EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — February 3, 2010

The Road Back
Long-Term Recovery and the 2008 Iowa Floods

David L. Miller
Iowa Homeland Security and 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/Iowa/IowaFloods.pdf for ease of printing.

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone. Welcome to EMforum.org. I am Amy Sebring and will serve as Moderator today. We are very glad you could join us.

Our topic today is "The Road Back: Long-Term Recovery From the 2008 Iowa Floods." With the recent emphasis on planning for long term recovery, we hope that hearing about actual experiences in this area will be helpful to you. And flooding in particular is a hazard in most areas, although we expect the challenges faced in long term recovery apply to many types of disasters.

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce today’s guest: David Miller serves as Administrator of the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division. He was originally appointed to the position in September 2004 and was reappointed January 2007. David has worked for the Division since August 1989 and has been involved with 17 presidentially declared disasters, as well as a number of state and local disaster declarations.

Before joining the Division, David served as Emergency Management Coordinator and 9-1-1 Director with Jackson County, Oregon and in 1986, became the 9-1-1 Director for Missoula County, Montana, where he served until returning to Iowa.

Please see today’s Background Page for additional biographical information and topic related links. Welcome David, and thank you very much for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


[Slide 1]

David L. Miller: Thanks, Amy. I appreciate it, and thanks for all of you that are joining in today. As we get started, I want to talk a few minutes and set the stage for what happened in Iowa and then focus the discussion really on the long-term disaster recovery issues, especially as we’re looking at long-term disaster recovery even in the context of putting together the National Recovery Framework.

[Slide 2]

This is a picture of downtown Cedar Rapids. It’s meant to illustrate this: we hadn’t had severe flooding in Cedar Rapids for decades, but the river runs right through the middle of town. What you’ll find out is that this construction in the middle of the river which looks like a battleship really is a courthouse. It’s city hall. Of course, everything is severely affected. The roadway is Interstate 380—it cuts through the heart of the city.

This is the downtown area. About 1,400 square blocks were affected. A lot of housing is in that area—a lot of low-income housing. A major part of the industrial base for the city of Cedar Rapids you’ll see along the river in an area downtown (this area down here is Quaker Oats). A city profoundly affected—and it’s only illustrative of a number of cities that were affected in our event.

[Slide 3]

Prior to the event, to set the stage and to talk about long-term recovery and how we do this, we need to talk about what set us up for this disaster. Prior to this one, our telltale event was the 1993 flood. In the 1993 flood, the amount of dollars that went just into the public assistance program was (and we’re using this as an indicator) about $163,000,000. That is very significant for Iowa. That’s a lot of money.

The truth is, before this one is over, the size of the 2008 flood will be about 1.3 billion dollars, so it’s significantly bigger than 1993. The storms that you see on your screen now (the February 2007 severe weather and ice storm, again a record setting snow, followed by flooding in May, more flooding and severe weather in August, and another ice storm in December), those storms together meant that we were already doing public assistance work greater than the 1993 episode. Then we had the 2008 flood.

The amount of work, what we were planning for, how we were working around it, how we staffed, what we were looking at long-term, was more of an issue than we thought. I think you hope for the best—that it isn’t going to happen—and then you have that historic telling event on top of what you’re already doing.

[Slide 4]

It started for us in Parkersburg on May 25. Severe storms, including large hail and tornados impacted the state—heavy rainfall ranging from 4 to 6 inches caused the flooding and flash flooding. Then, we had the destructive EF5 tornado crossed into 2 counties—most profoundly affecting the small town of Parkersburg. Its population is about 2,000 people. It also hit the small town of New Hartford—population of about 650.

Significant damage here—one of the things to consider (and we did here) is normally tornados are not declared Presidential disasters. Part of the reason is that there’s a high degree of insured loss. When we saw the devastation in this one, as the picture indicates, not only did we feel we were going to ask for a major disaster declaration, we asked for an emergency declaration.

If you’re a state agency and you haven’t done so, I encourage you to sit down with your FEMA folks and talk about the different types of declarations and how you would execute them and under what circumstance. You both have emergency and major disaster. We decided to use emergency here because of the level of devastation and really to send the political message that said, "We want to assure citizens that help is on the way."

We don’t want to tell them that we have to go out and do a damage assessment when we can see the damage with one look—about half of the town was gone. We want them to know that FEMA is coming to help. For the first time that I remember in the twenty years I’ve been with the agency, we actually asked for an emergency declaration. Normally we’re asking for major disaster.

[Slide 5]

This is the Parkersburg school. The school played a significant role. It is the cornerstone of the town. It is what the town coalesces around. It is that central piece. Fortunately on May 25, school has let out for the weekend. There weren’t students in the building. It was completely devastated and almost entirely destroyed.

But it did bring out the whole issue of school and school safety considerations, which play into how we rebuild in Iowa. I’ll talk about that when we talk about the longer-term issues.

[Slide 6]

This is the small town of Attica. Attica is in south central Iowa in Marion County. It’s a small town of fewer than 300. This tornado hit the following week. What we couldn’t do in terms of tornados is connect weather events.

