Washington Update

FEMA Releases World Trade Center Building Performance Study

The collapse of the twin towers in New York resulted in the largest loss of life from any single building collapse in U.S. history. Of the 58,000 people estimated to be at the World Trade Center complex that day, nearly 3,000 lost their lives. Structural damage combined with the ensuing fires resulted in the total collapse of each building, and, as the towers fell, massive debris clouds fell onto and blew into surrounding structures, causing extensive collateral damage and, in some cases, igniting fires and causing additional collapses. In total, 10 major buildings experienced partial or total collapse and nearly 30 million square feet of commercial office space was rendered unusable.

Following disasters, FEMA and other organizations send teams of experts to study the impacts--in this case, why the buildings failed--and to obtain knowledge that may prevent similar disasters. Immediately after the collapse of the towers, FEMA, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and other organizations deployed a team to study the performance of the buildings. The results of their initial observations are now available in the report, World Trade Center Building Performance Study: Data Collection, Preliminary Observations, and Recommendations (2001, 256 pp., free).

The report describes the World Trade Center site, the affected buildings, emergency egress, emergency power, management procedures for emergencies, the response of each tower to the impacts of the planes, and the buildings' substructures. One conclusion is that the remarkable ability of the structures to remain standing for an extended period despite massive damage allowed most building occupants to evacuate safely. The report also recommends that resources be directed toward aviation safety and other security measures rather than hardening buildings against airplane impacts. Other recommendations address design issues and fire, the need for greater interaction among various professions involved in building design and fire protection, the importance of building evacuation research, the protection of emergency responders, the education of stakeholders, and the need to archive the information regarding this tragedy.

The complete study can be found on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science web site: http://www.house.gov/science/hot/wtc/wtcreport.htm. A seven-page executive summary, as well as the complete report, is available from the FEMA web site: http://www.fema.gov/library/wtcstudy.shtm.

Administration Creates Interagency Wildland Fire Leadership Council

On April 10, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced the creation of a new Interagency Wildland Fire Leadership Council to provide cabinet-level coordination of wildland firefighting and to further implement the National Fire Plan (see the Observer, Vol. XXVI, No. 1, p. 8). The new council is comprised of departmental and land management officials from both departments who are responsible for wildland fire management. Staffing of the council will be coordinated by the Department of Agriculture's Office of Fire Aviation Management and Interior's Office of Wildland Fire Coordination.

The council will work with elected state, local, and tribal officials and other federal partners on wildland fire management policies. Among its activities, the council will work with state partners and local communities to help restore landscapes, rebuild communities, conduct projects to reduce fire risk, and assess the economic needs of areas damaged by fire.

The new council will identify and prioritize projects to aid communities most at risk, reduce hazardous fuels, improve forest health, and monitor and evaluate project results. It will oversee interagency performance and ensure common procedures regarding natural fuels reduction.

Further information regarding the new council and the National Fire Plan can be found on-line at http://www.fireplan.gov.

GAO Issues Report Critical of Wildland Fire Agencies

The General Accounting Office (GAO) recently issued a sharp criticism of federal agencies responsible for managing wildland fires on federal lands. Severe Wildland Fires: Leadership and Accountability Needed to Reduce Risks to Communities and Resources (Report No. GAO-02-259, 46 pp., free) details a series of concerns with the overall federal response to fire management. The GAO concluded that:

  • The federal effort to reduce hazardous fuels lacked clearly defined and effective leadership;
  • Little progress has been made in implementing a sound performance accountability framework to spend the millions of dollars appropriated by Congress and President Clinton in 2000 for reducing hazardous fuels;
  • High risk communities have not been identified and prioritized; and
  • Multiple strategies for reducing fuels have been developed with different goals and objectives.

In written responses that are included in the report, the secretaries of the Departments of Agriculture and Interior refuted many of the findings and offered examples of agency progress in meeting the requirements of the legislation. Copies of the report can be obtained from the U.S. General Accounting Office, P.O. Box 37050, Washington, DC 20013; (202) 512-6000; fax: (202) 512-6061; http://www.gao.gov.

