided the basis for our involvement and experience in development of advanced methods for flood modeling and related mapping in support for the New York State DEC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is in this area that I will focus my comments.
We are grateful for the opportunity to share with you some of the insights we've gained as partners in a very exciting pilot project in Schoharie County, New York. We are pleased to be working with FEMA and particularly its region 2 staff, and others, who have been extremely cooperative and supportive of our efforts in the development and deployment of state-of-the-art tools for improved hazard mitigation.
As you are well, disaster losses are reduced when the communities are directly involved in the process and take appropriate actions based upon the best available information. We recognize this need and have developed methods and new software tools that will demonstrate significant cost savings, community involvement, and improved accuracies for flood mapping.
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The flood modeling and mapping methodology which we have pioneered in cooperation with New York State DEC is an application of modern technologies and takes advantage of several key factors.
One, development of an integrated geographic information systems, GIS, database approach, which allows for flood plains to be managed on a more comprehensive watershed basis which directly interfaces with FEMA-approved numerical models.
Two, the use of this GIS database as a decision-support resource, and information clearinghouse, if you will, to support NFIP multi-stakeholder community partnerships.
Three, New York State's DEC's investment in higher accuracy regional digital elevation models, as well as digital orthophotography which helps improve those accuracies.
Four, recent advances in desktop-based information systems technologies to include high performance/low cost GIS and remote-sensing software tools.
We characterize the watershed utilizing numerous digital geospatial imagery data from a variety of Federal and State datasources, like those mentioned this morning from USGS, New York State DEC, USDA, USEPA, and other agencies.
In addition, we supplement the DEC regional elevation data with high accuracy, remotely-sensed flood plain digital elevation data with elevation accuracies of less than foot. That's that NASA technology that was mentioned this morning, sir.
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This is required to accurately drive elevation contours for use in the flood plain characterization and resulting prediction of flood extents and depths.
These data are then integrated into the database and allow for automatic extraction and development of the necessary hydrologic and hydraulic parameters used in FEMA-approved models.
Based upon several automatic calibration interactions, against documented storm events, base flood elevations are then determined with increased precision. More importantly, a GIS-based visualization of impacts to the flood plain is then created, which provides a two-dimensional rendering of the flood extents as well as depths, overlaid onto a background digital orthophoto of the selected area.
With this database, we can conduct a variety of flooding scenarios, based upon hypothetical storm events and also several what-if scenarios.
This advanced flood mapping approach embraces FEMA's flood hazard mapping modernization plan and uses digital engineering, mapping, information management, and electronic communication technologies. Integration of these modern methods and geospatial data management tools, in concert with FEMA-approved models allows for improved hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, emergency planning, as well as mitigation.
Today's high-performance desktop computers and integration of commercially-available and custom software makes this methodology both possible and cost effective.
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As I've mentioned, we employ both commercial and off-the-shelf as well as custom software to conduct our flood plain characterization and digital ortho-image flood insurance rate map production. This software also incorporates easy-to-use graphical user interfaces to allow users with limited training to access and view pictorial renderings of the data. This is very important, Mr. Chairman, since tabular hydraulic and hydrologic data is oftentimes very difficult to interpret, even for the trained engineer.
This integrated GIS database approach provides the basis for an improved data archiving, access, and delivery mechanism. Moreover, this approach greatly improves map accuracy and completeness, utility production, public awareness, and customer service.
As part of our Schoharie pilot program, we plan to demonstrate not only the improved product accuracy of the DO-FIRMS but also substantial cost savings over the current process. In particular today's methods involve a two-step process, one a flood insurance study involving substantial field work to survey the estimated flood plain elevations and those hydrologic parameters as well as development of a flood insurance rate map.
The current process is extremely manpower intensive, thereby labor costs are high and the products are not digital nor are they geo-referenced for use by GIS.
Alternatively, our process involves automated techniques and the use of digital sources and processes which directly supports both of the above two-step processes and thereby substantial labor cost savings.
Page 97 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We estimate, that based upon current restudy costs, that we will be able to produce the digital ortho-image flood insurance rate maps for a small fraction of the previous costs.