While Parkersburg was so devastating and we had asked for a Presidential (again, tornados normally aren’t declared Presidential because most of it is insured loss, and in our state we have a high rate of insurance) the fact is, we were faced with probably telling the citizens of Attica, "You’re not going to be covered by a Presidential," and telling the city of Parkersburg that they were, and explaining that to citizens, what the differences are, would be near impossible. We knew that.

If I had the same kind of damages they had in Parkersburg, why wouldn’t I be covered under another declaration? The truth is we could not connect the weather events that would cause this to stand alone in its damages and carry its own Presidential. The damage just wasn’t there. That’s a very difficult thing to explain to city officials and citizens.

In the long term, we got to connect them, not because of the tornado activity, but because of the flooding and severe weather event that put this all together beginning in May and extending into August, later that summer.

[Slide 7]

This is the beginning of the flooding. It started in north central Iowa in Mason City. The Winnebago River crested at 18.75 feet, setting a new record. It closed their water plant. One of the other things we learned in part of process of going through these floodings is if we could shut down critical facilities in an orderly way in anticipation of the flood, it allowed us to bring them up quicker once the flooding subsided.

That’s what worked in Mason City. It wasn’t that the water plant wasn’t inundated, but because they were able to shut it down and were able to take these protective measures on the front end, it took much less time to bring it up and have it running in a few days instead of a month or two.

[Slide 8]

When we thought it was all over, on the other side of the state, on the western side of the state, and actually it was after a full day of work for the governor—he had been out visiting damage sites all day and had come back to the EOC, about 7 p.m. that night. We had just sat down to eat and discuss what he had seen that day.

This tornado struck at the Little Sioux Boy Scout Ranch in Monona County is western Iowa. Four fatalities here, 48 injuries, it virtually destroyed the site—even if there was thought of a safe room, I’ll put it this way, there was no safe room, but there was nothing safe in the area. They did get warning, minimum warning, but they did get some warning. There simply wasn’t any place to hide. The dot on the map shows you what part of the state this occurred in.

[Slide 9, 10]

As that’s going on, this next slide also shows that in area, remember I told you, Parkersburg, there was a little town just east of there, New Hartford, that was affected by the tornado. About a week later, it also was affected by the flood. You had a lot of repetitive damage, or consequential damage that was exacerbated by the flood. It almost destroyed this small town, but it was the telling of things to come later that summer.

[Slide 11]

As the floodwaters went downstream, it affected the city of Cedar Falls-Waterloo. What this picture is really representing is that they were able to take a number of protective measures. We had done a lot of hazard mitigation program work in Cedar Falls and removed a number of structures from the floodplain and protected a number of others.

Because this was a record setting flood (and we’re talking record not by a few inches but by feet)—again, they were inundated—it’s caused them to go look at their long-term policies. This is one I think is important as we talk about policy making in the longer-term. It is another area to keep in mind.

[Slide 12]

Again, this is Cedar Rapids. We already talked about that. Their flood hit on June 13 at 19.12 feet. That’s 19.12 feet above flood stage and 11.12 feet above the previous record which was in 1929 and 1851. It had been a long time since they were affected this way. More than 3,000 homes were impacted. This is Iowa’s second largest city. Hundreds were destroyed. For a population comparison, Cedar Rapids has a population of about 121,000.

[Slide 13]

This is more of downtown Cedar Rapids. If you see these houses on the bridge, they were actually illegal housing projects. Up river, a considerable distance from this bridge, there’s a little place called Ellis Park. Along Ellis Park, you had a number of boat houses that were actually illegal. But the boat houses lost their anchor, and came down, ran into this bridge, in effect destroyed this bridge, as they knocked it off footings, and created quite an impact. It’s another regulatory area that we began to look at in the longer term.

[Slide 14]

To give you an idea of the extent of the flooding, this is a map of Cedar Rapids. This dark blue area here is the river, the floodway. The lighter blue is the 100 year flood plan. The grey area is the 500 year flood plan. The orange outlined in red area, this pinkish area—that’s what actually flooded. To say that we had a flood of historic proportions would be an understatement.

Since we work for government, I can’t always say, "a flood of Biblical proportions", but this one definitely fit that kind of description. This was far outside anything we were able to plan for or anticipate or expected. The devastation was significant.

[Slide 15]

This is downstream a little bit. Actually, it’s a separate river basin. This is Iowa City. Again, this talks to your longer-term planning issues and how we do mitigation and how we do community planning as a whole.

These are public buildings. This is Hancher Auditorium. There are fine arts buildings here. This is a performing arts building. There are other buildings affected up here. The university’s property extends on both sides of the river down through the city in this manner. Probably one of the biggest violators of building in the floodplain and violators of flood insurance tend to be our public entities.

While this is beautiful real estate with a nice overview of the river, it is definitely in the 100 year flood plan. The other part of this, the good news in this story, is because of the ‘93 flood and what had happened, the border regions, the university, had bought flood insurance. At least they mitigated from that extent.

