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


...with our staff. Being state-managed, we have far more control as far as identifying parameters and expectations on what quality customer service looks like. Therefore, our interface with the sub- grantee is always with the intent to have a positive outcome. Our ability to assign staff that will be available from the beginning of the event through closeout ensures consistency, and allows a single contact to help resolve any conflicts or issues.

Craig: I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Would you say customer service gets better the more local it gets?

Smith-Reeve: Yes, because we have the ability to hold our staff accountable for quality customer service. If you have a transient workforce that’s coming in and out of the state, then there’s less accountability and the state is left holding the bag at the end of the day. Instead we want to be the ones to take the initiative. We want to be there from beginning to end to ensure that the sub-grantee is served appropriately and that the state is also receiving all benefits that we should be in receipt of.

Craig: What is FEMA’s role in this process and what do you think the benefits are to them?

Smith-Reeve: The direct benefit, not only to FEMA but also to the taxpayer, is the cost difference. The cost for the state to administer the program versus the costs associated with FEMA bringing in a large footprint with the Joint Field Office (JFO) and staff, the savings is considerable. Also, the fact that FEMA has a smaller footprint here during this process means that they have the ability to use their staff in other locations that have a greater need for those staffing resources.

Craig: Does FEMA have a specific role when you’re managing the disasters on your own? Is it possibly oversight?

Smith-Reeve: There is oversight, so we always have somebody here who is in charge of the PA program from FEMA’s perspective who has the final approval for any of the projects moving through the system because state employees cannot approve and commit federal dollars. The environmental and historic review requirement is a federal requirement, so we always ensure that we have FEMA personnel here and available to do that as well. If there are other special considerations that come into play where we need additional assistance, such as...

“The concept of state-managed disasters is not new. Originally introduced as a pilot program nearly 20 years ago, it allows a capable state or tribal government (or Alaska native village) to manage the Public Assistance (PA) field operation by entering into an operational agreement with FEMA, which entrusts many aspects of programmanagement to the state.”