EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — September 23, 2009

Recommendations for an Effective National Mitigation Effort
National Emergency Management Association and Partner Organizations

James M. Mullen
Chair, NEMA Mitigation Committee
Director, Washington State Emergency Management Division

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

The following has been prepared from a transcription of the recording. The complete slide set (Adobe PDF) may be downloaded from http://www.emforum.org/vforum/NEMA/090923Mullen.pdf for ease of printing.

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone. Welcome to EMforum.org. We very much appreciate your being with us today to talk about this challenging topic, and we rely on your participation to bring out the issues that you care about.

For those who have been involved with emergency management long enough, you will recall that Project Impact was a national effort to bring focus to mitigation that formed the basis for the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, and the pre-disaster mitigation program.

Since that time, priorities shifted, especially post 9/11. Now FEMA and the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), along with several partners, have published a white paper on mitigation to bring this issue back to the forefront.

The paper is titled "Recommendations for an Effective National Mitigation Effort" and you can access from a link on our Background Page or from the handouts icon, the three overlapping pages at the top right of your screen. [http://www.nemaweb.org/?3177]

A related survey on our home page asks, "Should Congress require a formal National Mitigation Strategy? Yes or No." Please take a moment to participate and review the results thus far.

[Slide 1]

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce today’s guest: James M. Mullen, is the state Director for Washington’s Emergency Management Division and he currently serves as Chair of NEMA's Mitigation Committee. Previously, Jim served as Director of Emergency Management for the City of Seattle for 12 years, where his program received a number of national awards and other recognition during that period for community mitigation, community preparedness and disaster response planning. Seattle was one of the original Project Impact cities.

Additional biographical detail is available from our Background Page, as well as related links. Welcome Jim, and thank you very much for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


Jim Mullen: Hello, everybody. I was glad to hear Amy’s directions which included not shouting "you lie" at me if you disagree with me, but having written a small paper for the IAEM newsletter a number of years ago, saying, "how come we never argue," I will welcome any comments of questions you might have. Hopefully, we can get into it. Also, since this is only the second webinar I’ve ever done (and the last one was about 15 months ago, or perhaps 2 years ago, I think it was) I may need to refresh my memory on how I’m supposed to perform as well, so Amy is on stand-by.

Mitigation, in my judgment, has been an endangered species for years, and under the previous administration it almost became a term that was eradicated from our vocabulary. That was a real departure from what had happened before.

There was a kind of a nihilistic approach to anything the previous guys did, which is an affliction that oftentimes new administrations suffer from, some more acutely than others. It’s usually a good idea to try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But in this instance, expediency trumped analysis, so there was no real thought behind it except people kept trying to define mitigation as prevention or protection, or any number of things, until it sort of went through a dark tunnel, I think, in terms of the mitigation community, just trying to stay alive.

Prior to that, the Project Impact Program, which started under James Lee Witt in the Clinton administration, had been, I think, the first real overt effort to put mitigation on the front page. In my case, in Seattle, as one of the seven pilot communities that was chosen, (I’m still not sure entirely how that came about) but somebody offered me a million dollars and said, "You’ll have the ability to spend that as you need it." I quickly became a whole lot smarter than I was the day before.

Frankly most emergency managers have trouble getting the mitigation, especially pre-disaster mitigation, because of the volume of work they already face and the staff limitations that they have. It’s very difficult to get people to think about something that hasn’t happened. If you’re in a city or county, there is so much that is happening, you get trapped in response mode and occasionally recovery mode. We have a difficult time getting into mitigation mode and staying there at the local level, and it’s even true at the state. I think it’s one of those things where it left us no excuse but to develop a program.

We did, and I won’t belabor the Seattle Project Impact experience too much, except to say that as a result of the issues we identified that we could do, we retrofitted over a number of years 46 schools (at least the school district did) with money we gave them. We gave them $400,000 and they put another 2 or 3 million in, and then built into their ongoing program, a mitigation concept where they’re going through every year and looking for potential hazards and correcting them at the custodian level. Those kinds of things really help. It has actually saved lives in our schools in the Nisqually earthquake.

The former Vice President’s utterances on CNN to the contrary—Project Impact was a very valuable program. It had its flaws. Its biggest reason for success was the charismatic leadership of James Lee Witt. Its biggest flaw was the charismatic leadership of James Lee Witt. I don’t say that to be critical of him—I have nothing but praise for what he did. The fact was, that if the program had had another few years to develop and mature, it would have been impossible to eliminate it.