They were able to have notice. They did move valuable artwork from the property, which was another planned effort. They did move all the band instruments from the performing arts area. They were able to do a lot of mitigated things to lessen their damage, and they had a high degree of insurance on the contents and on the buildings.

Nevertheless, this was a very high price structure that was built in the floodplain, and now we’re considering where we’re going to move it to get it out of this situation, to afford it the protection it really needs.

[Slide 16]

This is the small town of Oakville in south eastern of Iowa as the flood waters continued down south. What’s important about Oakville is this—it’s a very small town, there wasn’t one structure that wasn’t inundated with flood water. The other part of this is the long-term future of this small town and this city.

It has one business (a grain-milling plant). It has a few hundred residents. It has one road in and out of this small town. It is built behind a protective levee. The levee was breached in two places. One of the big items of discussion is—do you allow these kinds of communities to rebuild, (and they are in the process of rebuilding) or do you simply say, "We’re going to execute programs, tie them together to relocate these folks out of harms way"?

[Slide 17]

This is in Des Moines, in Polk County. We were flooded again. I use it as an illustration. When flood waters came out, and there was some building after the ‘93 flood behind the levee structure. The levee structure sits clear back in here, in this area. The levee was topped. It was not breached—it was topped. Water came in.

One of the things that happened in long-term policy after the ‘93 flood is we bought out a lot of these areas. This is one where we didn’t. After they built the levee and built it a foot above the 100 year flood stage, they allowed for re-development. There was actually a suit between the city of Des Moines and FEMA to talk about what had been purchased with hazard mitigation grant money, and what was allowed to re-develop.

FEMA lost. A lot of the city did re-develop in areas like this. Of course, these homes were affected again as the levee topped. That again, is a long-term discussion to have in your communities, a long-term issue that needs to be there as you try to weigh risk and risk reduction by removing flood-prone properties as you counter that with economic development in these areas. This is just another illustrative example of what happened in this event.

[Slide 18]

I want to jump ahead and kind of do it by the numbers. As we do that, Iowa has 99 counties. Eighty-six counties were covered. It affected about 45,000 square miles. We have about 950 cities, villages, and towns in our state. Seven hundred of them were affected. We had 18 fatalities in a weather event that began on May 25 with a tornado in Parkersburg and extended through the summer, and flood waters were not out of the state until the middle of August.

Thirty-eight thousand people were displaced. For some, in major populated areas, that seems like a little, but for Iowa, that’s a lot. Our total state population is about 3 million folks. A number of state roads and highways were closed. A number of secondary roads were damaged. The good news is that Iowa has a road about every square mile. That means in this case we have many points of ingress and egress out of an area which makes transportation issues a little bit easier. Nevertheless, we did have areas like Oakville that became very, very isolated.

[Slide 19]

More than a million animals were placed in rescue shelters. We had a good working relationship with The Humane Society and other folks that took care of animals. We distributed more than 6 million sandbags—and that’s what the state did, let alone what we got from the Corps of Engineers. We distributed thousands of gallons of drinking water to communities whose water plants had been inundated. It was a pretty extensive disaster for us.

[Slide 20]

This is a map of Iowa. It shows you the counties that were affected. The reason it is different colored is that some of those were public assistance, others were individual assistance, and others were both. One of the things I ask you to notice is this—this little Jefferson County area. This gets to the issue of damage and damage assessment.

If you look at river basins in Iowa, you’ll find that not a lot flows through Jefferson County, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t affected at all. We consistently asked the question, "Are you sure you’re not seeing damages? Are you sure there’s not something that we need to look at down here that tells us we want to include you in a Presidential declaration request?" There wasn’t. We went back repetitively and asked. The politics of it, though, is when you see everybody declared around you, your local officials and your citizens are going to begin to wonder—why weren’t we declared? What was unique about us that we weren’t declared?

It wasn’t that we weren’t affected; we just weren’t affected as profoundly. When we do those requests, we begin to look at those spots. We have another pocket over here. These are severe weather, more of the tornado events, up in this area, and less the flooding events. The flooding started up in this area, actually in Cerro Gordo County, a little bit over here, extended mostly this way in the state, even though we did get severe weather events over here.

[Slide 21]

The Individual Assistance Program—this is kind of a mid-course review, the numbers are still, while we have pretty much closed the program on individual assistance this year and one half later—about $138 million approved for housing and other needs assistance, and $272 million in loans to renters, homeowners and business. We worked with FEMA and a number of partners in the Individual Assistance Program.

We do manage our own ONA (Other Needs Assistance Program) in the state of Iowa. It helps with home repair, disaster related funeral, dental, medical expenses—all those things that you folks see in ONA programs.

What I want you to pay attention to, though, is the $272 million in loans to renters, homeowners, and businesses. A lot of that is small business administration loans. One of the difficulties that we had is not getting SBA to tell us what they did, but to tell us what they refused. The reason that became important is because of the gap.

[Slide 22]

One of the things we had to look at in the longer term are the unmet needs. One of the problem areas that we have in doing the assessments is that the damage assessments that are done with FEMA and joint PDAs are largely programmatic. They are meant to figure out—do you have enough eligible costs to turn on the programs in this area.

