EM Forum Presentation — September 28, 2011

Holistic Approach Needed
for Disaster Resiliency, Economic Sustainability and Public Safety

Robert C. Wible
Principal, Robert Wible and Associates
FIATECH Streamlining Project Manager

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

This transcript contains references to slides which can be downloaded from http://www.emforum.org/vforum/resilience/holistic.pdf
A video recording of the live session is available at
An audio podcast is available at

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome once again to EMForum.org. I am Amy Sebring and will serve as your Moderator today. We are very glad you could join us.

Our topic today takes its title from an article we spotted in Emergency Management Magazine earlier this summer, in which the author urges multi-disciplinary collaboration to set an action agenda to make our communities more resilient in the face of disasters.

He also cited a set of recommendations that we will be hearing about today. Please note that links to these recommendations, as well as other related materials may be found on today’s Background Page and we will also include them in our transcript.

[Slide 1]

Now it is my pleasure to introduce today’s guest: We are pleased to have the author of the article, Robert C. Wible with us today. Mr. Wible is principal of Robert Wible and Associates, and is currently the Project Manager of the Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age at FIATECH (aka the FIATECH Streamlining Project).

The Alliance is a public-private partnership comprised of 40 national associations and government agencies to assist state and local governments in enhancing economic competitiveness, disaster resiliency and public safety by promoting more effective and efficient administration and enforcement of building codes and standards.

Again, refer to today’s Background Page for a link to the streaming project and further biographical information. Welcome Robert, thank you very much for joining us today, and I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


Robert Wible: Thank you very much and I appreciate having the opportunity to spend this hour with you sharing some thoughts and maybe discussing some recommended options on this very critical issue. I’m going to be drawing from 34 years of experience working for state and local governments and also working with FIATECH Streamlining Project. FIATECH is a consortium of concerned companies at the University of Texas.

[Slide 2]

The recommendations from a conference which was held by McGraw-Hill and the Engineering News Record at the National Building Museum on March 2-3 here in Washington, D.C.—some of you may have attended that function—also will be included in this presentation.

[Slide 3]

Let me cover what I’m going to go over in the next 15 to 20 minutes with you. We are going to take a look at what are some of the wake up calls and the problems we face in sustaining disaster resiliency and sustainability, and the link between those, and why those are important to us. We will also be covering some examples of some things that are being done right now that do link sustainability with disaster resiliency.

Then we will cover the recommendations from the March meeting and some recommendations that have come from the work we are doing on the outside. Then we will get into some actions we can take together moving this forward, and then into question and answer and discussion.

[Slide 4]

The first thing, the year 2011 has been among the highest in terms of disasters, both in the United States and overseas—all of us are familiar with the Christchurch, New Zealand disaster—indeed that are sections of Christchurch that will never be rebuilt because of that.

Japan’s triple disaster—the tsunami, the quake and nuclear events that took thousands of lives and will take more than ten years to recover from—many companies in Japan, just as they did after the quake in Kyoto and Osaka, have moved overseas to countries that do not have as many disasters.

Here in the United States, the manmade and natural disasters—we are seeing a record number of tornados we had this year, the floods in the mid-Atlantic and New England, the fires we’ve had in Texas and New Mexico—have truly stretched us not only in terms of economic recovery issues, but in terms of the funding levels Congress has been battling over to try and help these areas rebuild.

One of the questions we have, for those of you who have read "The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb—are we really prepared for the next black swan event?

[Slide 5]

While we’ve had these disasters, we are still not beginning to try to deal with this in any kind of holistic way. Here’s the problem. We continue to look at the national and local level on the issue of sustainability, economic development, and disaster resilience as totally separate and unrelated issues.

It is forcing us—those of in the communities emergency management, economic development, and public safety—to fight each other for scarce resources and public attention in terms of the importance of this issue.

As we prepare for, respond to and recover from catastrophic events, we still deal with it in a piecemeal fashion despite considerable progress at the federal, state, and local levels, in terms of both FEMA efforts and the Department of Homeland Security.

Yet less than half of our nation is still covered by building codes that have disaster mitigation provisions in them for the risks in those communities, as we discovered in the Washington, D.C. area where I am located. Who thought we’d have a seismic event that we’d have to now start considering in our building codes?

