Washington Update

Congress Passes Inland Flood Warning Bill

The American public needs to be better prepared and better warned about flooding in inland areas. Congress has ordered a federal agency to develop an index to assist in this effort. On October 29, 2002, President Bush signed into law the Inland Flood Forecasting and Warning System Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-253) to provide for research, training, and outreach activities relating to improving inland flood forecasting and awareness.

Under the legislation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through the United States Weather Research Program, will:

  • improve the capability to accurately forecast inland flooding, including flooding caused by coastal and ocean storms, through research and modeling;
  • develop, test, and deploy a new flood warning index to give the public and emergency management officials more detailed, understandable, and accurate information about the risks and dangers posed by expected floods;
  • train emergency management officials, National Weather Service personnel, meteorologists, and others in improved flood forecasting methods, risk management techniques, and use of the inland flood warning index; and
  • conduct outreach and education activities for local meteorologists and the public regarding the dangers of inland flooding as well as the use of the warning index and assess the long-term trends in frequency and severity of inland flooding along with how shifts in climate, development, and erosion patterns might make certain regions vulnerable to more continual or escalating flood damage in the future.

Congress appropriated $1.25 million per year for carrying out this act for each of the fiscal years 2003 through 2005. One-hundred-thousand dollars per year shall be available for competitive grants to institutions of higher education to develop models to improve forecasts of coastal and estuary-inland flooding that are influenced by tropical cyclones. In addition, $1.15 million will be available for fiscal years 2006 and 2007. During each of these two years, $250,000 will be available for grants to institutions.

NOAA must transmit an annual report to Congress regarding its activities under this act and the success and acceptance of the inland flood warning index by the public and emergency management professionals. Also, no later than January 1, 2006, NOAA must submit to Congress a report on the likely long-term trends in inland flooding, the results of which shall be used in outreach activities, especially to alert the public to flood hazards.

The complete text of Inland Flood Forecasting and Warning System Act of 2002 can be found in any federal repository library or on the Library of Congress web site: http://thomas.loc.gov.

Terrorism Insurance Funded by Congress

Insurance losses from catastrophic events, such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks, can create widespread regional and national economic impacts. In the waning days of the 107th Congress, legislators noted that the ability of businesses and individuals to obtain property and casualty insurance at a reasonable price is critical to economic growth, urban development, housing construction and maintenance, and other economic interests and will help spread the risk of both routine and catastrophic losses. Congress noted that the insurance industry should build capacity and aggregate risk in order to provide affordable coverage for terrorism risk. Nevertheless, legislators approved the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-297) on November 19 to pay, from the federal treasury, the lion’s share of property and casualty losses due to a terrorist attack.

The bill establishes the Terrorism Insured Loss Shared Compensation Program in the Department of the Treasury, which is to be administered by the secretary of the Treasury, who has final decision-making authority regarding compensation. It prescribes guidelines for mandatory insurance company program participation as well as mandatory availability of insurance to the general public that does not differ from coverage limitations for losses arising from events other than terrorism.

The program will cover up to $90 billion in the first year to subsidize insurers in future terrorist attacks. The legislation creates a three-year program during which the federal government will cover 90% of all terrorism-related losses, although it will not provide assistance for events with losses less than $5 million. Insurance companies will pay a deductible in 2003 equal to 7% of the premiums they received the previous year. This deductible will rise to 10% in 2004 and 15% in 2005. The federal government will then cover all property and casualty loss claims above the deductible. Federal payments would be capped at $90 billion the first year, $87.5 billion the second year, and $85 billion in the final year of the program.

The 20-page text of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 can be found in any federal repository library or on the Library of Congress web site: http://thomas.loc.gov.