Oftentimes when you meet the threshold, you go on to the next county, which means you never get an accurate record, even programmatically, of what the real level of damages are, at least not until weeks, if not months, after the disaster occurs. In our case, it was also a year before all the worksheets were written to get an idea of what was even eligible under the program.

As we looked at it, and we looked at eligibility and we looked at statements of need and all the damages, we began to find huge unmet need gaps. As this slide illustrates, about $817 million was obligated from the Public Assistance funding. We’re expected to reach $1.3 billion, 10,000 projects, and we all know what it’s for.

[Slide 23]

The unmet need in housing alone is about $893 million. I think that’s an important part to remember. As you look through this, and you’re looking at long-term recovery, there is a lot these programs simply can’t deal with. It doesn’t mean the need isn’t there, it’s what can be brought to bear to fill in those gaps.

In the Hazards Mitigation Program, we’re looking at 246 projects in development and those would total $589 million. Right now we’re at 83 projects that are being awarded. We are still behind the curve at $102 million. We’re doing a lot of property acquisition buyouts and we’ll talk a little bit about how that complicates economic development.

We’ve been promoting construction of tornado safe rooms. The picture you see is a tornado safe room that was built a number of years ago at the state fair ground, in partnership with the university and with the fair board. It acts as a restroom facility for the campgrounds. For the campground around the fair (we have one of the largest state fairs in the United States), frankly, there isn’t any place to anybody to go in a severe weather event. That’s one of the reasons this safe room was built.

[Slide 24]

One of the other things—we’ll begin to talk about long-term recovery now—one of the things the State of Iowa did, and it was a lesson learned from a number of other communities, including the effort that had happened in Louisiana, is the governor put together an executive order to do the Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission. It’s a bipartisan commission with a lot of citizens, various advocacy groups, and they were from all over the state, not just the most affected areas, but from all over the state.

The effort was to build back stronger and better than we were before. We realized that would require a state strategy to do that and Iowans throughout the state needed to buy into the process. That’s why the commission was formed. To support it, he also ordered the Rebuild Iowa Office to be implemented. It is to coordinate the recovery efforts. By that, there’s a piece in here, and a lot of people asked why it wasn’t coordinated through our agency.

The truth is, our agency plays a role in it, and nobody staffs for this level of recovery. You begin to put these pieces together. Whether it was established under our authority or a separate authority, the office still needed to be established and it needed to be staffed. From the governor’s office, and the executive branch, he said that he would pull all the experts and the people he needed to pull in that office.

In other words, he was going to tap into the state agency. Bring not your lower level people, but your best people into the Rebuild Iowa Office to look at the longer range issue, to look at policy and policy development, to look at programs, how they were married and matched together to be the most effective. That’s what the Rebuild Iowa Office does.

We are a part of that. We work closely both with the commission and the office. We talk about the programs that we directly administer. We influence those that are administered by others. We try to work in a coordinated way to ensure we optimize the programmatic and the dollars that come to us.

[Slide 25]

So far, the Rebuild Iowa recovery effort has $3.6 billion allocated to it. It comes from a variety of grant mechanisms—everything from the Community Disaster Block Grant Funds, which has a lot of flexibility in them, to the $302 million that comes through the Department of Agriculture. We had thousands of acres of farmland that were affected over the summer.

Another $418 million—the Iowa Finance Authority folks are much like the housing authorities in your state. They executed a system of tax credits for both businesses and developers to rebuild our communities.

The Jumpstart Housing and Business Programs, for the first time in this state, the legislature actually allocated dollars to Jumpstart Housing and Business Programs and to try to do it in advance of the federal dollars, or in anticipation of the federal dollars we had. There’s a delay and a lag time in turning on the programs and getting dollars out the dollar. The Jumpstart Programs were meant to meet that gap.

The hardship here was simply that if you do things in advance of a federal undertaking, without the agreement of federal authorities, there’s a good chance if you’re looking to be reimbursed by those federal dollars, and you don’t have an agreement from the feds ahead of time, you’re not going to get that reimbursement. That had to be taken into consideration.

The other part is something most of you are used to hearing, and that is "duplication of benefit." Our programs were not a duplicate of what was going on in the federal side. It made executing and implementing the Jumpstart Programs a little bit difficult and a little bit tricky, but we think we found solutions to those problems. The programs are now working together fairly well hand in hand.

Another $35 million from the Department of Transportation—most of that is for federal highways.

[Slide 26]

There are a number of long-term issues that have come our way. One is, and I’ll start at the beginning, is the assessment of need. When we went out in the state, what we were fighting was we didn’t have good damage assessment. We had to begin to look at the whole area and where we were finding gaps.

In our housing needs and housing needs assessment, the gap between what we thought we’d be able to do for buyouts, what we thought about what we would need to do for repairs, beyond what was allowed in FEMA programs—that gap was around $800 million. We began things like the Jumpstart Programs to at least give people up front money to begin to fill those gaps.