Despite our administration declaring that resilience is a national priority, our federal agencies are still treating it in a siloed approach, ignoring links with the issues of sustainability, economic recovery and public safety, and really not dialoging as effectively as they should with the private sector, state and local governments.

Congress’s attention is elsewhere, focused on budget fights and the coming Presidential campaign in 2012.

[Slide 6]

So what is the need for holistic approach? What I said in the original article—sustainability equals disaster resiliency and resiliency equals sustainability. We’ll talk about a few examples.

[Slide 7]

We’ve been working over the years to try to help state and local government streamline their building regulatory process. By that we do not mean regulatory abandonment—we mean making it more effective and efficient. The simple application of information technology is what this chart shows.

This is a standard process. The bar chart on the bottom in blue represents the time it takes a permit application to be processed inside a jurisdiction for a large commercial structure. The red represents the amount of time for the plan review and submission for that building to be conducted. Inspections are the yellow and the issue of the certificate of occupancy.

For some larger buildings, in this case 50,000 square feet or larger, that can take up to eighteen months to do. In communities that have put information technology in place and looked at their process and done some business process engineering before they’ve put IT in place, they have cut that time in half.

That is bar chart across the top. This has tremendous benefit, not only in terms of day to day operations—getting buildings up on the tax rolls faster, people being hired—but you can imagine what the impact is in terms of trying to rebuild after a disaster. It is going to take you eighteen months to rebuild as opposed to nine—it really is very important.

[Slide 8]

Another piece that we’ve worked on is the simple concept that we have a number of replicable buildings out there—everything from residential structures to big box stores (Targets, Home Depots). Marriott Corporation has four different gradation of hotels that they build, but each of those only have four designs. Yet we treat them as if they are a truly unique building every time we do a plan review.

We worked together with the International Code Council that produces our building codes in the United States to produce a document which is a guideline that building departments can adopt that allows them to use a single set of plan reviews for that building in a state that has uniform statewide building code.

Indeed, we went to California and were able to reduce the amount of time it took to approve plans for renovations to a Target store from twenty-four weeks to eight and a half weeks. You can see the immediate benefit in terms of disaster recovery, but of course that is also day to day operations and the immediate benefit of getting buildings up in some cases two to three months faster.

[Slide 9]

In the state of California—another example is we did a pilot project with them to show the ability to link diverse mobile field inspection technology—everything from laptops, to PDAs to smart phones—to be interoperable and gather damage assessment information and roll it immediately to the state EOC and also build a statewide and regional network out of that.

That has a huge benefit in terms of disaster response and ultimately recovery. In day in day out operations, in terms of sustainability, jurisdictions using inspection technology are able to reduce the amount of time it takes to do inspections by thirty percent. There is the benefit.

[Slide 10]

We talked about statewide building codes earlier and the fact that fifty percent of our country is not covered by codes that adequately have disaster resiliency provisions within them. Louisiana had nothing when Katrina came in other than a few parishes and the city of New Orleans had a building code.

We worked with the state of Louisiana in the wake of Katrina to put in place a uniform statewide building code and then we helped them design a roadmap for the application of IT to that system to make it more efficient and effective. That work is going on in Louisiana today—again, a benefit both in terms of disaster resiliency and economic sustainability in terms of Louisiana.

We are also doing work in electronic plan review and automated code checking tools that reduce the amount of time it does take to do a plan review by 80%. That has some immediate green benefits to jurisdictions. We talked about sustainability in that you don’t have to store paper anymore. You don’t have to ship those huge rolls of blueprints around.

We’ve gone from a very small number of jurisdictions, maybe 10 five years ago with electronic plan review capability. We are up to around 250 now. It is one of the fastest growing areas in terms of applications of IT.

A side benefit of that for disaster resiliency is that jurisdictions that have all of their plans electronically can now build a secure database of electronic as-builts that they can provide to their first responders as they roll up to a disaster site. Portland, Maine is the first one to put this system in place. There are about five jurisdictions in different parts of the country undertaking that activity.

[Slide 11]

Here are some recommendations from these efforts. We need to bring together the public and private sector, as was the theme of my article, with the emergency management, economic development and sustainability communities to research and establish a list of policy actions and best practices, like some of the ones I have covered, that promote sustainability and disaster resiliency, and get those out across the nation and use financial, insurance, tax incentives and legislation to put them in place.

