Magazine article PM Network

Rethinking Disaster Relief

Magazine article PM Network

Rethinking Disaster Relief

Article excerpt

When a disaster hits the United States, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is there to save the day- at least in theory.

Whether it's a cataclysmic event, such as 2005's Hurricane Katrina, or one of the dozens of floods, tornadoes and tropical storms that occur each year, FEMA is expected to swoop in with funding for relief projects.

There's just one small problem: FEMA has run out of money six times since 2003, most recently in September 2011, when tropical storm Irene ravaged the country's East Coast. Every time the coffers have run dry, the U.S. Congress has eventually allocated more money. But the perpetual shortfalls add another layer of complexity to projects being launched under already trying circumstances.

It could be time for the beleaguered agency to adopt a new approach.

In the first 11 months of 2011, FEMA declared 14 disasters with damages exceeding US$1 billion each, in addition to several smaller ones that entitled states to millions of dollars in project funding.

"The problem is, nobody ever turns them down," Joe Allbaugh, FEMA director from 2001 to 2003, told USA Today in October, referring to state governors who seek disaster aid. "We can't say 'yes' all the time."

FEMA has no plans to start turning states away. However, the agency is looking at revamping fund disbursement and payout methods in an effort to cut costs and streamline project delivery.

New tactics include establishing processes to reevaluate project costs and to identify funds that could be "de-obligated" and returned to the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), which FEMA manages. …

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