As you put together your long-term strategies, these are the kinds of things you’re going to have to consider. The other part for us was simply what was happening with SBA. If I look at that part of it, not only for homeowners and for businesses, but what was important to find out the number of loans that were being offered, but what was probably more important to discuss with SBA is if they could tell us the refusals.

The refusals indicated an unmet gap. What it meant was that people either couldn’t afford a loan, weren’t eligible for a loan—it doesn’t mean that didn’t have the need. The question was how it was going to be addressed. I completely understand why SBA frankly does not loan money—if they were a bad risk prior to the flood, there’s a chance they were a bad risk during the flood. There’s a good chance they won’t repay the loan, which is why they can repay the loan.

But it doesn’t mean they don’t have a need. The question is how you’re going to begin to address that need.

The other part of that, as we looked at recovery, was public assistance programs. We’re going to put a lot into eligible repairs for public assistance programs, but again, not everything is eligible. You begin to look at that, and the question is: Are you going to take the opportunity to build things back better?

In Iowa, we have a pretty good record of using 406 mitigation, public assistance mitigation programs, our public assistance projects as we review them for mitigation opportunities, and we’re at about a 26% level, which means we take the extra time to do that. As you build into recovery, I would encourage you to take that time to look at projects and the mitigation opportunities.

It does mean doing a lot of pre-disaster planning, and to begin to look at new standards, to look at new opportunities to mitigate, to look at how it affects community and community development and to have a plan in mind. Doing this piecemeal as you’re looking at damage and then talking about it isn’t the time to do the pre-disaster recovery planning that allows you to build back better and stronger.

The other parts of this, as we’re going through it and looking at programs that frankly, don’t meet our criteria. There are little programs, for instance in our housing area, for landlords. We have them for some commercial sites, you have them from a business perspective. You’re going to have a lot of landlords who own property that are not going to be able to recover under FEMA because it’s not a primary residence. They may or may not qualify under SBA because they may not be a business, but they are a landlord.

Again, it shows up in the housing shortage and the unmet need. We begin to look at programs for landlords to begin to fill that gap. Same thing in the business and business redevelopment—if a business was failing, you may or may not want it back in your community, but the question is, what are you going to attract in your community to rebuild, to reestablish the tax base, to revitalize your downtown area like we are trying to do in Cedar Rapids.

The last area for me is really how we go about mitigation. There’s a tendency in the emergency management world to always look at mitigation as simply removing the threatened structure. We’ve done a lot of property acquisition in the state of Iowa, and we’ve removed a lot of repetitive loss structures—either those defined by FEMA, or those that we have determined from our own assessments are repetitively damaged structures.

We have a pretty good record of doing that. But as we go through it, when we are involved in lots and lots of voidance, communities are beginning to ask questions about redevelopment in these areas and we’re at an interesting part in Iowa as we have this discussion. Some time ago, the legislature established what’s called Water Resource Coordinating Council. It was originally about water quality.

While I sit on the counsel, I remember the first meeting, I asked, "Why am I here?" I’m about water quantity, not quality. If there’s not enough water, we get involved, and if there’s too much water, we get involved, but we don’t have a lot to do with the quality of the water. The truth is, what we do in emergency management began to really affect the quality issues and what they are trying to do in the Water Resource Coordinating Council.

The interesting dynamic is their efforts over the last year have been largely about floodplain and floodplain management. We went from being a state with not a lot of flood insurance participation to looking at legislation that required communities to be in the floodplain program, required citizens if they were designated to be in the 100 year floodplain to buy insurance, or they get no state assistance as we walk through these programs, and there is a state share.

They may or may not be eligible for federal assistance. Then, something really unusual happened as this came out. We went from a state—we weren’t aggressive enough in our floodplain regulation in many areas, even in the 100 year flood plain, to now a state that is discussing regulation in the 500 year flood plain.

One of our communities—that community of Cedar Falls—actually has passed local ordinance looking at 500 year floodplain regulation. It’s going to be an interesting dynamic and how they balance that, the cost of implementing that, the cost of their community for a lack of economic development. There is a bill in the state legislature this year that discusses the same thing.

At a recent budget meeting, I was asked that question, and I said, "Frankly, you’re in a dilemma." The dilemma is using the cost-benefit analysis model to look at the threat indicators, the probability of it occurring; balancing that with the money you’re willing to invest in mitigation and into a regulatory environment to look at the 500 year flood plain, balanced with what you want to do in rebuilding communities and economic development.

If you go back to that small town of Oakville, because it’s protected by a levee. They want to rebuild the levee because there is a business there. They want the opportunity to rebuild. Right now, they are rebuilding. The most difficult question in situations like that, and in spots all over Iowa, and in spots I venture to say in every state is, "Do you allow these communities to rebuild?"

Frankly, if we went to 500 year floodplain regulation and did not allow rebuilding, the small town of Oakville would cease to exist. Those are huge policy decisions as we look at longer-term recovery in the state.

One of the things, and then I’ll leave it for the questions, that we wanted to talk about in this state is how we put together that strategy. Again, that is what Rebuild Iowa Office exists for. In Iowa a number of years ago, there used to be Office of Program Planning and Development. The function of the office was to balance these competing interests and look at comprehensive planning throughout our communities.

