Edited Version November 8, 2000
EIIP Forum Online Group Discussion

"Will the Results of the National Election Have Any Impact on Disaster Policies?"

Amy Sebring, Moderator
EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the November 8, 2000 online Forum presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Library Archives (http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/livechat.htm). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the Virtual Forum! We are having a group discussion today on the theme "Will the Results of the National Election Have Any Impact on Disaster Policies?" The background page is at <http://www.emforum.org/vforum/001108.htm> with the discussion questions, so please keep it handy.

Well, is this a cliffhanger or what?! I fully expected to get up this morning and be able to put this together knowing what the outcome was. However, it appears that there will be a recount in Florida, and it may take a few days before we even know who our next President will be for certain. This has been an election where every vote has counted, and I wonder how many folks down in Florida who did not vote, are kicking themselves today!

Regarding the Congressional races, it appears that the Republicans will have the barest of majorities. An overall conclusion may be with the power so evenly divided between the parties, and no clear mandate from the electorate for either side, we will either see a continuation of "gridlock" or the parties will need to understand that they must work together in a more bipartisan way. The style of leadership of the next President could perhaps make a big difference.

Our concern today is what will be the impact of all of this on disaster policy over the next term and the future. We may not be able to say anything definitive today but we would like to hear what you think.

You may notice that Avagene is not with us today. She has been attending the IAEM conference in Washington, and is travelling home today. Another election was taking place there for President-elect. I have not heard the results yet. Bob Andrews of Arizona, and Janet Dilling of Florida were the candidates. If anyone has any news on that race, please pop it in.

Finally, before we get into our discussion, I have posted a link to the latest version I could find of the National Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, also referred to as the Stafford Act Amendments. This was very recently signed into law by President Clinton. We might reasonably expect this law to have the most significant impact on the national level in the near term, depending on the funding that is provided for it through the budget process.

As suggested by the title, the law authorizes a pre-disaster mitigation program and establishes a fund to implement it, increases the federal share of post-disaster mitigation, and authorizes use of up to 7% of Section 404 funds for states to use for developing mitigation plans. In addition, it permits delegation of the authority to administer the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to qualified States (those having approved plans). It also includes some other provisions for streamlining and other miscellaneous items you can review later.

[Group Discussion]

Please look ahead on the background page to the next question. If you have a response, go ahead and prepare it, that is, type it in, but do not hit send until we are ready for it. For example, please start preparing any response you may have for Question 1. We will not be using the question marks today. Speaking of Question 1, we will need to rephrase it. Although it does not appear to be a done deal, let's for the sake of discussion assume that the Bush lead in Florida holds up.

Question #1:

Assuming the Bush leads holds up in Florida, what is likely to be his attitude toward the role of the federal government in all disaster phases vs. the state, local, and NGO roles?


Amy Sebring: If you would like to respond to this, or any of the other discussion questions from the perspective that Gore will ultimately prevail, by all means feel free to do so. Your thoughts now, please, on Question 1? Don't wait to be called on, just enter them when you are ready.

John Anderson: Attitude toward the role of the federal government in all disaster phases vs. the state, local, and NGO roles? Bush - more state control.

Rick Tobin: There should be continuity. At the IAEM conference the buzz was that Witt would stay the head of FEMA, which is a start.

Ray Pena: The new President will understand the feds have a role to play in all four phases. He needs to decide how the role manifests itself. I hope he decides with the best information and advice he can find.

Keith Featherstone: Mitigation-Project impact goes away.

Amy Sebring: Even though I am from Texas, I have no particular insight here, except that "home rule" for municipalities is very strong and state government is relatively weak. The state has relied on assistance from FEMA in recent years for support for wildfire fighting. However, Governor Bush vetoed a bill a few years ago that would have created a state disaster fund based on a small surcharge on electric bills as an interim measure, due to a technicality mostly, but did not strongly support any alternative plan.

I also note that Governor Bush has in other areas advocated more reliance on faith-based groups to provide services and wonder if this would be reflected in his attitude toward post-disaster assistance. In particular, the Salvation Army has had an active role here in Texas.

Cam King: Keith - why do you think that?

Amy Sebring: Other thoughts re: Bush? (We have the Witt item down the line at Question 4.)

Keith Featherstone: General GOP rules of Limited Government

Cam King: Keith, could you expand for us Canadians?

Rick Tobin: It would be interesting for the ARC to have a little different throne in the world of care and shelter. Yes, the Salvation Army could become a bigger national player.

Amy Sebring: Keith, I think because of the recent law I mentioned we will have disaster mitigation a priority in the near future at least.

Elaine Sudanowicz: Don't forget ARC gained influence from Elizabeth Dole.