It was really a program that allowed communities to devise their own strategy and chart their own future, and squarely look at their own risks. I still think that’s a whole lot cheaper than anything else we have to do after a disaster occurs. The difficulty that came from that, though, was that without that strong executive leadership, which certainly didn’t follow him, there was a gap and there was no real basis for continuing the program.

Another issue was the state, like mine. Although my state was very benevolent and supportive, some states probably resented having direct grants going to cities and counties for a variety of reasons. That probably wasn’t the most astute way to approach it, but it was expedient and it was quick. There were some advantages.

What I think we’re moving to in this white paper is more or less charismatic principles. Maybe it won’t grab you quite that way, but it seems to me that most programs that last a long time don’t rely on the charismatic leader, they rely on a general acceptance of very clear and powerful principles.

As we looked at mitigation, we tried to find a way a couple of years ago actually in talking about this, in the NEMA organization that I’m part of—what’s the best way to approach this? With an election coming up in 2008, we began discussing in our mitigation committee at NEMA ways we could do this.

The mitigation committee at NEMA—a lot of people from other organizations that are mitigation related attend those meetings and participate, either at our mid-year meetings in March or our fall annual meeting, and we get a lot of input. We know a lot of these people. It was clear to me, because of the dwindling resources for mitigation that we were beginning to fight with each other over scraps. Is a flood more important than an earthquake—it may be more frequent, but is it more important? What about wind, and all the other things that are going on?

We really needed to get back and say, "What is mitigation’s value to the country, and where should it be most effective?" That is where we started with the notion of, okay we know that we need to come up with some way of articulating for the Congress and everyone else why we’re asking to spend all this money on something that hasn’t happened yet.

To digress just a bit, I’m also on the Homeland Security Committee for NEMA although I’m not the Chair. Homeland Security was running into some of the same problems with the previous administration and very concerned about voices being heard, collaboration and all of that, much more of, "how do we get heard, and how do we get our concerns voiced?"

We developed in the Homeland Security Consortium a White Paper concept where we spent 2 years trying to write out what needed to be changed and approved and instituted to make Homeland Security function (between federal, state, tribal, and local) better and more consistently and more effectively.

We stayed out of the weeds, but it took a long time. There were a lot of players in that as well. A lot of organizations signed onto that, and when we presented it to the representatives of the Presidential candidates (it was really based on folks from the transition teams for the 3 candidates that were still viable by spring last year) it was clear that they all took it pretty seriously.

It became even more clear as the election unfolded and as policy and position statements came out, and as appointments were being made, that the Obama team (and also now the Obama administration) took that information very seriously. That’s not to say that the others did not, but it was clear that the winner was paying attention to that way of presenting and laying information out.

This occurred to me then, that maybe mitigation needed to try to do the same thing. If we could come together as a group and really help define—well, one of the important partners in that group is FEMA. They’re not the other side. Whereas the Homeland Security Consortium at times probably felt like, in the previous administration, like a guerilla organization, to their credit they continued to fund it and support it.

FEMA was very willing to support a fresh look at that. There has been a change in attitude, even in the previous two years, in FEMA on mitigation as data had been developed which proved what all of us already knew, which there is a significant benefit cost advantage to mitigating, rather than fixing something after it’s broken.

We were supported in the final years of that administration in our development of a White Paper, which started in January of 2008 with a meeting in D.C. with a number of associations. Not everyone signed the document. All of them contributed to it. Some just don’t sign documents like this. Amazingly for me, sixteen of them did, including my organization, FEMA, and fourteen others.

We had a very robust discussion for a day, and then Glen Woodbury, from the Naval Postgraduate School, who I had the honor of succeeding in Washington state as the Director of Emergency Management five years ago, sat down and wrote and then submitted for discussion and dialog to all the players the White Paper that you have in front of you now. That evolved with rewrites and feedback and everything so that it was released in July.

[Slide 2]

I’m looking at the first slide—the Mitigation Report background—I’ll just kind of go through this. I mentioned the collective effort began in January 2009. FEMA and NEMA had a cooperative agreement to work on this. A lot of associations contributed.

[Slide 3]

These are the endorsing organizations. I think it’s important that you see the range of groups that were there. They were not just people who signed it. They came, they debated issues, they contributed sentences, paragraphs, and concepts, and it was a very fresh dialog.

I will also say that it was interesting that it took a long time on the Homeland Security Consortium to even determine what we were doing in the shape of the table. This group was far more advanced in their thinking, and far more unified in their purpose, and far more willing to step up and say, "This is what we believe." This made a big difference in the content that we will now go to.

[Slide 4]

It was clear there was a need for a national mitigation strategy. As I’ve gone around talking to Congressional staff on a variety of issues, they really do want to know why they’re spending the money we’re asking them to spend. They want to know what they’re getting for it. Mitigation is a concept that’s elusive unless you show concrete examples.