It was divided up and it went away. Some of the planning efforts came to Emergency Management; some went to Economic Development; the budget considerations went to our Department of Management; other planning considerations went to the Department of Natural Resources for an environmental piece. What was lacking was a place to bring all those interests together and look at them comprehensively.

One of the initiatives out of the Rebuild Iowa Office is to do what we call "smart planning" and require our counties and cities to do smart planning and begin to look at these things more comprehensively. This isn’t just to look at the development part, but to look at how we plan in and around emergencies, how we begin to mitigate and use risk and loss reduction strategies in our community, how we plan not just in a watershed, but within a water base and understanding cause and effect up and down stream in our communities. It is a broader, more comprehensive approach. I think it is a way to go and a way to look into the future of what needs to happen.

The last thing I’ll leave you with is a meeting I was in yesterday, which brings us to a different dynamic. Yesterday, I was in a meeting with the National Commission for Children in Disasters. It put a nuance in planning that frankly, I think many of us forget. When you look at emergency management planning, we tend to do it based on a risk, based on who has responsibility of various areas, functions of what we do, and the resources we can bring to bear.

What we don’t pay attention to in my mind, or at least in Iowa, I can’t say this in every state, is we don’t have a good record of looking at the demographics of what we’re planning for. In this case, the discussion was about the unique needs of children. There wasn’t a suggestion that we write a separate annex or a separate plan for children.

The suggestion was that we look at the demographics within our communities, and begin to take into consideration populations and population needs, whether it’s special needs populations, whether it’s children in disasters—that we begin to address, not just the risk, but the functions that we need to perform, that we really understand and work with the demographics in our community. That means broadening our planning horizons. It means inviting more people into the planning process.

The caution that I told the commission is that you can’t put all of this on emergency managers. Planning is a community effort and it requires a number of people to be in that room to do a comprehensive plan, to make sure things are interconnected. My point was to do it before the disaster, not after. What you saw in evidence in our slides is why we’ve done a pretty good job of looking at this and pointing to the long-term. It happened after the event, and not before the event as it should have.

With that I will close and be open to any questions.

Amy Sebring: Thanks very much for the overview David. Now, to proceed to our Q&A.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Isabel McCurdy: David, do you have a list of what were the unmet needs?

David L. Miller: We did in a number of areas. Some you could anticipate. Housing, of course, was our chief issue. We began with how we were treating historical sites, how we dealt with certain private non-profits that may not have been eligible under federal programs. Not all are—some are, but not all are. As we began to discuss things with landlords, as we began to look at the needs of communities and what to rebuild for daycare centers and those issues.

As we began to look at our schools—in Cedar Rapids, one of the areas, FEMA would cover the damage in repairing the schools, as we were looking at it, they would not do initially, up front, they would not do the school administrative building which had been destroyed. We ended up having to build a new site to put the administrative building back so they could begin to school planning and figure out what they were going to do with school districts.

As you go out and have these listening sessions in the communities which we did all over the state, you begin to discover those unmet needs. I would tell you all, if you want to look at that unmet need report, it’s actually on the Rebuild Iowa Office (RIO) website. There is a 45-day report and a 90-day report. The unmet needs information is in there. That is at http://www.rio.iowa.gov.

Amy Sebring: I think you intended to come back to, speaking of schools. You showed that one slide of the small town where the school had been wiped out by the tornado. Was there some strategy developed for rebuilding that school?

David L. Miller: Yes, Amy, and I’m sorry—I did forget that part. As we looked at it in our policy development, one of the things we did (and you’ll find it on the RIO website as well as ours) is to begin to look at some of the legislative initiatives that resulted from this planning effort. Much of what was recommended by the commission that came out in their 45 and 90 day reports actually have now been incorporated into some piece of legislation. Some have been more successful than others as we move through the state.

In this case, one of the things we wanted to do, and we asked, is that we required tornado safe rooms in all new public buildings. We didn’t get there. What they asked us to do was go back and visit with the fire marshal’s office, who has oversight in our state for building and building codes, and to work with a number of groups to develop the standard for safe rooms. Of course, from our point, we’re looking at FEMA’s standard because we want to optimize federal grants.

At least we made some inroads. The good news for schools is, hearing our discussion, a number of the schools that were damaged, when they rebuild, are putting in tornado safe rooms as part of their school rebuilding effort. While we weren’t able to mandate it legislatively, we’re making progress in that area. The next part, though, is to look at all new public construction and talk about building them smarter and safer.

Bob Goldhammer: Dave, you mentioned early in the presentation the difficulty you(we) experience in trying to explain why or why not a community gets a declaration. I know this same problem applies to explaining necessary changes to FIRM maps. The "New FEMA flood maps error-filled, critics say" article in the Des Moines Register on January 25th is a good example of the situation. With the recent forecast from the NWS office in Johnston (February 1st Des Moines Register article "Much of Iowa seen at significant risk of spring flooding"), and the newly introduced state and local legislation, wouldn't getting the Cedar Rapids flood area map with the different shadings especially the orange area out to the public NOW be a simple and fast way to help depict the justification AND NEED for updates so that we don't repeat the disaster? It worked with getting the City of Des Moines to update its tornado siren coverage back in the late 90's.

