Academic journal article
By Howard, Melissa M.; Buck, Richard A.
The Public Manager , Vol. 31, No. 1
How FEMA initiated new thinking and new systems to address multiple interests in determining eligible applicants, work, and funding in response to September 11, 2001.
When the World Trade Center (WTC) was attacked on September 11, 2001, the world looked on in horror at the devastation and tragic loss of life. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) moved immediately into its response mode to help with immediate effects and into its recovery mode to help with long-term repair, restoration, and rebuilding of the damaged and lost infrastructure. This article addresses the recovery operation, describing the basic FEMA mission and authority, the special needs of New York City, and FEMA's program management adjustments to the extraordinary demands of the disaster.
FEMA Mission and Authority
When a disaster exceeds the response and recovery capability of a state government, the governor may request federal assistance and the president may make that federal assistance available in the form of direct assistance, grants, and loans. A federal coordinating officer is appointed to mobilize resources from any number of federal agencies and to coordinate the response functions among federal agencies, state and local governments, and voluntary organizations. Within this system, FEMA brings programs to assist individuals, repair infrastructure, and mitigate the effects of future disasters.
The infrastructure recovery program provides supplemental federal grant assistance for the repair, replacement, or restoration of disaster-damaged, publicly-owned facilities and the facilities of certain private nonprofit organizations. The federal share of assistance is not less than 75 percent of the eligible cost for emergency measures and permanent restoration. For this disaster and based on a high level of dollar damage per capita, the president decided to provide 100 percent of the funds for eligible work. Eligible applicants for grant funds include the states, local governments, Indian tribes, and certain nonprofit organizations. Eligible nonprofit facilities include: medical facilities, custodial care facilities, education facilities, emergency facilities, utilities, and a few other types of facilities.
To be eligible for public assistance grant funds, the work must be required as the result of the disaster, be located within the designated disaster area, and be the legal responsibility of an eligible applicant. Work that is eligible for supplemental federal disaster grant assistance is classified as either emergency work (e.g., debris removal and emergency protective measures performed to eliminate or reduce immediate threats to the public) or permanent work to restore an eligible damaged facility to its pre-disaster design. Typical permanent work includes: roads, bridges and associated features, water control facilities, buildings, utility distribution systems, and mass transit systems.
The funds for declared disasters and emergencies are drawn from the Disaster Relief Fund, an appropriation to FEMA that is not limited in its use to a specific year. The funds are granted to the declared state, which then channels them to eligible applicants for eligible work. In fiscal years 1999, 2000, and 2001, there were a total of 143 major disasters and 36 emergencies.
The Usual Model
FEMA is adept at the quick, even anticipatory, response. After scathing criticism in the late 1 980s, FEMA honed its response and recovery programs and placed great value on promptly providing assistance. The usual model is to respond to and recover from floods, storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons. By far, these are the disasters that the nation expects and is prepared to address. Regardless of the severity of the disaster, FEMA's processes are established: the experienced staff, augmented by FEMA's corps of disaster reservists and technical assistance contractors, is deployed, and the organizational requirements are defined so that the procedures work. …