One of the things that NEMA had done was put together a very good paper, written by Alexa Noruk, from the NEMA Legislative Affairs Office, which basically described a number of mitigation success stories. We drew on these from a lot of different sources, but we are actually hoping soon to have on our website by state those success stories so that it’s a lot easier for both Congressional staff and for people (and we’re going to try to inform Congressional staff and the public in general) to be able to reach to a state and say, "In Iowa, this worked. This saved lives, this reduced the cost of a disaster," and let people kind of bring that message home.

I think, too often, we’ve stayed up in the clouds and not gotten down on the ground where mitigation really has to begin. That’s something.

One of the first comments was made by one of our most astute members of that group, that mitigation is not a cost—it’s an investment. Oftentimes at the local level, developers and even elected officials will say, "I don’t want to impede development by dumping more costs."

The fact is, if you consider mitigation an investment, if you can sell a building or a development, as something that has been drawn up to meet the threats that might face the community (be it floods, or wind, or earthquake, or whatever) that makes it more valuable. That makes it a better buy for someone. That makes it a better investment, and it gives some more security.

In Project Impact, one of the most triumphant days was the first time Ines Pearce, who ran the Project Impact for me in Seattle, came in and said, "Here’s the real estate section. People have retrofitted their homes to meet the standards that have been developed under Project Impact." They were advertising that this home had received the earthquake retrofitting that was needed and was considered important enough by the realtor to stick it in the real estate announcement.

That was a sign to me that there was real value being attached to that at the ground level. We also have used studies. There are at least 2 studies, and probably more, to prove that mitigation works. I was in a debate with a very good friend of mine when we first started Project Impact in California (and I won’t name him because I think I won it), he had just said that mitigation really had to be quantified.

It was a typical argument—you have to quantify the benefit cost. I said, "Well, to retrofit a home, to keep it from falling off its foundation, and the estimates I’ve heard is it’s $35,000 to $40,000 to get a lot of houses back on their foundations. But we found for $5,000 or less you can bolt a home to its foundation and keep that damage from happening."

So, the difference is, and I don’t know how you quantify this, Dad drives two hours instead of 45 minutes to his job in a big city and comes back home, and he and his kids are living in a camper van, because he didn’t do the work. Or, he could, for that small amount of money, he could retrofit his home and his family could be living in that house. Even though his life has changed a little bit because some roads are closed after a major earthquake or major event, he at least doesn’t have to look at his family and say, "Gee, for five grand, I could have prevented all of this, or for some other amount." That’s the kind of thing—it’s a pretty low cost fix. That was something we wanted to make sure people understood.

Again, as I mentioned the case studies earlier, we didn’t want to promote those programs in case studies that are out there, because I think the program sells itself. The notion of mitigation sells itself. How hard a concept is it, to think that if something does not happen, that’s good.

And frankly, it’s a proposal that’s going to be heard on my mitigation committee in Alabama that makes perfect sense. The federal government is proposing to spend millions and millions of dollars figuring out how to relocate people suddenly in a disaster. The director in Alabama, Brock Long, would like to find a way to keep them home, so they can return home more quickly, and never have to leave the state. If they do, they don’t go very far. The first concept is to get them back home as quickly as possible.

By building structures where they’d be safer, it’s at least worth exploring. Wouldn’t that make more sense, for a lot less money than it would be to ship people all over the country? I think we’ve tried that. There are a lot of issues there, and some case studies, and common sense than need to be linked together. We can go on now.

[Slide 5]

One of the strategic things that I think is really important is to have what I would call broader collaborative partnerships. There are people that their career is about floods, others about earthquakes, others about whatever other disasters. I think we need to build out beyond even that group and say, "Collectively we need to support each other’s action."

In addition, we really need to build better relationships at the local level, with local elected and appointed officials, to try to make sure that everyone understands that what we’re really about is not about how much money we get, it is—are we doing the right thing to protect our communities that can offset the negative consequences of whatever disasters are likely to occur to our communities? Again, that’s an investment we need to make.

We need to have people at the local level, in to particular, be aware of their total hazards. Just to pick on the previous administration one more time (I think only one more time), they were really knowledgeable about terror, because that’s what happened. Then they were knowledgeable about explosions in space, because that’s what happened. Then they got knowledgeable about hurricanes, because that’s what had happened.

But we know all this stuff now; we know most of the things that can happen. The system that we’ve set up should be able to deal with all of those issues. In the case of mitigation, we can figure out what our biggest hazards are by historical data, and by working with our scientific community, and by working with a lot of different entities.