Amy Sebring: Let's move on. We expect that the two candidates have sharply different views on global warming and possibly sustainability in general. This is related to disaster policy to the extent that severe weather effects might be anticipated from any such global warming. You recall that Al Gore wrote a book on this topic although he seemed to downplay it somewhat during the campaign. Whereas Bush is expected to be more allied with the oil industry's point of view, considering his background.

Question # 2:

Will the winner's attitude towards the environment and sustainability issues in general affect disaster policies? What about global warming in particular? Please respond with respect to either Bush or Gore, as you wish.


John Anderson: This is the most pressing issue of our time - a President, any President - ignores it at his own peril.

Rick Tobin: Global Warming is real but I doubt it will be supported in a Bush administration. Expect major changes in the EPA and OSHA.

Amy Sebring: I would expect less funding for research on this issue in a Bush administration perhaps and not much movement towards international accords such as Kyoto.

Rick Tobin: The Kyoto Accord is a toothless hound dog.

John Anderson: EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) has already moved back to a strategy of moving on the major corporations. Many of those larger corporations have their own mitigation policies but these may be back-burnered.

Ray Pena: How much, who knows?

John Anderson: EDF - bunch of clever, motivated New York lawyers. The question to ask is - Does Bush accept the environment as a security item? If so, expect military help. If no, who knows?

Amy Sebring: For example, would you expect Bush to move for national building codes? Or leave it up to industry and to the states?

Roger Kershaw: I doubt Bush would support a national building code, and on the other hand, with the trend toward "performance" based codes, that may be a good thing.

Isabel McCurdy: What is performance based codes?

Roger Kershaw: Codes without specific rules. Only meeting a general level of safety, or performance.

Elaine Sudanowicz: I fear that global warming will force Bush or Gore to deal with the impact of catastrophic flooding of the Northeast coast. Unfortunately, when the disaster strikes then, only then, will it be placed on their radar screen.

Amy Sebring: Florida has been a leader in many instances (and California) might G.W. consult with Jeb on some of these issues possibly?

John Anderson: Always consultation, yep.

Rick Tobin: Well, the Clinton Administration set up a committee on Mass Migration. When I brought up the Global Warming impacts on Coastal communities they refused to respond. I think the blindness goes past the polling booth. If both parties don't get the picture of what a 10 degree shift in temperature means to world stability, well, it's time to go underground to the Carlsbad Caverns.

Ray Pena: I think Bush will agree that mitigation is important. I think he can be convinced to support workable methods, within the framework of how he believes government is best handled.

John Anderson: On Global warming - Dr Hansen says we need to do diesel engines and biomass burning first.

Amy Sebring: Moving on to question 3, it seemed to me that there were a few instances where President Clinton used his powers to declare disasters in a broader way than might have been anticipated. Please consider Question 3.

Question # 3:

Will we see broader or narrower use of the Presidential Disaster Declaration during the next term? From both angles, that is, how might we expect Bush to act vs. how we might expect Gore to respond? Feel free to guess!


John Anderson: If broader showed good results, expect broader to be used more, even under Bush.

Ray Pena: I think it will vary. These declarations are very political.

Elaine Sudanowicz: Extremely narrower use of Presidential disaster declarations.

Amy Sebring: My guess would be that in those cases which were "borderline." Gore would be more inclined to declare disasters, whereas, Bush would stick more closely to established guidelines and rely on FEMA recommendations.

Rick Tobin: Much narrower. That's been coming for years. More shift to state budgeting and planning for anticipated disasters. Why do you think EMAC has been so touted?

Claire Rubin: I think fewer, regardless of who wins.

Amy Sebring: Let's come back to the Witt issue raised earlier. Moving on to Question 4: FEMA Director James Lee Witt has no doubt had a significant impact on federal policy. The Disaster Mitigation Act we spoke of earlier can be seen as the outgrowth of his Project Impact initiative. Although the outcome is still up in the air, what is your guess on Question 4?

Question # 4:

Will James Lee Witt be re-appointed as FEMA Director? Will he accept?

Ray Pena: It would be nice. I don't expect it.

John Anderson: Yes and yes (just a guess).

Amy Sebring: My guess is Witt would accept another term to see the implementation of Disaster Mitigation Act through. Bush expressed great respect for Witt during the campaign. However, there was the little issue of the misstatements regarding visits to Texas.

Elaine Sudanowicz: I believe regardless of who is President, it would be wise to re-appoint James Lee Witt. However, he may not accept unless he can continue to achieve results and continue his initiatives.

Isabel McCurdy: I sure hope so.

Terry Storer: I would doubt that James LeeWitt would be re-appointed due to his active campaigning for the VP.

John Anderson: People, even politicians, like to be associated with success and heroism.

Amy Sebring: Bush may perhaps see Witt as closely aligned with Clinton/Gore politics?

Claire Rubin: Remember that both candidates owe a lot of people favors and jobs.