We need to expand the number of jurisdictions that are streamlining their processes by putting IT in place and using some of the technologies that I have mentioned.

[Slide 12]

Now I’m going to turn to some of the actual recommendations, four or five of them from this ENR report from the March 2-3 conference. There is a link provided to you so you can see the report if you have not had the opportunity to see it before. There are 33 overall recommendations of the public and private sector. I am going to focus on four of these.

[Slide 13]

First of all, in the private sector—banking, accounting and insurance industry have a huge impact on building owners and what they put into a building, but they have been largely ignoring the financial incentives for retrofitting homes and businesses for sustainability and disaster resiliency.

We have not seen the insurance industry move as quickly as they should be doing in terms of some insurance rates provisions that support that. Establish a venue for coordination of changes in building code to better coordinate them and reduce the adverse impact on sustainability and disaster resiliency.

[Slide 14]

There is really a lack of predictability right now. These are the kinds of issues that the construction industry faces and building owners face in terms of looking at the cost of operating a building, making the decision day in and day out. When I build a building, what provisions am I going to put in—just the minimum building code, or am I going to look at some experience in terms of disaster resiliency and put in some features that might make the building more hurricane proof or seismically safe?

You can’t see a couple of the symbols, but the blue circles are financing, occupancy, and operating maintenance costs. Those are key factors in terms of owners and developers decisions. Below that are the regulations that impact in terms of what they put in—building and fire safety codes, energy efficient requirements, environmental sustainability, and resiliency.

Right now there is no coordination between the components of the code chain, and so that impact is on the building owner. Instead of stepping back and saying that if we increased the energy efficiency here, that is going to drive the cost in this direction. Maybe they will decide that if they comply with that, they are not going to put certain disaster resiliency features in.

Those decisions are being made all the time. What we are suggesting here is that there really be a concerted effort to bring that code change process across multiple regulations into a venue where these discussions can be held up front and we can phase in which provisions we are going to upgrade and when.

This is part of the reason why only 50% of our jurisdictions are currently covered by building codes that have disaster resiliency provisions in it. In some cases, the jurisdictions are sticking with older codes and they have not been able to make the decision to adopt something that is more current and has better provisions. That is an area that needs to be studied and was a recommendation at the March conference.

[Slide 15]

Recommendations to Congress and Administration—Congress fund the national Infrastructure Readiness Effort that ensures the codes and standards and permitting systems are able to guide the nation in a more consistent and efficient way over the lifetime of these national assets.

Some of you have seen the report card issued by American Society of Civil Engineers every year on our infrastructure. We consistently got a D rating. Things are aging and not getting replaced.

[Slide 16]

Two other recommendations—study the possibility of funding mitigation through savings incurred from reduced cost in disaster relief. This is an area that is going to need considerable study before it is put in place, but there are some savings there that could be achieved.

Review, identify and reduce regulatory barriers to rapid disaster response and recovery. Right now, jurisdictions are pretty good that have had scaled disasters that we have had to decide which relations to suspend or put in place to speed recovery, but no one has stepped back and taken a look at what we do in terms of federal, state, and local regulations in terms of truly catastrophic events.

We are exploring that in the state of California with CALEMA, and also with people in the San Francisco Bay area.

[Slide 17]

Here are some actions I suggest we take and talk about. First of all, gain some Congressional hearings on this report and its recommendations to Congress, Administration, and the public and private sectors.

Second, establish a national venue for identifying and recommending actions that link sustainability and resiliency, which I mentioned earlier. Three, work to better inform elected officials, the public and business community about effectiveness and cost efficiency of putting investments in mitigation and sustainability.

Fourthly, let’s talk about ways of ending the piecemeal and patchwork stovepipe bureaucracy approach towards disaster resiliency.

[Slide 18]

That leads us up to the question and discussion section. I put up a couple of thoughts of things we might want to cover and to stimulate some questions. Any comments that you have about linking sustainability and resiliency, comments or recommendations on some of the proposed actions that I had, and what others actions should be taken that were not listed.

If you’ve seen the report and have some thoughts about things that were not in the report that should be in the report—that would be good to raise, too. Timeframes and stakeholders—who must be involved and how do we get them involved?