We can pool our resources. One of the things that was good about Project Impact was that for the first time it got all of those people in one room, in my city, and we can accomplish a tremendous amount by pooling the collective wisdom of everybody, and saying, "We understand there are some things we can do, and some things we cannot do."

If we’re going to have our society living in areas that are vulnerable, we need to take steps to protect them. It’s a common sense argument that I think we can make. Again, one of the issues (this is more my issue I think, but I know it bled into the paper a little bit), we spend a lot of our time at meetings talking about the feds ought to do to help us. Usually that means money, and that’s okay.

But I think the federal government should be focusing on promoting community mitigation, but the communities themselves, there needs to be a bigger push at making local level officials understand the importance of promoting and understanding that mitigation is a good think, not a burden.

As noted a couple of times already, it’s an investment, and a critical one, because damage averted is significant. By having that discussion, if FEMA did nothing beyond what exists in their programs but help work with us, and work with associations, and work to reach out to government officials and say, "We really need to think clearly how we’re going to do this, how we’re going to have that push come not from the federal government down, which is where it seems to be coming from most of the time, but from the local governments up, where they’re demanding support and help for issues that they can’t take of themselves." That’s the essential point that we need to get to in mitigation.

[Slide 6]

Among the elements we’re striving to come up with comment on—this is a Glen Woodbury word, "symbiotic objective," (he runs a graduate program now so he can use words like that). Seek out and encourage activities where the benefits are intuitive. I was talking about that just a minute ago. Once you start that process, it is contagious.

I found with Project Impact, that bankers would come in and say, "Well, I’ve got interests, but I am really worried about the schools." Everyone care about the schools. Everyone lives in a home somewhere, has some kind of a home. We need to be worried about that.

Scientists would come in and say, "Obviously I want research monies, but you know what? I want schools and homes to be okay. I want businesses to flourish." Those are the kinds of things that help communities stay together. That kind of realization can begin to drive mitigation into policy development at every phase.

When we talk about preparedness (another of the four elements of emergency management, which are mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery, with some cousins attached to it now, just as a nod to law enforcement and others, prevention and protection, kind of circling around that circle). But one of the principles of preparedness is, you prepare all the time.

You make things a routine, you build it in. An innovation isn’t really much good until it becomes not an innovation anymore, but part of the routine. Somebody cuts their grass every three weeks or two weeks, based on the amount of weather, and the amount of rain they’re getting, if they don’t do that for awhile, that creates a problem for them. By the same token, if you don’t buy car insurance, you may not miss it until you have an accident.

You do those things because you know somewhere down the road it is going to become important. If you build mitigation into policy development, and if you build it into projects that are being developed, you will end up reducing your costs, even if you can’t pinpoint them exactly. Until something happens, you really can’t measure whether the mitigation was effective or not. The point is that you can’t do much about the damage that has occurred once it has occurred. That’s where we’re at with that.

I think an open discussion is always going to be critical in the matter of dealing with this concept. There will be people that will resist it, will try to twist and turn it. I know in Seattle, it wasn’t smooth for us, even though we had the money and the mandate. We had tremendous pushback from some of the institutionalized bureaucracies within the City of Seattle, not so much from the private sector—oddly enough they understood the concepts really well.

We did have some problems with a few folks. They stayed back. We still were able to press ahead with enough folks who were really committed to that project. I think it became something that we did after the federal funding went away for a number of years. I don’t think they’re doing much now, but I know that some of the retrofitting is continuing on.

The school districts built retrofitting into their concepts, and a business toolkit concept that was initially developed under Project Impact (kind of had to be redone after the fact) was done outside of, and is still existing now. There are assets to small business that were developed or at least were initiated at the latter stages of my time in Seattle and were completed several years after I left.

There are a number of things that can go on, but you really want an open dialog on what’s important. That’s probably the thing that we need to do now with this project, is really start talking in a meaningful way about where does the paper lead us.

[Slide 7]

These elements of a national mitigation strategy I think are all important. I’ll try to talk about them really quickly. "Embrace" is a figurative term—I like federal, state, and local officials, but I don’t hug a lot of them.

I would educate them about the importance of mitigation and what their place is. That’s something we’re going to need to, between NEMA, which is state directors, and IAEM, local emergency managers, and a whole host of other folks, probably need to (I’ll talk about how we’re going to do this in a minute) come together and really devise a way of attacking this problem as holistically as we possibly can.

We’ve got to get folks thinking mitigation as their moving forward, it’s got to become part of their everyday work. Like you do if you’re really prepared and have your 3-day preparedness kit, you need to have those things ready all the time. Every time we take an action, we have to be thinking about the mitigation aspect when we’re talking about protection our communities.