John Anderson: I think there will be some leverage on those appointments due to closeness of results.

Ray Pena: See Claire's response.

Amy Sebring: Ok, this was not on the list but if Bush wins and does NOT request Witt to stay on, who do you think he might consider appointing? Florida Director? Especially if Florida elects Bush? Joe Myers?

Elaine Sudanowicz: David Rodham.

Amy Sebring: Please explain who David Rodham is Elaine. Any other guesses or suggestions? Any favorites?

Claire Rubin: Rodham is from MA-- solid democratic!

Elaine Sudanowicz: David Rodham is past President of NEMA, former Director of MEMA, Former Executive Secretary of EOPS, and currently in FEMA Region 1 as Region 1 and a great Republican!

Ray Pena: A related question: Does Bush dare go back to appointing anyone, regardless of expertise, in the wake of Witt's excellence?

John Anderson: Ray..answer..NO he can let that one go easily, it's a gimme.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Elaine. Good question, Ray.

Amy Sebring: Do you think Bush will look more for expertise or pay back political support?

Elaine Sudanowicz: Bush picked Dick Cheney so he may go for experience and proven performance again.

Amy Sebring: I expect that for FEMA Director, he would be looking primarily for expertise but if he can achieve both at the same time, so much the better probably. Let's go on. For Question 5, let us assume that Bush will be the winner. The Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN) initiative is closely identified with Al Gore. After all, he invented the Internet, right? If you recall, an Executive Order was issued by President Clinton supporting GDIN. However, I don't believe any funds have been provided. In the session we did on this topic, we were told that the Executive Order would stand unless revoked by the next President.

Question # 5:

Will the GDIN initiative survive? If Bush is the winner?

Ray Pena: Maybe, but I'm not optimistic. The question for Bush: Is this important enough to care about? If there is strong private sector support that could sway Mr. Bush to support it.

Amy Sebring: I could see some limited funding provided, if Bush thought it were a limited effort perhaps, and a more or less voluntary effort with the private sector participating.

John Anderson: Nah, it goes ahead full bore - my guess.

Amy Sebring: Ok, let's go on. For the next question, let's also take it from the angle that Bush has won. You may recall there was a time when the Republicans were questioning the role of the USGS and suggesting that the private sector could provide the same services as the National Weather Service.

Question # 6:

Will the new President's budget priorities have an impact on the other agencies and disaster-related programs such as the USGS, NOAA/NWS, funding for research? EPA? DOT? If Bush gets these broad tax cuts, will it have an impact on existing programs?


Claire Rubin: Yes.

Ray Pena: Yes. Of course they will.

Linda Underwood: Yes.

John Anderson: Maybe.

Elaine Sudanowicz: You may see more R&D going into DoD that will be earmarked for dual use technology for civilian use.

Claire Rubin: Disaster research/preparedness funding is always precarious.

Keith Featherstone: Lots of cuts in programs and people

Amy Sebring: Do you think existing levels will be maintained, that is no growth, or do you think there will be across the board cuts?

Roger Kershaw: I would expect cuts in areas of duplicity at least. Seems to me these agencies have many overlapping research and programs.

Ray Pena: I think Roger is right. I think we can expect a hunt for duplication with an eye towards eliminating it.

Amy Sebring: I think EPA might take a bigger hit perhaps. Claire, would you agree?

Claire Rubin: I do not think that is true about duplication. EPA is primarily a regulatory agency and does not do a major amount of research re: hazards/disasters.

Amy Sebring: Let's continue. Disasters have perhaps even more impact internationally, especially on developing nations, already struggling with debt repayments. U.S. assistance seems to be on an ad hoc basis at times. There is also a difference between more conservative and more liberal attitudes towards the role of the United Nations. The campaigns focused more on the use of the military. However, what is the difference regarding the humanitarian use?

Question # 7:

Will the new President's attitude toward the international role of the U.S. have any impact on global cooperation? Please respond from either perspective as you wish.

Amy Sebring: Let's also get the Canadian perspective in on this one. What do our Canadian participants today think about the U.S. election, and what is happening in the Canadian election?


John Anderson: Offshore disasters of scale need international co-operation - I think any administration will help out there - but how?

Ray Pena: Absolutely.

Monica Zaccarelli: If I can expand on question 7, I work for the Pan American Health Organization and am very concerned with international cooperation. Our traditional counter part has been USAID/OFDA but after Mitch FEMA has been active in Central America. Most of us seem to think Director Witt will remain but do you think FEMA's role abroad will be strengthened with Bush? Any opinions on that?

Ray Pena: Monica - don't count on it, but don't be surprised either way.

Elaine Sudanowicz: There will be a shift in our commitments overseas for humanitarian assistance provided by the U.S. military.