FEMA Offers Grants for State and Local Homeland Security Activities

In October, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Office of National Preparedness (ONP) issued a notice of availability of supplemental funds for all-hazards emergency operational planning, Citizen Corps activities, and development or improvement of emergency operation centers (EOCs). The agency stated that $100 million was available for planning, $25 million for Citizen Corps functions, and $56 million for EOCs. The funding was made available through the 2002 Supplemental Appropriations Act for Further Recovery From and Response to Terrorist Attacks on the United States (Public Law 107-206).

For operations planning, states may apply for the grants, and local governments will be subgrantees of the state. The supplemental funding will provide comprehensive planning assistance to conduct emergency operations updating for all hazards, with a special emphasis on incidents of terrorism, including use of weapons of mass destruction. Funds will be allocated to states on the basis of population and will not require a cost-share contribution. Each state that receives grant money will be required to pass along at least 75% of the funds to local governments. The funds should also be used to incorporate inter- and intra-state mutual aid agreements, facilitate communication and interoperability protocols, establish a common incident command system, address critical infrastructure protection, conduct assessments to determine emergency planning priorities, address continuity of operations and government, and provide for effective use of volunteers in preparedness and response activities (see the Invited Comment in this Observer).

Of the $25 million appropriated, $4 million will be used for grants related to Citizen Corps Councils, $17 million will be used for grants for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, and $4 million will be used for FEMA activities essential for developing the Citizen Corps initiative. Grantees will be expected to develop and implement a jurisdiction-wide strategic plan, including forming local Citizen Corps Councils, Community Emergency Response Team training, public education and outreach, and volunteer opportunities that promote community and family safety.

The funding for EOCs will be awarded in two phases. In the first phase, each state will be allocated $50,000 for an initial assessment of the hazards, vulnerabilities, and resultant risk to its existing EOC. If a state has already completed an assessment of its EOC, it may use the funds for assessments of local EOCs. Phase 2 grants will address immediate EOC deficiencies nationwide and will require a 50% non-federal cost share from recipients. Funding will be allocated under Phase 2 based on several national priorities, including modifications to EOCs to support secure communications, new and retrofit construction, architectural and engineering services, and physical modifications to enhance security.

The complete text of the notice of funding availability can be found in the October 17, 2002, Federal Register (Vol. 67, No. 201, pp. 64121-64124). The text of Public Law 107-206 can be found in any federal repository library or on the Library of Congress website: http://thomas.loc.gov. To obtain more information about the supplemental funds, contact Gil Jamieson, FEMA, 500 C Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20472; (202) 646-4090; e-mail: gil.jamieson@fema.gov.

SBA Issues Final Rule on Pre-Disaster Mitigation Loans

The Small Business Administration (SBA) recently announced the implementation of the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Loan Program, which is a five-year pilot program authorized by statute in 1999. SBA will make low interest, fixed-rate loans to small businesses for the purpose of implementing mitigation measures to protect property from disaster-related damage. The program was developed in support of FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Loan Program (see the Observer, Vol. XXVI, No. 5, p. 7) and covers businesses located in eligible communities (as determined by FEMA). In the October 7, 2002, Federal Register (Vol. 67, No. 194, pp. 62335-62339), SBA describes the new program as well as the amounts that can be borrowed to provide post-disaster mitigation for a damaged primary residence.

The pilot program was authorized at $15 million for each of five fiscal years from 2000 through 2004. However, SBA has not disbursed any money due to the amount of time it took to establish a pre-mitigation program in FEMA (known formerly as Project Impact), a hold placed on funding by Congress, and FEMA’s re-evaluation and revamping of its pre-disaster mitigation program. This is the first time since SBA began administering the disaster loan program in 1953 that it has been empowered to administer a pre-disaster mitigation loan program.

SBA loans will be funded on a first come, first served basis. The mitigation measures must protect property or contents from damage that may be caused by future disasters and must conform to the priorities or goals of the state or local government’s mitigation plan.

To be eligible to apply for a loan, the business must be located in a participating pre-disaster mitigation community. Interested individuals can find out if their community participates by contacting their FEMA regional office or visiting the FEMA web site: http://www.fema.gov. Eligible businesses in participating communities may also receive loans to protect against flood hazards if they are located in a Special Flood Hazard Area designated under the National Flood Insurance Program.