There’s a body of knowledge of tools, resources, practices, and successes. NEMA has begun to compile a very, very profound list of success stories—they’re pretty varied. There are probably more that we have not contributed to the official list. We are always looking for more examples of mitigation. I think when you see what someone else has done, the notion that may be we have done it as well.

There are folks, well beyond my scope of knowledge, that were part of this group that probably know things that they could share with the rest of us that we could help. I think the relationships that had formed before this event, before the paper was written, and throughout the writing of the paper should solidify that ability to do that.

I want to talk just a second about incentives versus punitive mitigation policies. This almost, I wouldn’t say it almost came out, but it was discussed a lot even to the last day before we finally signed off on this document. There was a tendency, and it wasn’t just the last administration, of the government to say, "This is good for you—do it or else." To me, that’s kind of a contradiction.

I don’t think in Homeland Security, or anything else, or even in rating emergency management organizations (like we do with EMAP), that’s really not the answer. No one’s perfect. No one’s ever going to be perfect. You can look at a program and say, "You’re this bad," or you can look at a program and say, "You’re this good." And to me, which one is more of an incentive to do better? That’s saying "Well, you’re pretty good, but you could be better."

That’s a much easier pill to swallow. You could take that to your boss and say, "Governor, or mayor, or county executive, or whomever, we’re not bad but we could get better. And we need this or that measure in place to do that." That’s much better than saying, "We’re really bad."

Pass-fail isn’t a good idea in my mind in education, because it doesn’t tell you anything. But pass-fail in this business is nonsensical. We need to be getting to the notion that you get incentivized for being as good as you can. Mitigation is the only federal program I know of that comes close to doing that.

If you have a basic mitigation plan, you’re eligible for 15% after a disaster of the allowable cost from FEMA. If you have an enhanced plan, that number can rise to 20%. That’s an incentive. If people don’t take advantage of it for one reason or another, that’s fine. They’re pretty good if they have an improved mitigation plan. But the incentive is there.

Just think if we in Homeland Security-something were able to say, "You’re going to get so much money if you do this, and if you do a little more, you can get this." Then you can decide as a community—what can I afford? What can I do? How big is my risk?

Whatever we’re doing in emergency management, we should be not saying how bad we are, because that’s not going to get us more resources, more attention, or more respect. We ought to be articulating what we can do, and what is possible if we were able to do more. I think that is the positive way to go.

Punitively, let’s face it, if the state of New York (and I love New York) did nothing, they would still get Homeland Security money. They would still get their share of mitigation money. They don’t. They have good professionals there. They don’t play that game. We all know that the government is not going to turn its back on any state in this country if it can help it.

So, why should we have a rule that says if you aren’t totally compliant with NIMS, you’re not going to get anything? Because we know that eleven months into the one year cycle, they’re going to extend the requirement if people haven’t met it. So let’s talk about how good we are and incentivize that activity.

Don’t get stuck on definitions. Too often we try to narrow down what’s mitigation, what’s preparedness, what’s prevention, what’s protection. I’m probably more at fault for this than others, so I guess I’m speaking to the collective will of our group this. But if it works and it makes people safer, who cares what it’s called?

It’s not that mitigation doesn’t have its own definition, but if the lines are blurry, just get the job done. We all know that in emergency management, the line between mitigation and preparedness is a blurry line. The line between preparing and responding is a blurry line. The line between the response and recovery is always kind of a murky area there, where we’re not quite sure what phase we’re in, even if it’s only a couple of hours long.

The transition is kind of an interesting transition. And then recovery and mitigation, it’s a circle. I know there are some sage people that don’t like the circle anymore, we can make it a rectangle if you want, but the fact is that we go round and round in a cycle and they really are separated for purposes of a programmatic definition, not the reality of our jobs. I would say that we really need to not be so concerned as much about definitions as getting the job done.

Measuring, capturing, and celebrating success—I think we’re trying to identify success stories, I mentioned earlier. I think we need to make sure that we applaud those folks who have taken steps on their own, those who used the helping hand of the government, and we need to provide an incentive for people to do more.

[Slide 8]

This heading we don’t have to stay on much. What got me in this conference call, this webinar, was the Congressional Hazards Caucus asked Craig Fugate, myself, Debra Ballen, and Michael Armstrong to talk about the White Paper and the future of disaster mitigation. We had a full house at the Congressional Hazards Caucus. Senator Landry came and chaired it and stayed through the whole thing and contributed mightily to it as well. I think we had a really good exchange about the next steps and where we’re going.