USGS Creates Earthquake Research Committee

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently announced the establishment of the Scientific Earthquake Studies Advisory Committee to advise the director of the USGS on matters relating to that agency's participation in the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP).

At the committee's first meeting in May, the group reviewed the program's current status and USGS' five-year NEHRP plan. Congress created the committee through Public Law 106-503, passed in November 2000, to advise the director on the survey's roles and objectives within the NEHRP, and establish and measure performance goals. The committee is required to issue an annual report to the director before September 30 of each year that describes the committee's activities and addresses policy issues.

To obtain more information about the committee, contact John Filson, USGS, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, VA 20192; (703) 648-6785.

Corporation Expands Allowable Activities to Include Homeland Security

The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that provides grants for volunteer programs to meet community needs, recently announced that recipients may redirect their program activities to homeland security. The corporation defines homeland security to include programs that support public safety, public health, and disaster preparedness and relief.

In his State of the Union Address in January, President Bush announced the creation of the USA Freedom Corps that will work with key service agencies in government and the nonprofit sector to provide opportunities for volunteers to serve at home and abroad. The corporation and its programs--the National Senior Service Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America--are included in these efforts.

For public safety, the corporation will support volunteers that aid police and fire departments, rescue teams, emergency response agencies, and land management agencies. Activities could include organizing neighborhood watch groups, community policing, providing victim assistance, and undertaking other tasks.

Public health activities include assisting with immunization, distributing public health information, and providing health screenings.

Disaster Preparedness and Relief volunteers have a long history of working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other agencies, helping communities respond to disasters.

The organizations that currently receive program grants or any type of federal assistance from the corporation are encouraged to refocus activities to support homeland security

The corporation's announcement of this policy appeared in the March 8 Federal Register (Vol. 67, No. 46, pp. 10689-10690), which can be found in any federal repository library or on-line at http://www.access.gpo.gov.

FEMA Creates Local Government "Write Your Own" Pilot Project

Many local and state governments contribute funds to an insurance "pool" in order to obtain lower-cost coverage for liability, property damage, and other types of risk. FEMA's Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA) recently launched a three-year pilot project that will permit six governmental risk-sharing pools to sell flood insurance to public entities under the National Flood Insurance Program's Write Your Own (WYO) effort. The WYO Program allows participating property and casualty insurance companies to write and service the Standard Flood Insurance Policy in their own names. The companies receive an expense allowance for policies written and claims processed, while the federal government retains responsibility for underwriting losses. The WYO Program operates within the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and is subject to its rules and regulations.

To determine program participants, FEMA will accept two nominations each from the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, and the Association of Governmental Risk Pools. Officials at FEMA will then choose up to six organizations that meet its criteria. Nominations may include a public entity risk-sharing organization, an association of state and local governments, a state association of political subdivisions, a state-sponsored municipal league, or any other intergovernmental risk-sharing pool. The program will end September 30, 2004.

The final rule for this pilot program can be found in the March 22 Federal Register (Vol. 67, No. 56, pp. 13540-13551. Information about FIMA and the NFIP can be found on the FEMA web site: http://www.fema.gov/fima.

President Creates Homeland Security Advisory Council

On March 21, President Bush issued an executive order that established the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council (PHSAC) along with senior advisory committees for homeland security. The council will have 21 members that are appointed by the president and that represent the private sector, academia, professional service organizations, fed-erally funded research and development centers, non-governmental organizations, state and local governments, and other groups. The executive order also requires that the chair and vice chair of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council, the chair of the President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Council, the chair of the President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, and the chair of the Panel on the Science and Technology of Combating Terrorism from the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology also serve as members.

The PHSAC will provide advice to the White House on a national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist attacks; recommend ways to improve coordination, cooperation, and communication among federal, state, and local officials and private and nonprofit entities; and provide a means to collect scholarly research, technological advice, and information concerning homeland security. The council will also advise the president regarding implementation of measures to prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist threats and attacks.