Claire Rubin: International response is often driven by political and geopolitical considerations, not just humanitarian needs.

Amy Sebring: Again, I see more emphasis on NGOs with Bush but not necessarily more support.

John Anderson: We have no polarity - communism and democracy - anymore - room for more co-operation. NATO already has a deal on that one through P4P.

Amy Sebring: Please spell out P4P, John. Canadian views?

John Anderson: Partnerships for Peace - NATO & Russia. P4P = <http://hq.nato.int/docu/review/articles/9603-a.htm>.

Amy Sebring: What impact, if any, does this election have for Canada?

John Anderson: In our ice storms, a C5A and an Antonov responded - tell you anything? None, Canada will go Liberal. Question is minority or majority government.

Amy Sebring: Is Colin Powell being considered for Secretary of State? Will that have an impact?

John Anderson: Colin is highly respected everywhere

Ray Pena: Maybe. If so, yes.

Amy Sebring: Particularly in role of military?

Ray Pena: Yes.

John Anderson: Excellent choice.

Ray Pena: Mr. Powell is an extraordinary man.

Amy Sebring: Highly respected by many. Let's go on, as I watch the clock. As we mentioned earlier, the split in Congress also appears to be even, although I understand Republicans will continue to control, and therefore have the power of committee appointments etc. We have also seen the formation of the Natural Hazards Caucus in the Senate, and we understand they plan to move forward during January. I am also unclear as to what impact this election will have on the current budget battles. So we would appreciate hearing anything you may have heard on that. Let's take Questions 8 and 9 together.

Question # 8:

Will the Congressional outcome have any impact on disaster policies? and

Question # 9:

Will there be any serious effort in the next Congressional session to reduce disaster costs? At least the costs to the federal government?


Ray Pena: Yes for both.

Amy Sebring: I tend to agree that the next Congress will look more seriously at reducing disaster costs.

John Anderson: On costs - there should be - we can make a difference there :-) <http://www.waterbomber.com>.

Claire Rubin: Re #9: I think congress has been seriously concerned about costs for some years.

Elaine Sudanowicz: I think there will be scrutiny of the wildfires out west and continued discussions in Congress concerning those expenditures.

Amy Sebring: This may be just a shift in cost sharing.

Kevin Farrell: Privatize, privatize, privatize. It's the Republican line.

Ray Pena: Amy - I think you are right.

John Anderson: What about militarize, militarize, militarize?

Kevin Farrell: That too, John.

Amy Sebring: Somebody mentioned EMAC earlier. If that effort shows cost savings to the federal government, I would expect that approach to be supported.

John Anderson: Hard to get new-hires in a fire program in a burgeoning economy.

Amy Sebring: We hear that a lot, John.

Amy Sebring: We could probably do another whole session on impact for the Fire community in particular!

John Anderson: So change out the role of the military as they seem more ready to accept environment as a security item.

Claire Rubin: Gov. Bush has already said he wants the military to curtail their role.

Amy Sebring: Our final question is somewhat rhetorical. My experience is that we, those who are involved in the "disaster business" on a continuing basis, are heavily relied upon by elected officials to guide them, especially when the disaster hits. But that in matters of policy, before a disaster happens, we have a more limited role, and that other political factors may be determining, such as those we have been talking about today. Do you agree? Do we need to get more involved in determining policy? How do we do that?

Question # 10:

Will we constantly need to re-educate newly elected officials at every level?


Ray Pena: Yes, as we constantly need to educate and re-educate everyone we serve.

Elaine Sudanowicz: Amen!!

Isabel McCurdy: Yes for sure!!

Amy Sebring: And if you have any other thoughts regarding the election that we have not covered, please go ahead and put them in now.

Linda Underwood: Absolutely!

John Anderson: "When the roof is leaking and it's raining, it's too wet to fix; when the Sun comes out, the roof isn't leaking. Go figure. Do they really want to hear from us?

Amy Sebring: Terrorism seems to have a heavy focus and I expect that to continue. A significant natural disaster could have an unanticipated impact.

John Anderson: The Russians are moving on Afghanistan as we write.

Ray Pena: Remember our duty as public servants: make the most of available resources, including the commitment made by our political leaders.

Elaine Sudanowicz: I agree, we still need to continue preparedness of first responders concerning WMD incidents. We have an increase in school children playing with pepper spray. We need to educate.


Amy Sebring: Finally, one thing we can say about the election, it has been pretty exciting! Stay tuned! Thank you all very much for your participation today. I will have a transcript posted later on this afternoon.

Next week we will be meeting in the Tech Arena for a session on a training application called MUSTER. This is aimed primarily at the medical emergency response community, but I think you will find it quite interesting in the way that it provides for simulation of decision-making.

Please consider joining us then. We will adjourn the session for now, but please, give yourselves a round of applause for today!