[Slide 9]

These are the next steps. We recommend in the paper that a National Mitigation Collaboration Alliance (you could find another name that’s easier to say if you’d like) but we believe that some alliance that is pretty broadly based will help us get at some of these issues and begin to narrow out some of the concerns to make sure that we are directing the efforts of the mitigation program in a way that really helps. I think FEMA is going to be a big player in that, and I hope their support for the White Paper includes full support of this, and we’ll be discussing that with them in the fall as we move on.

Invigorating grass roots participation—I believe that the formation of the Alliance will lead to that. One of the first steps is, what is it going to take to get the mitigation story told at every level of the nation, of the community, of the government structure, or the private sector? How are we going to get that story out? There’s always something else going on, but we need to find a way to beat that drum, and keep beating that drum.

Again, by a broad based alliance we can bring everybody in, and turn very few folks away. The associations could come in and work on this, a broad representative of the folks that need mitigation to improve their lives and their safety and security. I think mitigation can be integrated pretty readily with other programs and initiatives if we have a group that is actually focusing on this.

The Homeland Security Consortium did a real service for the country, by providing not just a focus for a White Paper of what’s wrong and where we need to go, but by continuing to be available to advise any administration of new issues and on current subjects of import, and respecting everyone’s opinions, needs, and desires to have successful outcomes in their communities. This could be much the same, although probably a lot larger focus. Hopefully that will be something that will evolve out of this.

One of the things I want to say, and I think I’m pretty much finished now, but in conclusion, one of the lessons I learned is that when you get private sector and public sector folks together, is that you get different interest groups together; that you may not know the actual destination. You may have an idea of the direction you want to go in, but you don’t have to know the destination.

For one thing, there may not be a destination. There may just be more issues, and more concerns, and all of that. But if you pull the combined weight of the people who care about their communities and the country and these specific issues, and have the expertise to describe them and articulate their importance on the scale of protecting this country, you will find that we will all surprise ourselves because we’ll go even further than we ever thought.

If we continue to sit in silos and work on floods or earthquakes or something, without some crosspollination of our ideas, thoughts, and desires, we’ll stagnate and we’ll be fighting these battles over and over again. If we’re going to fight battles, let’s fight about what we can do, and not spend so much time worrying about what we cannot do. That’s my editorial comment.

I want to finish by saying the people who contributed to the writing of the paper, the reviewing of the paper, and signed off on it, I owe them, on behalf of NEMA, our everlasting thanks. There is no way we could have prepared something that was credible without the full participation of the signing organizations, and even those that have yet to sign it because their structures don’t allow them to. We really appreciated the participation of all the groups and organizations, and I await your questions.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Jim. Now, to proceed to our Q&A.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Sophia Beym: What participation did you have from Federally Recognized Tribal governments?

Jim Mullen: I think none, candidly. I don’t believe we did have any. That’s one of the areas where we would certainly want to expand that by far. That was a deficiency of structure that was noted in our discussions. It was something we would want to rectify if we move forward with our next step of having an alliance of some kind. I don’t know how we could go forward without the tribal participation as they chose.

Marianne Pollay: Was the American Planning Association/American Institute of Certified Planners involved in the process although they didn’t sign off on it? To what extent does land use come into the discussion?

Jim Mullen: The first question, I don’t know the answer because I don’t have a list of everyone who participated but didn’t sign, but I’m sure there was an opportunity for them to participate. I don’t know whether they were able to do it or not. Remember, this was thrown together and the meeting was set up in December of 2008. We had the meeting in January for one day in 2009.

We shared information in drafts, back and forth, mostly electronically. Really, that’s how that was done. So it may well have been that someone wasn’t available on that day. We did have a couple of folks that cancelled at the last minute, and others who showed up but didn’t sign. I just wouldn’t want to speak to that, because I don’t know.

The NEMA office could answer that question. The NEMA legislative office in Washington, D.C. could answer that question with a minimum of research. We would have taken anyone, so if we didn’t think of somebody, that was one thing. But I think in their case, I believe they may have had an opportunity but may not have had anyone available. We met about three or four days before the inauguration in D.C.

Land use is always important. We try to steer clear of specific examples. Sometimes the waters get muddied when people start seeing issues like that as inhibitors to mitigation. They’re not. They need to be considerations. When you’re figuring out how to use the land, one of the things you need to do is look at the mitigation piece as well as the economic potential, and the environmental issues, and all of that.

It needs to be in the discussion and the community, in the end, and which I think is the missing link in a lot of instances here, the community at the ground level is the one that has to decide where it fits. We just think mitigation ought to be in the discussion. Sure, land use is one of those things, along with safety, environment, and other things, that need to be part of that.