This integrated watershed methodology and resulting products provide the basis for direct benefits as well as substantive indirect benefits. While the cost of flood insurance studies and mapping can be reduced from current practices, the States and communities will play a greater role in the overall process, be more proactive in planning in disaster mitigation, and be better prepared and capable to respond to disasters.
Specifically in Schoharie County our approach will also support the county's need for an emergency alert notification system and direct operation benefits. This database also provides important secondary benefits as a primary watershed resource tool for improved water quality, habitat restoration, and enhanced recreation and tourism.
This approach provides operational benefits to the emergency management community and to other partners.
One of the exciting developments emanating from the Schoharie County pilot project is a proposed deployment demonstration in the Seneca Watershed, under the leadership of the Centers for the Protection Against Natural Disasters. PAR Government Systems will partner with the New York State Technology Enterprise Corporation to apply the technologies demonstrated in the Schoharie project to a large complex watershed. The results of this project will be directly applicable and scalable to communities across the Nation.
Page 98 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In summary, as the information technology infrastructure becomes more complex with continued development in flood-prone areas, we need to better integrate widely-available digital information sources to better predict flood disasters. We believe this advanced technology approach, combined with New York State DEC support and data, will be a valuable asset to FEMA in its efforts to create disaster resistant communities.
As a part of FEMA's national mitigation strategy, and using state-of-the-art technology, this advanced methodology will enable New York State DEC to cost effectively develop more accurate, current, and complete flood hazard information, provide information in a readily available, easy-to-use format, and enable them and others to alert and educate the public regarding risks of flood hazards.
Better project, better products which use more advanced methods and tools are not possible, Mr. Chairman, and will save Federal dollars, protect lives, and reduce property damage.
Federal, State, local, and private partnerships will ensure that the best solutions are provided at the least costs. PAR looks forward to further discussions with committee members and will welcome you and your staff to visit New York State DEC or PAR for a demonstration. Thank you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thanks very much. Commissioner, in the State you're doing quite a bit and the Governor's got an innovative program on flood mapping. How extensive is it?
Page 99 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DONOHUE.. From DEC's perspective, the pilot project with Schoharie County has been very successful. We at the State level have probably six full-time staff working on GIS mapping on a daily basis and we've also contracted out with local universities and we have the equivalent of about 15 interns helping to enter in this data at DEC.
Mr. BOEHLERT. You seem to be way ahead of the game. Are other States sort of listening to you as you talk about what you are doing?
Mr. DONOHUE. When I met with the staff to discuss preparing for this hearing, I was quite impressed with the quality of the work that's been done already at DEC and I'd like to enter into the record, if you don't mind, some maps that will compare what we've produced in the Schoharie County project with the help of PAR technologies, with the efforts that have been going on with our staff at DEC, and I think the committee would find it very useful data to see the comparison.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Yes. That would be helpful.
[The Schoharie County Project Maps retained in subcommittee office files.]
Mr. DONOHUE. But as it relates to other States, Mr. Chairman, I couldn't speak for it, but I was very impressed at how progressive New York has been on this program.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Weed, let me ask you two things. One, you mentioned in your testimony that the Center for Protection against Natural Disasters has been in touch with you. Has there been a follow through, because there are other members on the committee not here right now, but who would have an active interest in this. What kind of follow through has there been on your part with the
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Mr. WEED. Well, the Centers for Protection Against Natural Disasters has approached us in cooperation with the New York State Technology Enterprise Corporation to essentially provide a proposal for the Seneca Watershed. This will be a demonstration project involving coastal shoreline up on Lake Ontario.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Who would finance that? Would that be State?
Mr. WEED. I believe the proposal would be going to FEMA, sir.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Oh, FEMA. What's been your relationship with FEMA to date?
Mr. WEED. Very positive, sir. As I expressed in our testimony, region 2 staff in particular is very excited about the prospects of our technology and deployment, not only in New York State but the nation.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Okay. Well, it's exciting what you're doing. I happen to be very close to it. Schoharie County's in my congressional district, you're headquartered in my home county; and I've watched with a great deal of interest what's happening there and I'm excited about it so I hope will continue to keep us posted, apprised of developments on this and I'll be talking with Director Witt to make certain I get his perspective too, but I understand it is a productive working relationship so I'm excited about it.