David L. Miller: Bob’s question is lengthy, but I think it brings together a couple of points I want to make. When we have discussions early on with the RIO the discussion of floodplain and floodplain mapping was key in their minds. The question is, how current are our maps? And frankly, a lot of our maps are very out-of-date in Iowa. Much to the surprise of many, much of Iowa has not been mapped.

Part of that is because we are very rural in our nature. Rather than complain about the lack of mapping and the lack of investment from the federal government, because frankly, the federal strategy on flood map modernization was to do those areas that were likely to be flooded, but also those areas with higher property value, based on the businesses and populations that were there.

You’re looking at population-dense areas. Areas like Iowa, especially our rural areas, if we waited for map modernizations, they’re never going to get mapped. What we did instead is look for money through economic development (grant programs) to invest in our own agencies, in our case, the Department of Natural Resources, to use LiDAR maps. (I can’t remember the acronym—it’s a digital, laser kind of mapping.) It’s highly technical, it gives us a stronger base map to build the hydrological data on. It gives us a stronger flood map. Right now, as FEMA maps, as they’re redoing them and looking at this, may or may not be out of date, or may be off.

I think the answer in contesting it is looking at a stronger system of mapping that communities can take an advantage of and that we can look at based on our own information, our own data and ability to collect and manage that, and then selling it, in effect, that information (and I don’t mean that in dollars and cents), but selling that to FEMA to say, "This is a better map than what you were able to produce. We want to use these as our flood plain maps."

We’re in the process of doing that, knowing that we wouldn’t get them otherwise. That project is going to take awhile. The problem with the FEMA flood mapping part right now for us, is even if communities wanted to fight, and the city of Oakville, one of the news articles that Bob referred to is with the city of Oakville, had their new maps—allegedly, they are not built on good data and they are inconsistent with what the people down there feel they know about their area and the flooding.

I can’t say that they are incorrect. To tell you the truth, I have not looked at them. The point is, for the community to fight them is going to cost them a lot of money. For the community to pay to update them is going to cost them a lot of money. You’re in for a long-term argument, and in the meantime a lot of policy things around flood mapping are going to happen to you.

Who has to buy flood insurance and who doesn’t? Who is in the 100 year floodplain? Who isn’t? Are we going to allow rebuilding? Are you going to rebuild and to what standards? There’s a whole area of program and policy considerations there. For us, it’s based on that flood map, and we need to go back and do it smarter for our own state.

The technology is there that allows us to do it, and we agreed to make that investment, both in what we got the state legislature and how we’re optimizing those grant dollars. It’s looking for those opportunities, I think, that will make us better as a state, and it’s looking at it long-term that will make us better as a state.

We’re not quite there yet, but we are making more progress after this 2008 flood than I have seen in the 20 years that I’ve been with the agency. We are getting there.

FEMA also is looking at something, I heard at the National Emergency Management Association Conference, and maybe you guys have heard at your international conference. They are looking at doing, not just flood plain mapping, but risk mapping. That’s very interesting to me—how we look at all the risks in their entirety throughout, and get a better idea of risk and risk assessment and how that has to do with in effect, how we mitigate, how we do community planning, about all our insurance costs and all those other policy issues that come with that.

Working in those areas, in our case, it is going to require some state investment. The good news is that the state is willing to invest, which allows us to make progress and perhaps better leverage the federal dollars that come our way.

Bill Johnson: Please expand on the Iowa Jump Start program - specifically, was this an attempt by your agency or the state to meet gaps in Federal and Other disaster funding programs?

David L. Miller: What happens is homeowners, in particular, feel like they’re caught in a gap. I have a mortgage that I’m paying that I’m waiting on federal assistance on. In the meantime, I’m in another house and I’m on a relocate. It’s undecided yet whether I’m going to participate in the hazard mitigation program, because the community hasn’t decided yet, or if I’m going to be bought out with the community development block grant money.

What we tried to do, and what communities tried to do is fill that gap. Here’s some assistance that will help you bridge that because of the cash flow problems that are created in the programs. There’s a lot of discussion about how effective that could be—what programs need to be paid back once the dollars come through. A lot of the discussion is about the duplication of benefit.

A lot of the discussion, even though it is a state program, is about if we’re looking for federal reimbursements as we go along in this area, are we not going to get them because we did it in advance of approval of a federal undertaking, given a hazard mitigation program. They are difficult issues, yet we did it mostly on housing up front. We began to also see it in businesses, and how we tried to revitalize and move businesses to fill the gaps between what they may get from SBA and what they really needed.

To get more information about it, you really want to talk to our folks in Economic Development, and you could do that through the Rebuild Iowa website as well. Jumpstart is an interesting program. It’s fairly unique. We had not done it before. It has had its hiccups, its starts and stops, and issues, but by and large, I think it has worked very well and it fills a gap that we recognized in how we delivered the federal part of our assistance.