Bernard Ussher: Any comments on 406 mitigation. Craig Fugate has been emphasizing this.

Jim Mullen: I haven’t had a chance to talk specifically to Craig, so I don’t know exactly what Craig has been saying about that. I’m a state director, so I guess I can say that I know a lot about a few things, or a little bit about a lot of things, but not so much about everything. I’d rather reserve comment about 406. We’re still taking a look at it.

Robert Kimmell: Marketing mitigation in small rural communities in these economic times is difficult. The uncertainty of the Pre-disaster Mitigation Program (PDM ) does not help. Has Congress resolved how the risk-based process will work in PDM?

Jim Mullen: The biggest thing we’re trying to do is save the PDM program. I agree that the concern has been that no one was even willing to say that they were sure at the Congressional level that the programs have been effective. By identifying the success stories, we thought that was our first step.

The difficulty with the PDM program has been that is should be funded—I think the authorization level is three hundred million—it really should be funded right now around two hundred fifty million. Anywhere from eighty to one hundred fourteen million is where it lands. Then, it’s been earmarked to death. That’s a problem. As long as that’s happening, even if worthwhile projects are plucked out and targeted, that takes away from any benefit of a competitive program, which is the way it is right now. NEMA has long felt the program should not be competitive, but it is. A lot of other people think it ought to be.

My concern, and the concern of NEMA, is that mitigation is something that is so essential that if you have an underfunded program, and the local emergency manager has rallied his/her community to come together to develop a good proposal. They’ve got their elected officials in line, their business community in line, they’re really primed and ready to go. They qualify. They go through the National Peer Review.

The National Review says, "This is a good project," and there’s not enough money to fund them. That local emergency manager has just lost, and deflated the activities of a lot of people. I think we can’t have a program where we have people who lose, even with good programs. They have to somehow be honored for taking the step.

Because the issue is not a winning or losing situation. The issue is—it’s in the interest of the federal government, the state government, the local government, the tribal government, to avert damage. If mitigation is important, we shouldn’t be trusting it to a competition that is stacked against the smaller organizations and the smaller communities.

We should be saying, "There’s a level of funding that is going to be available to these folks if they have a project that meets the standards." That can incentivize them to actually do the work that needs to be done.

If you’re going to tell your boss, if you’re an emergency manager, "I’m going to spend 700 hours of my time, get everyone whipped into happy frenzy, and then we might not get funded because the program is funded at 40% of what it could be," that’s a tough one to swallow at the local level. They have lots of other things they can have that emergency manager do, and there are a lot of other things all those other people could be doing that might be more productive.

So, their investment of community time and energy is not being honored by a program that creates more losers than winners.

Avagene Moore:
I wholeheartedly agree with your comment about needing a cross-pollination of ideas and thoughts between agencies, programs, and organizations at federal, state, local, and tribal levels. In your opinion, what actions can we (NEMA and collective groups and individuals) take and support to foster this exchange and ensure good ideas are shared and actually heard at all levels.

Jim Mullen: I think we have to take a long view, but we have to get started. We need to make sure to support FEMA as they consider developing a consortium or alliance of some kind that will advise folks. Not to proselytize about one program or another, but to lean in on the principles of what is important in mitigation. The only way we’re going to do that is if the signing organizations, and all those that weren’t there that have an interest in this, are part of the discussion.

Frankly, we’re going to have to go beyond the associations and make sure we have local voices and tribal voices in those rooms, talking, not demanding, a specific interest—not pushing just for earthquakes or just for floods, but saying, "The concept for mitigation is different in every community, but we need to have a rhythm to the federal support and the state support, and a beat from the local level that says we want to have a sustained program for mitigation that incentivizes us to become organized and to identify those things that are our biggest priorities, and knock them down one at a time."

This is a not a sprint; it’s a marathon. You have to start strong. The way we start strong is by having as many people in the race as we can have.

Marianne Pollay: Is there not an inherent inconsistency with the idea of fostering local capacity when there is still in the background the knowledge that the Federal government will subsidize your recovery, regardless of whether or not you were proactive on mitigation, i.e., the "moral hazard?"

Jim Mullen: I will say that first of all, one of the first tasks will be to remind everybody (and we’re doing this now in a current event that is going on) there is nothing the federal government can do to make it worthwhile. I’ll give you an example from my life.

In 1993, my wife was in a car accident. Some guy ran a red light in a truck and hit her. She was injured. She’s okay. We sued the guy. It was a traumatic couple of years for us, really, but we sued the guy. My lawyer was a very good friend, and before we went into the final settlement, he said, "Look, I’m very good at what I do. There is nothing we’re going to get from this, no matter what they cave in on. There’s nothing we’re going to get that would make either you or your wife want to go through this again. So don’t think that this is going to make everything okay. It’s just all we can do."

