Emergency Management Report: More Federal Mandates, Less Federal Dollars

The 2006 Biennial Report from the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) reveals ever-increasing responsibilities for state emergency management agencies, an on-going struggle for adequate federal funding and states leading the way in continuous improvement for their emergency management programs.

While all states have homeland security functions, most are tasking significant homeland security responsibilities to their state emergency management agencies. Three national priorities identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security - the National Response Plan, the National Incident Management System and the National Preparedness Goal - are assigned most frequently to emergency management for implementation. The same is true for risk and vulnerability assessments, where emergency management takes the lead in 18 states.

The report reveals that these growing responsibilities, mandated by the federal government, are not supported by adequate funding. The Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) is the only federal funding available to state and local governments for all-hazards planning, training and exercises as well as some personnel costs.

According to the NEMA report, there is an estimated $287 million shortfall in the program. This is up from an earlier estimated shortfall of $260 million. The fear is that as the gap grows, the nation's ability to respond to disasters of all types is seriously compromised.

The report also points to some disturbing trends. States will have to spend as much as $7 billion to achieve interoperability. These costs include an estimated $1.5 billion to build, retrofit and upgrade emergency operations centers; $400 million for urgent improvements to state operations centers; and $1.1 billion for local operations centers. The $287 million shortfall in the EMPG program will make it difficult, to say the least, to fund these improvements to achieve interoperability.

Beginning in FY 2003, Congress reduced the funding formula for state hazard mitigation - activities that help reduce the devastation caused by future disasters - from 15 percent to 7 percent of disaster costs. While recent reform legislation eliminated the 7 percent restriction, the cap forced states to either reduce the amount they spent on critically needed mitigation programs, suspend buy-out assistance programs for flooded communities, or eliminate projects all together.

According to the report, as mitigation spending went down, response and recovery expenditures went up. In 1999 for example, when mitigation spending totaled $498 million, response and recovery was at $672 million. Four years later, mitigation spending fell to $310 million, but response and recovery spending had increased to $746 million. The cycle continued in 2005, when mitigation spending decreased again, this time to $122 million, while response and recovery spending went up to $794 million.

There are positive findings as well. An overwhelming majority of states - 46 - are making use of established standards to assess capabilities and address shortfalls in their state emergency management programs. Eleven states are taking it even further, requiring local jurisdictions to use standards, such as those in the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP), in the development of annual work plans.

This trend of using standards could have far-reaching implications. Regardless of their size or scope, all disasters start as local events. Standards would result in a more comprehensive emergency management program at the local level, which would mean greater capability when a disaster occurs.

The Biennial Report shows that the mutual aid system in the United States continues to strengthen. The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), a national mutual aid agreement that allows support across state lines when a disaster occurs, played a key role in the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita response. By spring 2006, the compact had deployed nearly 66,000 people from 48 states, at a cost of more than $830 million.

Thirty-five states now have established similar structures within their own borders. These intrastate agreements allow jurisdictions to help one another while having provisions in place to address reimbursement, liability and workers compensation issues. Thirty-six states also have a regional mutual aid mechanism in place. According to NEMA, this bodes well for faster, stronger and more efficient disaster response and recovery.

The full report is available for purchase on the NEMA Web site, www.nemaweb.org or by calling 1-800-800-1910.

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