State-Managed Disasters: Another Perspective


...thoughts on this and how can it best be accomplished?

Schulz: I think the benefit FEMA touts is true. I believe it does help build capacity and the second- and third-order effects are that it will free up FEMA to focus more narrowly on the catastrophic events. Some of the challenges on how we accomplish this obviously for the states are back to those three things I mentioned earlier — training, staffing and sustaining with reservists — because there is not funding to create a permanent staffing level capacity. We’re going to have to do these things creatively, whether it’s with reservists, which we primarily rely on, or if it’s through mutual aid with other states through EMAC. We northern states also have NEMAC, the Northern Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

We have to continue to be creative to overcome the challenges. Probably the biggest one is funding — and again, it’s less about the amount of money than it is about the flexibility of how we can use it. With the new states now being able to retain 7 percent of a disaster’s total funding for the state portion of management costs, for the most part it’s still going to be break-even. With smaller disasters, however, it’s going to be tough. In larger disasters you create some economies of scale where 7 percent is going to cover it. We need to continue to advocate for allowing a rollover of that money so it’s not specific to just a particular disaster, so you can build program sustainability beyond just a single disaster declaration.

Andrews: A follow up on that: with the passage of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 and the changes to management costs now being set at the 7 percent figure, do you see this playing a role in how a state decides to participate in the state-led option, and why? Are there other factors states should consider to alleviate these concerns?

Schulz: I touched a little bit on that in my previous answer, but it will play a role in how a state decides to participate and potentially which one or how many of the three key functions a state takes on. It might seem counterintuitive, but in looking at it, because of the economies of scale, it’s probably going to be on those smaller disasters. What I envision is states are probably going to look at that 80 percent on the bell curve in the middle, those medium-size disasters that they engage in fully.

“Having local hires doing site inspections and writing project worksheets, they understand the geography, the geology, the culture, so they can do things at a higher level of quality and frankly, more efficiently.”