The complete text of Executive Order 13260 can be found on the White House web site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/03/print/20020321-9.html.

FEMA Funds Largest Crisis Counseling Grant in Agency History

As part of its continuing response to 9/11, FEMA recently approved a $132 million Regular Services Crisis Counseling Grant to provide additional emotional support to New York State's Project Liberty outreach program.

The program helps victims to address grief, reduce stress, review their options, and ultimately move forward with their lives. It encourages victims to link with others in their community and helps identify and refer people who may need services outside the scope of the crisis counseling program. Project Liberty uses trained counselors from within respective communities. The $132 million approved by FEMA for the World Trade Center disaster is the largest Regular Services Grant in the agency's history, coming close to the total amount of $147.9 million awarded for this type of grant in declared disasters since 1974.

For more information about Project Liberty, call (800) 543-3638 or view their web site at http://www.projectliberty.state.ny.us.

President Signs Bioterrorism Preparedness Act

In June, President Bush inked his approval of the Bioterrorism Preparedness Act of 2001, which was created to improve the federal response to bioterrorism. The bill provides new authorities and responsibilities for the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) concerning bioterrorism preparedness and response to public health emergencies. Specifically, it requires the secretary to develop and implement a plan that includes criteria for measuring the progress made at national, state, and local levels toward preparedness for such an attack.

The legislation requires the maintenance of an "adequate national strategic pharmaceutical stockpile of vaccines, therapies, and medical supplies" for use at the secretary's discretion in the event of a biological threat, attack, or other public health emergency. It further expands the role of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and requires the creation of a coordinated network of public health laboratories to assist with the detection of and response to such risks.

Congress also required the appointment of an Assistant Secretary for Emergency Preparedness to head the Office of Emergency Preparedness in HHS. The legislation directs the National Disaster Medical System to provide appropriate health and social services in response to a health emergency if the HHS Secretary activates the system. In turn, the secretary is required to provide, within 48 hours, a written declaration to Congress indicating that an emergency under this provision occurred.

In addition, Congress directed HHS, in coordination with the Department of Defense; FEMA; the U.S. Attorney General; the secretaries of Veterans Affairs, Labor, and Agriculture; and other agencies to establish a joint interdepartmental working group to address prevention of, preparedness for, and response to a biological threat or attack on the civilian population.

Two new advisory committees are to be established--the National Task Force on Children and Terrorism and the Emergency Public Information Communications Task Force, and Congress recommended the creation of an official federal web site on bioterrorism. Legislators increased appropriations of FY2002 funds to improve state and local public health capacities to detect, monitor, and respond to threats to public health, and enhanced regulatory control of biological agents and toxins.

Additionally, the State Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Block Grant Program was created and appropriations were authorized. The new program amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act by requiring emergency preparedness plans to include guidance on how to provide information to the public. It also amends the Public Health Service Act to require the development of bioterrorism countermeasure educational programs for health care professionals, particularly regarding the special needs of children and other vulnerable populations. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will expand research on the health and safety of workers who are at risk for biological threats and attacks in the workplace.

Additional measures address the need to increase the development of smallpox and other vaccines, develop the genome sequencing of pathogens, and provide research funding for improving our defenses against bioterrorism.

The safety of the U.S. food supply will be increased as well. The President's Council on Food Safety is required by the new legislation to develop a crisis communication and education strategy regarding terrorism. The Secretary of Agriculture is directed to enhance and expand food safety inspections; the secretary of HHS is required to expand the Food and Drug Administration to ensure the safety of food; and both departments will provide research funds to improve food safety. Other provisions address the importation of food, inspection of food manufacturers, and labeling; they provide funding to state and local governments for food inspections and investigations.

The complete text of this new law can be found at any federal repository library or on the Library of Congress web site: http://thomas.loc.gov.

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