I close with a quote from one of the participants from the March conference, Stephen Flynn, President of the Center for National Policy, "It will be the companies, communities, and countries that are most resilient who will have the competitive advantage over those who are not."

Eric Holdeman, who was the author of the black swan article in Emergency Management Magazine—I have another quote that I didn’t list here that is certainly relevant to the conversation, "Most of the time we can’t change what happens to us, but we do control how we respond and recover."

With that I turn it back to you Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Robert. Now, to proceed to our Q&A and audience comments.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Derek White: There is a lot of anti-government sentiment out there in some states, leading to resistance to building standards. Yet the federal government helps with recovery equally in every state. Should the Stafford Act be changed to favor those states with strong building codes?

Robert Wible: That is a great question. In fact, it was discussed and is one of the side discussions you’ll find in the report at the McGraw-Hill Engineering News Record Conference in March. That is worthwhile considering doing something like that, but put a time frame in that says states have two or three years in which to bring their codes up to those levels.

The Stafford Act from there on will go that way. The Department of Energy is doing something somewhat similar in terms of mandating that all the states in the country have in place by 2017 energy conservation codes for residential commercial structures that meet certain minimum national standards. There is a major push there.

Obviously, you put some carrots and sticks in there as well so it is something worthwhile. There are currently about 25 states that have some form of statewide building codes, although some of those are pretty weak. They are purely voluntary.

We do have a good core of about 15 states that have very strong building codes and active, aggressive enforcement programs on disaster mitigation provisions and well as sustainability in some cases. We have seen some progress there, but it is certainly well worth being considered. It would be one of those issues we would like to see Congressional discussion on.

Amy Sebring: Are you already observing cutbacks in local government in terms of code enforcement or building departments because of the fiscal crunch that most of the states and cities are in?

Robert Wible: Absolutely. In some cases it has been decimated to the point that some jurisdictions have privatized to varying degrees of success. This whole code enforcement aspect—in some cases, they have done it in a way that I think they will have an efficient system, and in some cases, I think they will have a nightmare.

We have seen some jurisdictions with limited funds work with the private sector to have a surcharge put on building permits that enable them to put information technology in place so they can be more efficient with what staff they have remaining.

The city of Bend, Oregon has taken IT and put it in place for all aspects of their program and they are able to operate and provide inspection and plan review services for neighboring, smaller jurisdictions in Deschutes County that have been decimated and have had to cut their staff. IT has really come to rescue in some cases on this issue.

It is one of concern that we are going to need many of those people back to help us when we have a major disaster and we’re not going to have the bodies. In this case, this is why linking together mobile field inspection technology is a priority we have been working with California on because they know they don’t have as many inspectors.

If they can draw from people in other states in terms of a really cataclysmic event and just have them bring their mobile devices and we can link it all—that is a big help. Indeed the economy is having that impact.

Emily Meyer: What efforts, if any, are being taken to increase the insurance incentives to mitigate and build in more sustainable ways? I know that IBHS had instituted some above code standards, but I haven't heard of others.

Robert Wible: It has mostly been IBHS although we do have a couple of individual insurance companies that are trying to look at their rate structure. They have not made major changes yet but there is a lot of feedback out of the Japan experience that I mentioned earlier that the insurance companies themselves are very concerned about a Japan sized event and what that will do to their industry.

IBHS is going to get more traction because of that and it is one of the things we wanted to spend some time in terms of a Congressional hearing to bring to the table the insurance industry because we have some companies that are really trying to do something positive and others that are just hanging back. It needs to be dealt with in a positive fashion.

Amy Sebring: You mentioned trying to get a Congressional hearing. Have the recommendations that grew out of the March conference—have they at least gone to staff?

Robert Wible: Yes, the recommendations were delivered to the Chiefs of Staff of both the majority and minority of each of the committees of the House and Senate that have oversight on the disaster and mitigation and homeland security. Those were delivered in August. It is in their hands.

Amy Sebring: I think there is still a natural Hazards Caucus in the Congress. [http://www.hazardscaucus.org/]

Robert Wible: Exactly. That has been the hope. Not that Congress has been distracted, but Mother Nature and terrorists don’t wait for the 2012 election to be over.

Avagene Moore: Robert, thanks for your presentation. You mention stakeholders - are there any communities you know of where citizens or stakeholders are taking an active role or demanding better codes, etc. for sustainability? If so, how? If not, how can we move in that direction?

Robert Wible: Yes, there are. That is one of the things that is a recommendations—to try to gather a good list and make those jurisdictions available in terms of best practices. I mentioned Bend, Oregon. Bend has done a lot across the state to try to encourage more effective enforcement.

The state of Oregon has a uniform building code. It has disaster mitigation provisions in it. It has some sustainability provisions in it, in terms of the energy side. You can have the best language in a code and if you don’t have effective enforcement, all you have is a piece of paper.

It goes hand in hand with it. We have seen efforts in Louisiana, obviously in the wake of Katrina, to make significant improvements not just in the base state code but also in the issue of sustainability. There is a very active group in the city of New Orleans trying to marry together some of the disaster mitigation provisions and sustainability provisions.

In terms of code change process, there are some proposed code changes before the International Code Council for their family of codes that include some sustainability and disaster resiliency issues.

Amy Sebring: Who are the sustainability stakeholders? Are they mostly professional planners? Where do we find the sustainability advocates?

Robert Wilde: They are all over the place. In some cases, they are very small networks, and in some cases it is groups like the Green Building Council. Just in the Bay Area, I was on a conference call earlier this week working on a project on disaster resiliency. On that call were several small community groups that are very concerned about the sustainability issue.

In California there is a minimal code that should be used. Each of the jurisdictions, City and County of San Fancisco for example, can adopt more stringent provisions for something like sustainability and disaster resiliency. That is the target they are focusing on.

Pat S.: Should the Stafford Act be amended to require mitigation of publically funded (Public Assistance) state and local assets damaged or destroyed by natural disaster? In other words, a bridge destroyed by flooding will be replaced exactly as it was before the disaster at taxpayer expense - it is NOT required to mitigate bigger, better or stronger to prevent the same thing from happening again. It is optional and the jurisdiction must pay a portion of the mitigation costs.

Robert Wible: It would be wonderful to see some additional—let’s get back to the carrot and stick question about statewide codes—to see that the act was amended that jurisdictions were able to build back above the original standard it was built to. That is indeed one of the problems many communities face.

They are very disaster prone if they have a structure built in 1962 and very little was done to retrofit it to new standards. The costs are astronomical to build it to 2011 requirements. That is one of the things—again, looking at the need for Congressional hearings would be wonderful to get some input on. How can we make that happen and not bankrupt everybody?

Amy Sebring: Could you address the need for retrofitting? When we talk about building codes we think of new construction. Much of the existing building stock was not built under any codes.

Robert Wible: It depends on where you are. Fortunately, in some parts of the country building codes have been around since 1916. There are very few places like that. It is a huge problem in terms of retrofit.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was pushed in 1980-1990, there were some mandates in there in terms of jurisdictions putting in place provisions that made buildings accessible under retrofit circumstances, certainly all new construction. Now if you are redoing a certain percentage of a building, you have to make the whole building accessible.

That kind of thought process ought to be looked at in terms of renovation provisions, and some states have triggers like that. California and Oregon have had programs on when you go to renovate or change occupancy in unreinforced masonry construction, you have to put certain mitigation provisions in to make sure that it is able to withstand a minimal level of earthquake as opposed to the bricks are in the street.

That needs to happen between now and 2050—99% of our building stock is already built. Yes, it is a huge problem.

Emily Meyer: Building on the Public Assistance question with a focus on streamlining, it seems that the additional mitigation funding available for rebuilding public infrastructure is underutilized because of difficulties in process. Is this something under review for streamlining?

Robert Wible: Yes! Simple answer, yes. We are trying to push it at the national level for jurisdictions to pay attention to and there are some jurisdictions that are. Clearly it’s an important issue.

Amy Sebring: Do you see any natural venue for going forward and convening stakeholders from across the spectrum?

Robert Wible: There is an alphabet soup of associations and organizations involved in the construction and insurance industries, and it is really—one thought is the National Building Museum could get together with some of the people who sponsored and participated in the March conference really could bring some people together to follow up on the recommendations in those, especially if there are going to be hearings or a follow up to hearings on Capitol Hill.

