State-Managed Disasters: An Interview with Arizona's Director of Emergency Management


Craig: Was the $150 million in the 1993 flood one of the largest in Arizona?

Smith-Reeve: Yes, it was actually.

Craig: Okay, not a great way to start, depending on how you look at it.

Smith-Reeve: Yes. It was a daunting start, but I just jumped right into the deep end of the pool and kept on swimming.

Craig: As many people who will be reading this know, you’re the past president of NEMA, the National Emergency Management Association. Do you believe your tenure at NEMA as the president, overseeing or working with your state counterparts, gave you a better understanding of the risks and capabilities of your counterparts and their states’ agencies?

Smith-Reeve: I think it gave me a better appreciation for some of the challenges that they all experience and where the pinch points were collectively across the nation. It was also a year of transition with the FEMA Administration; therefore it was a bit unique in that there were additional opportunities to provide input and feedback for the incoming administration to help them understand and appreciate how State Emergency Management Programs interact and interface with the administration.

Craig: What do you think are some of the tougher things at the state level that folks like yourself and your counterparts run into? Is it budget issues when not in time of a disaster? As you know, lawmakers and legislatures don’t let us spend a lot of money on your budgets and let us do what is needed to be done to prepare for the next storm or planning for the next event. Is it having enough staff? What is really the toughest part of the job between you and your counterparts?

Smith-Reeve: One of the primary difficulties is when we talk about funding, we’re talking about a couple of different things. You’re talking about dedicated and segregated funding, specifically the state cost share for disasters whether it is only a state declaration or if it is a federal declaration— then funding for that event. Here in Arizona, we have a specific fund that is available to Emergency Management and we convene the State Emergency Council to address obligations that fall above what the governor’s authority is to allocate for a specific event. Having that set aside means that we don’t have to go to the legislature every time we have an event that is declared at the state level and/ or if we have a federal declaration; it comes as a result of the magnitude of the event. That is a shortcoming in states because not everybody has that set aside, so they’re always having to vie for state dollars. I would say, to your point with regard to number of personnel, not having enough staff is always a challenge and especially if you have repetitive large-scale events that impact your state—whichmakes sustaining and maintaining personnel difficult.

Craig: Your response is a perfect segue into the main topic we want to talk about today, which is state-managed disasters. As you know, FEMA Administrator Brock Long and FEMA officials are talking about moving toward more capabilities in states managing disasters. Can you provide me...