The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides a coordinated federal response to natural and man-made disasters. In its early years, FEMA's focus was on the national security concern with preparedness for nuclear war. Since 1989, however, peaceful relations with the former Soviet Union, coupled with recent natural disasters (the Loma Prieta earthquake and Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew, and Iniki), have prompted a reexamination of the federal government's role in emergency management.
FEMA's appropriated budget for fiscal year 1993 is $827 million, of which $292 million is for disaster relief. Disaster costs over and above regular funding levels are covered by supplemental congressional appropriations. For example, in fiscal year 1992, Congress appropriated nearly $3 billion in additional funding for FEMA operations in response to Hurricanes Andrew and Iniki. FEMA currently has 2,719 full-time employees working out of headquarters offices in Washington, D.C., 10 regional offices, and other special facilities.
Primary responsibility for disaster response rests with state and local governments; the federal role supplements that of the states and localities. Currently, when a disaster overwhelms state and local communities, FEMA coordinates the responses of 26 federal agencies and the Red Cross. A Federal Response Plan assigns each agency a lead or support role in carrying out 12 enumerated emergency support functions.
The NPR believes that to serve FEMA's customers most effectively, the agency should define its basic mission more clearly and organize around it. FEMA's basic role should be to serve as the federal government's coordinator of assistance for state and local governments overwhelmed by disaster, and as a catalyst for development of comprehensive state and local emergency management systems that emphasize loss control and prevention.
The NPR report examines FEMA's recently adopted all-hazards approach to emergency management. It also discusses measures needed to improve the quality of FEMA's service to its customers.
Clear criteria need to be developed for disaster declarations to help conserve federal resources. Federal disaster relief processes should be designed to increase state and local incentives for mitigation (i.e, the use of zoning, building codes, and other damage reduction measures). NPR recommendations would allocate costs more directly to risks, increase efficiency by creating incentives to mitigate disasters, and introduce performance measures into grant awards for mitigation and preparedness.
Managerial changes are needed to create a more cohesive, results-oriented work force at FEMA. Reforms include development of the technical and teamwork skills of the agency's political and career personnel to prevent the internal turf battles that have weakened it in the past.
For the first time in its history, FEMA is headed by an emergency management professional, the former head of emergency management for Arkansas, James Lee Witt. The new director has designated the entire agency as a reinvention laboratory and appointed an executive-level team to provide leadership for the renewal efforts. He has met with and written to FEMA's employees and its major external customers (state emergency managers and others) to discuss his vision for the agency.
Director Witt has emphasized the effectiveness of a comprehensive risk-based, all-hazard national emergency management system that addresses preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. To that end, FEMA is developing legislation, new policies, and organizational plans to invigorate the agency with a refocused mission.
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