There really is a fairly substantial group of associations, but there is no single one that bridges everybody in terms of sustainability or the insurance industry, banking industry or construction industry. There are some possibilities.

Amy Sebring: I noticed the National Building Museum is planning what looks like a major exhibit for about a year from now. It would seem that would be a good thing to be aiming for.

Avagene Moore: The quote by Stephen Flynn is certainly notable re: companies, communities and countries having an advantage. Since the private sector owns so much of our resources related to disasters, how are organizations like the chamber of commerce involved? And elected officials?

Robert Wible: That is a good question. In some jurisdiction—and I mentioned the group working with disaster resiliency in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Association of Bay Area Governments is the convener—in some jurisdictions there is a very strong outreach to the private sector.

Going back to a group called The Infrastructure Security Partnership (TISP)—it was really created as an effort to bring the public and private sector together to focus on disaster preparedness, albeit originally out of a terrorist event in the wake of 9/11, but it is vital for communities. That is one of the things as we talk about regulatory streamlining we have been talking to communities that they have to bring their key stakeholders in from the private sector because they are the ones with the points of pain, infact in some cases, they are the only ones who can describe what their regulatory system looks like it’s so broken up by stovepipes. It is absolutely essential that the private sector be involved in that and help create programs of resiliency.

I would argue for sustainability as well. There are some places where that is actually happening and it is quite well organized, and there are other places where the public and private sectors still see each other as not working together on the same page, which is a real shame.

Amy Sebring: You mentioned this earlier, but the idea of compiling these shining examples would be very educational because mostly we hear about people fighting these efforts, or at least that is what the media seems to focus on.

Robert Wible: If you go back to the bubble chart I showed earlier in terms of the kinds of issues that building owners and operators face—part of it is because all of these pieces come at them piecemeal. Someone changes the energy code but there is no correlation between what they’re changing in the fire code.

They can face some major cost factors that preclude the owner from deciding to renovate. I am going to leave my building as is because everything is changing so fast, I don’t want to be in violation of it so I’m going to leave it as is. That doesn’t create resiliency.

Tom Fahy: Congress has been loath to get into the debate to establish national mandatory building codes since they view this issue as a state legislature issue. You make extremely valid points about resiliency. However, besides the occurrence of a massive Back Swan event, how can we get the changes needed to establish standards based and effective building codes not only for new construction, but retrofits for structures considered to be questionable?

Robert Wible: That gets to the earlier comment that the Department of Energy is doing this. They are working with the states to get them to all have in place upgraded energy codes across the country. I actually worked for an association representing state building officials and governor’s associations, so loath to a federal building code.

There are things you can do to put incentives in place that get states to put in a statewide building code and adequate and efficient enforcement mechanisms. We’ve talked about some of those—the concept of making some changes in the Stafford Act. All of this would bring parties to the table and is something that can be done.

Emily Meyer: In Florida, we encourage Post-Disaster Redevelopment Plans (pre-planning for the rebuild) which take a holistic perspective (land use, economic, health and human services, environmental, historic). As growth management has been taking a hit, we see communities having difficulties getting the motivation to conduct this kind of planning. Are there other incentives we can turn to, like the Community Rating System, to encourage our communities?

Robert Wible: Yes, there are and again that gets back at my discussion about getting the insurance and banking communities to the table. These should be the advocates for these provisions going into place. All you are doing is throwing good money after bad if you constantly rebuild in the same vulnerable spot for flooding or storm surge or whatever, and not putting in place mitigation provisions. The answer is yes, but it really needs all these stakeholders coming together.

Isabel McCurdy: Hi Robert, would you elaborate on what the 'black swan event' is about?

Robert Wible: Sure. Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a book a few years ago that describes the impact of something that is wholly improbable. Because it is improbable, we don’t ever think about having to prepare for it. Something like a Katrina sized event or that Japan thought their seismic safety codes were going to be fine to protect them from the problems they had, and that they thought they had adequately prepared for a tsunami. But they found out that their nuclear facility safeguards—having the generators in a place where a huge storm surge could knock them out.

We faced that with Katrina. Most hospitals had their emergency backup generators on the ground floor. Why in the world would you put them on the ground floor in an area where you are below sea level, as much of New Orleans is?

