This month marks the 10th anniversary of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season that brought destruction up and down the Gulf coast region, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) noted this past week, saying in a statement that, “According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Katrina was one of the strongest storms to impact the coast of the United States, causing widespread devastation and affecting an estimated 90,000 square miles along the central Gulf Coast states.”
Then, less than a month later, Hurricanes Rita and Wilma made landfall in October, “compounding an already catastrophic situation,” FEMA said.
Now 10 years into the recovery, FEMA said it “continues to support communities and families, working side-by-side with state, local and tribal partners to finish the job of rebuilding communities that are the economic engines and lifeblood of the Gulf Coast.”
“To date,” FEMA said, it “has provided $6.7 billion to more than one million individuals and households.” FEMA said it also provided more than $131 billion to the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida for public works projects in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to assist with recovery efforts.
However, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General (IG) has issued numerous audit reports in which the IG’s audits found many millions in FEMA Public Assistance Grant Funds awarded for Hurricane Katrina damages were improper … and improperly used and should be recovered by FEMA.
Moreover, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a new 93-page audit report that there is no comprehensive, strategic approach to identifying, prioritizing and implementing investments for disaster resilience, which increases the risk that the federal government and nonfederal partners will experience lower returns on investments orlost opportunities to strengthen key critical infrastructure and lifelines.
“Today, FEMA has the authority necessary to lean forward and leverage the entire emergency management team in response and recovery efforts,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “This team includes not only government but also the private sector, non-profits and citizens themselves. We support survivors and this holistic approach emphasizes the importance of working as a team to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards.”
Since 2005, FEMA said it “has significantly improved its ability to assist communities in responding to and recovering from disasters. With the support of Congress, FEMA was provided additional authorities and tools to become a more effective and efficient agency, one that is focused on putting survivors first. Specifically, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) of 2006 gave FEMA clear guidance on its mission and priorities and provided the legislative authorities needed to better partner with state, local, tribal and territorial governments before, during and after disasters. These improvements include:
- Improved ability to provide support to states and tribes ahead of a disaster. Since 2005, FEMA gained statutory authority to surge resources to states, tribes and territories ahead of a disaster should the capacity of states, tribes or territories become overwhelmed. This authority expedites FEMA’s ability to respond to disasters if and when a state, tribe or territory requests support and a disaster is declared by the President;
- Development of a National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF). PKEMRA required FEMA, along with its partners, to develop a national disaster recovery strategy to guide recovery efforts after major disasters and emergencies. The NDRF clearly defines coordination structures, leadership roles and responsibilities and guidance for federal agencies, state, local, territorial and tribal governments, and other partners involved in disaster planning and recovery;
- Establishment of Incident Management Assistance Teams. These full time, rapid response teams are able to deploy within two hours and arrive at an incident within 12 hours to support the local incident commander. The teams support the initial establishment of a unified command and provide situational awareness for federal and state decision makers crucial to determining the level and type of immediate federal support that may be required;
- Improved Search and Rescue capability. Since 2005, FEMA has better integrated search and rescue assets from across diverse Federal agencies such as the US Coast Guard and the Department of the Interior;
- Establish the Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Groups (RECCWGs) to serve as the primary focal points for interoperable communications coordination among federal, state, local, tribal and territorial emergency responders. The statute charges these RECCWGs with coordinating effective multi-jurisdictional and multi-agency emergency communications networks for use during disasters and emergencies;
- Enhanced partnerships with the private sector. As part of this effort, FEMA established the National Business Emergency Operations Center that serves as a clearinghouse for two-way information sharing between public and private sector stakeholders in preparing for, responding to, recovering from, and mitigating disasters; and
- Support for the inclusion of people with access and functional needs. The Office of Disability Integration and Coordination was established to provide technical assistance and guidance for a wide range of emergency management activities, including equal access to emergency programs and services and meeting the access and functional needs of the whole community. This includes: preparedness, exercises, emergency alerting, accessible transportation and shelter accessibility guidance, assistive technology devices for accessible communication, accessible housing and grant guidance to states for accessibility and partnership and stakeholder outreach.
Despite all these actions, the IG said FEMA should recover more than $52 million that was awarded in Public Assistance Grant Funds that were improperly used.
For example, $4.9 Million of $87.7 million in Public Assistance Grant Funds awarded to the Hancock County, Mississippi Board of Supervisors for Hurricane Katrina damages should be recovered by FEMA, the IG determined.
The IG also determined:
FEMA should recover $1.3 million of Public Assistance Grant Funds awarded to Desire Street Ministries, New Orleans, for Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA should recover $8.0 Million of $26.6 million in Public Assistance Grant Funds Awarded to St. Stanislaus College Preparatory in Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA should recover $1.7 million of Public Assistance Grant Funds Awarded to the City of Waveland, Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA should recover $8.2 million of the $14.9 million of Public Assistance Grant Funds Awarded to the Harrison County School District, Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA should recover $5.3 million of the $52.1 million of Public Assistance Grant Funds awarded to the Bay St. Louis Waveland School District in Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA should recover $3.5 million of Public Assistance Grant Funds awarded to the City of Gautier, Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA should recover $3.2 million of Public Assistance Grant Funds awarded to the Moss Point School District for Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA should recover $8.5 million of Public Assistance Grant Funds that were awarded to the City of Gulfport, Mississippi for debris removal and emergency protective measures following Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA should also recover another $1.9 million of Public Assistance Grant Funds awarded to the Hancock County Utility Authority for Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA should recover another $894,764 of Public Assistance Grant Funds that were awarded to the Town of Dauphin Island, Alabama for Hurricane Katrina.
Finally, the IG found FEMA should recover $5.3 million of Public Assistance Grant Funds awarded to the University of Southern Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina.