FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate recently testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee of Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management on the agency's reauthorization and importance of cutting red tape in recovery. Fugate said during his testimony that the agency's focus is on collaboration with public and private partnership as well as defining stakeholders pre- and post-disaster roles and responsibilities, including implementing core values of the recently released National Response Framework, he said.
"FEMA is just one part of the team," Fugate testified. "The success and speed of recovery depends heavily on the whole community's involvement."
During the testimony, Fugate highlighted FEMA's recovery capabilities and programs that can be provided when a state requests federal assistance for presidentially declared disasters of all sizes, including catastrophic events and terrorist attacks. The process begins with quickly processing state requests for disaster assistance. Then, after life-saving and life-sustaining operations have ceased, the recovery process requires the restoration of basic services within 60 days.
"This includes restoring meaningful operating capacity for essential city service facilities, utilities, transportation routes, schools, neighborhood retail businesses, and other workplaces," Fugate said. "In situations in which complete restoration of these facilities is not feasible, FEMA provides temporary facilities in order to bring services and systems back online."
As communities recover, FEMA then meets with public and private agencies to restore, redevelop and revitalize the physical, economic, and natural environment and infrastructure. Fugate specifically mentioned the Public Assistance (PA) federal disaster grants to eligible state, tribal and local governments, as well as to certain private nonprofit entities for the "repair, replacement or restoration of publicly-owned facilities and infrastructure damaged during a disaster," Fugate said.
The PA program provides assistance to local governments in several ways, for example, debris removal operations. For example, Fugate said the Expedited Debris Removal Program uses geospatial imagery via the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency to identify the areas with the most catastrophic damage. This helps expedite debris removal, he said.
"In Mississippi, Alabama and Missouri, local governments volunteered to participate in the expedited debris removal program in response to the recent disasters," Fugate testified. "Supported by a 90% federal cost-share, this program allowed communities to use their municipal funds for other recovery needs."
Fugate further discussed the agency's recently released National Response Framework, which states that during response operations, it will align with other federal agencies, such as Housing and Urban Development and the Small Business Administration, to begin to scope the recovery challenges. Within the framework is the Emergency Support Function (ESF) No. 14 — Long-Term Community Recovery program that provides a mechanism for coordinating federal support to state, tribal, regional and local governments as well as with the private sector to enable a community to recover from a disaster. This is accomplished "by identifying and facilitating the availability and use of sources of recovery funding, and providing technical assistance for community recovery," he said.
"The federal government plays a critical role in supporting disaster recovery by providing local officials with expert technical assistance — particularly with regard to including all sectors of the community in the planning process — and with well-coordinated information about the full range of assistance available," Fugate said.
In preparation for the release of the NRF, FEMA began to pilot many of the key concepts within the framework, such as using a federal disaster-recovery coordinator (FDRC). Fugate said a FDRC deploys in large-scale events where interagency resource coordination, technical assistance and expertise of participating federal agencies is necessary. FDRC's are focused on helping the community rebuild and recover, he said.
"FEMA will continue to work with our local partners to ensure that communities receive assistance as quickly as possible and begin rebuilding efforts immediately," Fugate said.