A black swan event comes from the concept that almost all of us just see white swans and we assume there are no black swans but they do exist. Most of us will continue to prepare for the kind of event that we have seen and the kind of scale we have seen in the past, not realizing that something out of left field literally can become a reality and you could get a combination of.

In California, a black swan event would be in Sacramento area they have as many levees and as much below sea level as the New Orleans area does. Their concern is—what if they have major flooding? In fact, they did a statewide drill on this past in May. At the same time as the massive flooding you have a major quake event in the San Francisco Bay area where all this water ends up heading—how do you prepare for something as catastrophic as that?

That is what we refer to as a black swan event—an improbable event that we think will never happen, but will happen and you have to prepare for it. That is the concept. It is not an easy read, but you can get a synopsis of it if you go to the book or the May/June issue of Emergency Management Magazine. Mr. Holdeman has a very good summary in his article about black swan events which defines it nicely. (See link on Background Page)

Question:Emily Meyer: What kind of progress has been made with the banking community for incentives?

Robert Wible: Minimal.

Emily Meyer: Is this an individual bank by bank effort, or is a broader national consortium looking at it?

Robert Wible: No broader national consortium is looking at it and that is the problem. Especially since we have seen banks go through this major consolidation where fifteen to twenty years ago there were all kinds of mom and pop branches of banks, and now we are down to maybe twenty major national banks and a smattering of small local banks. This really needs to be looked at. We have tried to get the American Bankers Association interested in it years ago and they haven’t come to the table. We would love to see them there.

Avagene Moore: With the economy making money and funding harder for everyone to get, from your experience, do you see the lack of funding as a reason not to do what is needed with codes, or can we turn this into an impetus to do a better job with what we have to work with?

Robert Wible: I think it is the latter. I think we can but one of the things that would help would be some kind of coordination review of what changes are going into which codes at what time, and how those have a bottom line impact on the decision being made by building owners.

It kind of one of those—it is the best of times; it is the worst of times. Here is an example. Precisely at the time when state and local governments have the least money and staff, we are seeing tremendous growth in the application of IT to their building departments because elected officials are finally realizing if they can get a building up and operational faster it is on the tax rolls faster.

That means jobs in the community faster. The private sector is willing to pay the surcharge but they don’t want the surcharge spent on something else. There is an example of something going on that has some application to this other issue. Yes, it could be done.

Amy Sebring: I think we are about to see an updated National Preparedness Goal. Do you think we need a similar kind of document, because the draft does not really address these issues so much—do you think it would be helpful to have a National Resiliency Goal?

Robert Wible: The administration has mandated that every federal agency include resiliency as a priority area. So it really needs to be integrated in the fullest definition of resiliency. It is a combination of what you do prior-to to prepare your community as well as how fast you come back after a disaster.

This is at the heart of a lot of questions that were asked, including the one about making changes in the Stafford Act in terms of allowing jurisdictions to be able to build back to the more stringent codes.


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. Thank you very much Robert. We appreciate your taking the time to be with us and to share this information and we wish you success with all your efforts.

[Slide 19]

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Before you go, PLEASE take a moment to do the rating/review! Note: We are asking you to rate the relevance of the information, and this will assist us in our future programming. [Note: Ratings are also encouraged from persons enjoying the archived audio, text or recording versions of this webinar. The rating form is found at: http://www.emforum.org/vforum/feedback.asp]

We are very pleased to announce two new EIIP partners today:

The Emergency Management Academy, a global organization providing intensive graduate-level education in emergency management theory, continuing education, and consulting. http://www.emergencymanagementacademy.org/ Their representative is Scot Phelps, Professor and Facilitator.

Appropriately enough, we are also pleased to welcome the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association, established for the purpose of bringing together individuals and organizations working in the field of hazard mitigation. http://www.nhma.info/ Their representative is Alessandra Jerolleman, Executive Director.

If your organization is interested in becoming an EIIP partner, please see the link on our home page or included with each email announcement.

Our next program will take place Wednesday, October 12th. Please watch for our announcement and plan to be with us then.

A special thanks to you folks who had some excellent questions today. Until next time, thanks to everyone for participating and have a great afternoon. We are adjourned.