The federal government probably won’t do as well as my lawyer did that day. The fact is that there is nothing that a person can get from federal assistance, as well intentioned and as thorough as it might be, that would make anyone want to be flooded out or have an earthquake damage their home. There’s just nothing.

We’re pushing right now—flood insurance program, flood insurance program—and sometimes we’re pushing against insurance agents who are saying, "Don’t worry, FEMA will take care of everything." If we had an open microphone, you’d have emergency managers laughing out loud about that right now, because everyone knows that’s not the case.

The federal programs are not set up at this time to help you recover—they’re set up to help you not to get up on your two feet, but to maybe to rise to one knee. That’s as far as it goes. They’re not sufficient. Rather than change their argument and say, "You need to come and do everything for us," maybe we need to have mitigation promoted so we can do some of that for ourselves and they can help us a little bit.

It’s a good investment of federal money if a community is engaged in mitigation, to promote mitigation rather than come in and do recovery.

Karen Powell: I work with educators in our state. What do you see as the role of education in mitigation?

Jim Mullen: One of the things we don’t do very well in emergency management is teach people how to be emergency managers. We probably do better at educating people who join our profession than citizens who will pay for us to do our professional work.

In other words, I always thought there ought to be entry level courses. We teach kids to drop, cover, and hold and take other defensive measures for any number of hazards in the 5th through 8th grade. I think at the college we don’t teach them anything at all about that. We don’t teach them civics lessons about who is responsible for what.

There is an absolute gap in the knowledge of the public as to exactly who from the government is doing what when a disaster occurs, unless they’ve had some event and they’ve finally figured it out. I think part of the mitigation process is an education process. For associations and school districts and superintendents and all, they really need to be looking at where their biggest hazards are.

And I don’t know that they’re not, they may well be. They need to be encouraging them, and be sure that they can take care of the things they are most concerned about or are most likely to occur with a realistic set of events that might confront them.

I’m not quite sure I answered that question. Probably sitting down and discussing it would be easier than in this format. There’s a role for education generally in teaching people what their responsibilities as citizens are, and as a group of citizens are versus what the government will do for you.

I think we always need to draw that line. When we do preparedness messages in the state of Washington, we don’t say, "We’re going to protect you and give you all the food and water you need." We say you need 3 days of materials so you can take care of yourself, and that will help us take care of people who don’t have that, and then we’ll get to you.

That should give us the time to get to you, or get you instructions and get you someplace where you can be helped. I don’t know if I answered that question.

Sophia Beym: Are you aware of a formal training program that is focused specifically on educating public officials on the importance of mitigation (e.g., Center for Domestic Preparedness' ICS 402 - Senior Officials Workshop)?

Jim Mullen: One, I don’t think there is a national program similar to the program that NPS (Naval Postgraduate School) does for terrorism, and other programs may do that as well. There ought to be, perhaps, but that would be a good start.

FEMA actually funded a SHMO or stakeholders’ conference in the last couple of years, and we’re very grateful to them for doing that, and they report on their activities, although the states’ hazard mitigation officers (who are the SHMOs, by the way) are also telling their state directors what is happening at those meeting.

There have been some good discussions there. Maintaining and upgrading the skills and the information of the hazard mitigation officers is critical. I have been very lucky in my state to have some excellent ones. I’m well aware of some of the others around the country that are as well.

We need to keep them engrained, and frankly, keep them from being disassociated within their own emergency management organizations, because that can happen really easily with the demands on state directors and the kind of dumping of work that goes on to hazard mitigation officers.

One of the things I keep harping on is that we’ve got to keep talking to our SHMOs all the time because they are extremely valuable in keeping the pulse on where our communities are going. They are the ones who can answer the real detailed questions, some of which I’ve probably stumbled over. I usually refer to them because of the volume of things that I have to worry about, and try to get it on quick feed and remember it long enough to be effective.

Amy Sebring: The point being, in the effort going forward, speaking to identify ways to educate the local officials certainly would be a priority. Would you not agree?

Jim Mullen: Oh, yes. First we have to make sure we’re all educating them on the same things—what’s important for the mayor to know, what’s important for the permits and plans division to know, what’s important for the overall building department to know, what’s important for the general public to know. What do we have to understand? Those are things we can get to.


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. Thank you very much Jim for an excellent job, and taking the time to share this information with us. Please stand by just a moment while we make a couple of quick announcements...

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