Let me ask you, Mr. Shafroth, because I like your style, incidentally, of testifying. You suggest we authorize a competitive disaster mitigation program. Is Project Impact the type of program that you have in mind?
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Mr. SHAFROTH. No, because I don't think it is broad enough, Mr. Chairman. I don't think it encourages all the States and certainly doesn't encourage all of the counties and cities to go through the efforts to apply. Very few places have been selected.
Mr. BOEHLERT. But as I understand it, FEMA goes to the States and says to the States you tell us what your recommendations are. For example, New York State is the State Emergency Management Office and then the State works with the local governments.
I mean, you have to start somewhere and in all fairness
Mr. SHAFROTH. I agree and we forwarded Deerfield Beach's name to FEMA and you'll see that in the correspondence and our testimony, so we suggest that this is a community that we are working with actively within our own membership and you ought to look at it. But I am concerned that obviously every single community in Florida is going to be affected by hurricanes and somehow we bypass the interest for every other city to feel, ''Gee there's an opportunity, and let's look at this and consider preparing our own application.''
Mr. BOEHLERT. Yes. Ms. Quinn, you have an observation?
Ms. QUINN. Yes, I think we have to look at the first year of any program as a pilot year and FEMA needed to make choices to show the kind of successes that we all anticipate. We think there is some merit in not creating a whole new program. On the other hand, we do anticipate that as the program matures, there will be more of a process.
Page 102 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BOEHLERT. So, you are receptive to Project Impact, you're encouraged it, and you want to watch it develop?
Ms. QUINN. We want to see development, yes, and we do see a role for States because we are already serving in a liaison role in other programs, but I think that we need to be cautious and not over-criticize a pilot program too early in the process. I think we also need to see that this is a seed program. This is not intended to fully fund all the mitigation needs.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Understandable, yes.
Ms. QUINN. It is intended to grow.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Well, thanks, and I don't think Mr. Shafroth was being so critical of it. He was just saying that we need more and I agree with you, I mean, but from our perspective up here, on some of these things we'd almost like to vote for a blank check for FEMA because of some of the things that they are doing, but that's, it's just not possible, you know that, and so. It's a start, it's a pilot program, as you mentioned, the director's excited about it, we're enthused about it. We've been briefed on it on both sides and we're following very carefully as it develops, but we've got to get a lot more in there.
But, okay. Mr. Borski.
Mr. BORSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McKinney, if I may. If the committee authorizes a Federal pre-disaster mitigation program, should there be a cost share?
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Mr. MCKINNEY. Yes, I honestly believe there should be. There should be buy-in at each level of government and that makes it a real partnership.
Mr. BORSKI. And that's the general consensus of the group?
Let me ask you another question, for the general disaster program, would you support a sliding scale in that cost share formula to encourage current States to undertake more mitigation activities?
Mr. MCKINNEY. I would support incentives. I would have to see the sliding scale concept as proposed, but certainly disaster, reduction incentives are important in implementing sustainable mitigation programs.
Mr. SHAFROTH. I think your question is important, Mr. Borski. Obviously Miami has a very disproportionate level of people below the poverty level so its ability to participate is less than some of the suburban counties. Obviously if it's going to be an incentive, you don't want to set a threshold that's too high for the poorest communities to participate.
Mr. MCKINNEY. I concur with that.
Mr. BORSKI. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Well, thank all of you. Listen, you've been around. You know how this thing operates, don't think that because there are only two of us here that you don't have the attention of the full subcommittee. First of all, you have very capable professional staff that's monitoring this. Secondly, all of your statements are part of the record. We have discussions following this, there may be some questions submitted to you in writing, but I hope that you feel that your time has been to good advantage because it helps us greatly and I want to thank all of you for being resources for this subcommittee.
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Mr. SHAFROTH. Mr. Chairman, if I might say, the panel believes we had the best two, so we're not worried.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you. Thank you very much. This hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:30 p.m., the subcommittee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.]