JoAnn: Does Iowa law give counties land use and zoning authority? Unfortunately, my state does not which makes "smart planning" almost impossible in rapidly urbanizing areas that are still rural at this time.

David L. Miller: The answer is yes, it does. The question is: Will they execute it? What I found, when I go back up to Cedar Falls, one of the people who sits on the city council is a university professor and Kamyar is very involved in the issues of flood plain and flood plain management. It’s part of what he teaches; it’s part of what he does; it’s a real concern for him.

What he explained to me is part of that dynamic. It is the competing interest in the community that we talked about. He came to the state and asked us to be more stringent in our floodplain regulation. I said, "Kamyar, you have that ability to do that as a city council. If you want more stringent regulation in the city, why aren’t you doing it? You have the power to do that."

A lot of it is the competing interest. What happens is, you go to one board in the county that looks to a more stringent regulation, and you go to another board in the county and they want to waive it for economic development purposes. They grant a waiver to the regulation we set forth. You get a city council or a county board supervisor that gets caught in between, and the politics of it. It doesn’t make good policy development.

It’s not as simple as writing the policy. The devil is in the details and in the implementation. While Cedar Falls has taken that step forward, I’m very interested to see how far they’re willing to go in the implementation and the regulation that’s necessary to implement the new regulation they put forward. It’s going to be an interesting piece to see if they’ll really back down when the political pressure is put on them and it compromises their ability to develop in their community. They have the power. The question is: Do they have the political will?

Donovan Puffer: Can you talk about the impact on agriculture in the 2008 Iowa floods, and what role agricultural recovery assistance programs played, or should have played, in Iowa's long-term recovery efforts?

David L. Miller: Agriculture is always a difficult issue for us. It’s hard to get an assessment and part of the reason it’s hard, as I understand it, even though I’m an Iowa boy, grew up, I’m not a farmer. I’ve been trying to understand this for the 20 years I’ve been there. Part of it is, the discussion when you’re looking at agriculture, is there any opportunity to recover? What’s the level of insurance? Can they replant? Is the damage to structure or to crops or animals?

There are a number of issues that are there. It’s more complicated now in that you have small operations, and the question is—are they businesses or are they agriculture? That all becomes part of the discussion. Getting a good assessment on agriculture and the true impact has always been difficult. They had in the early estimates about $3.5 billion crop loss in agriculture, and that was early on.

The other is, what we often here about USDA programs is that they come in the way of loans. Farmers don’t necessarily want loans; they need grants, as well as others. They are often under funded, so there isn’t enough money in the programs. Agriculture is a difficult issue. In our state, our Secretary of Agriculture is elected. We have a pretty good relationship with them, but a lot of that falls under them.

A lot of this falls under USDA and their relationship with farmers, which means the states are out of that picture. There’s a direct relationship with the Farmer Service Agency and the farmer. It’s a hard one to get your arms around. My fear is, I’ll put it this way, for 2008 we didn’t hear a lot from farmers like we did in the ‘93 flood. I don’t think it’s because there weren’t damages there—I think they were significant.

What has caused me the most concern is that I’m not hearing from farmers and their ability to recover. But the whole structure of farming has changed in this nation as well, and that may have something to do it as we look at larger corporate farms. The small ones that are doing wineries and apple orchards—whether they’re businesses or farms—there are a lot of difficult issues in agriculture.

Amy Sebring: Overall, where do you stand today? How many years are you looking at? I think you still have people in temporary housing. What kind of progress are you seeing?

David L. Miller: The progress has been significant. I know everybody, if you’re in a disaster recovery situation, is looking for things to move faster—whether it’s faster in housing areas, whether it’s faster in business areas, whether it’s faster in infrastructure—everybody wants you to move at light speed.

We had a saying with our governor, and I tried to get in to him earlier, he’s a first term governor. It simply said, "If you thought response was bad, when we took all year in response (from May through August), if you think that’s bad—response is a sprint, recovery is a marathon." We figured we be in recovery from this event, just programmatically, for about 5 years. That’s based on the experience we’ve had from other major disasters that have affected the state.

Truth is, actual recovery will be much longer than that, as communities look to redevelop, reestablish their back space and rebuild. I think that’s part of the discussion that has to go on. In summary, for me, what I’m seeing that’s encouraging, is probably unlike some other things we did before, there’s a real sense of partnership and commitment by communities, by the state and by the feds to look at longer-term recovery issues and get beyond just the programmatic timeframes that are set for us. I think that’s very encouraging to us all.


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. Thanks very much David for an excellent job, and taking the time to share this information with us. We hope you enjoyed it. We wish you continued success in your efforts at helping Iowans with their long term recovery.

Again, the recording should be available later this afternoon. If you are not on our mailing list and would like to get notices of future sessions and availability of transcripts, just go to our home page to Subscribe.

Please make plans to join us next time on Wednesday, February 24th. We are very excited to announce our guest will be Jason McNamara, FEMA Chief of Staff. He will join us to discuss the emergency management aspects of the Homeland Security Quadrennial Review report that was released earlier this week.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. Please join us next time. We stand adjourned. Have a great day everyone!