Under the final rule, SBA defines a mitigation measure as “something done for the purpose of protecting real and personal property against disaster related damage.” Borrowers can obtain up to $50,000 a year at a fixed interest rate of 4%. Examples include building retaining walls, sea walls, grading and contouring, and structure retrofitting. Borrowers can also borrow the lesser of either the cost of the mitigation measure or up to 20% of the amount of an approved home disaster loan to repair or replace their damaged primary residence and personal property. Additionally, borrowers can draw on the same amounts for business disaster mitigation from an approved physical disaster business loan.

The SBA final rule in the Federal Register can be found in any federal repository library or on-line at http://www.access.gpo.gov. For further information about this program, contact Herbert L. Mitchell, Office of Disaster Assistance, Small Business Administration; 409 3rd Street S.W., Washington, D.C. 20416; (202) 205-6734.

HHS Creates Volunteer Medical Response Teams

Forty-two communities will soon be better prepared to respond to public health emergencies after receiving $2 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help create Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units. MRCs, a component of the Citizen Corps initiative, will be made up of volunteers who are trained to respond to health crises; their responsibilities will include emergency response, logistical planning, records keeping, public health and awareness assistance, and public communications.

Each MRC unit will be set up and operated by the local community in concert with established emergency response and public health systems. Teams will provide additional community resources to address health problems that may arise due to catastrophic events along with other public health activities throughout the year. The MRC initiative will provide the local organizational framework, including training and procedures, as well as partnership building among local organizations such as faith-based groups, government agencies, hospitals, the American Red Cross, and others.

The MRC is led by the Office of the Surgeon General for HHS. For more information, including the MRC guidance document, Medical Reserve Corps—A Guide for Local Leaders; information on training resources; and the monthly MRC newsletter, call the Office of the Surgeon General: (301) 443-4000; or visit the MRC web site: http://www.medicalreservecorps.gov.

Dam Safety Act Passed

Toward the end of the 107th Congress, lawmakers amended the National Dam Safety Program Act to direct the Interagency Committee on Dam Safety to encourage the establishment of effective federal programs to enhance dam safety. The Dam Safety and Security Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-310) requires the FEMA director to prepare a strategic plan to establish goals, priorities, and target dates to improve dam safety as well as provide cooperation with and assistance to interested state governmental entities.

In addition, the act requires the FEMA director to establish the National Dam Safety Review Board to monitor state implementation of dam safety programs, monitor the safety of dams in the U.S., and advise the FEMA director on national dam safety policy. Lawmakers also require technical and archival support and maintenance of information systems to guide the formulation of effective public policy and to improve dam safety engineering, security, and management. FEMA must provide, at the request of any state that has or intends to develop a dam safety program, training for dam safety staff and inspectors.

The text of the Dam Safety and Security Act of 2002 can be found in any federal repository library or on the Library of Congress web site: http://thomas.loc.gov.

FEMA Highlights Smart Practices of State and Local Responders

FEMA recently launched an initiative to gather and share the “smart practices” of state and local emergency responders. FEMA intends this initiative to benefit responders by improving state and local preparation and response plans for all types of emergencies and disasters (see the Invited Comment in this Observer).

State and local smart practices may involve effective mutual aid practices, response operations, training, assessment tools, planning models, exercises, standards and competencies, incident management, and many more practices. The first issue of FEMA’s Spotlight on Smart Practices weekly bulletin featured the City of Pittsburgh’s effort to evaluate the risks and vulnerabilities of high-rise buildings in the city.

Selected smart practices will be e-mailed to interested individuals as well as posted on the FEMA website at http://www.fema.gov/onp. To submit a smart practice idea to share with the responder community or to subscribe to the weekly bulletin, send an e-mail to SmartPractices@fema.gov.

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