Being Prepared for Disaster: Strategies and Tactics for Finance Managers

By Wilson, Vicki | Government Finance Review, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Being Prepared for Disaster: Strategies and Tactics for Finance Managers


Wilson, Vicki, Government Finance Review


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Since the events of September 11, 2001, the role of government financial managers has changed along with the rapidly changing environment of emergency management. Demand for funding to be prepared for disasters comes at a time when budgets are already strained and revenues limited. Consequently, budget officials are continually juggling requests for normal operations with public safety requests for disaster preparedness.

The demand for public safety funding has come from almost every conceivable direction. The threat of terrorist attacks, concerns about severe weather events, especially after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the ongoing fear of an influenza pandemic have all driven demands for more and better public safety programming. State and local jurisdictions' perception that the federal government's response has often been indifferent has led these governments to become more self sufficient. With each of these challenges, budget requests are made in the name of better protecting the public and first responders. Elected officials and their department heads face serious consequences if requests are not funded. Finance officials are often directed to "just find the money!" Frequently the amounts are measured in millions rather than thousands. Much of the demand for funding is driven by computer technology for sharing intelligence information and costly items such as bioterrorism protective equipment for emergency services. As the predictions for terrorist targets change from buildings to transportation systems, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) dictates funded and unfunded mandates to local governments for passenger safety. Funding is also needed after natural disasters or acts of terrorism to house displaced persons, put government services back in business, and purchase medical supplies.

The following tactics have been used by finance managers to respond to requests for public safety spending and still manage the budget. Be forewarned, these solutions were not always popular, but they worked.

FUNDING

Annual Budget Requests. Given the level of concern for disaster preparedness, public safety departments often request a significant increase in their annual capital and operating budgets even when all departments, public safety included, have been instructed to cut their budgets from prior year spending levels due to necessary budget constraints. To address these requests, budget managers may choose to

* re-examine the public safety department's line-item justification statements and compare them to the prior year's actual spending levels and current spending levels. If current spending does not utilize the entire budget for some items, cut the budget in those areas to allow for increased funding for next year's requests;

* look for areas where common functions can be shared across public safety departments, such as technology, finance, marketing, and public outreach. Savings gained from consolidating senior management positions can make a big difference.

Capital Purchases, Disaster management is heavily dependent on equipment needed to respond to emergency situations to protect the public. Public safety departments' budget requests consequently often include significant outlay for capital expenditures.

* Given the evolution of technology, the lengthy procurement process, and potential for obsolescence in the interim, consider leasing certain capital equipment, such as emergency communications and other equipment whose technology evolves quickly, rather than buying, if regulations allow.

* Make sure department managers provide information on annual maintenance and repair costs before you approve a purchase. For those jurisdictions that receive DHS Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funding, determine if the costs can be assigned to the grant.

* If new higher-priority safety initiatives appear necessary explore the possibility of using UASI dollars by submitting a request to the administrative agent to reprogram grant dollars. …

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