A coalition of national interests has introduced a framework intended to shape how the nation responds to natural disasters, or as one advocate of the framework described it, change the way governments and communities operate so they can “prespond to disasters.”
During a conference call with the media on Thursday SmarterSafer.org introduced a plan, its Disaster Assistance Framework, and called on Congress to pursue a “holistic approach to federal disaster response.”
SmarterSafer.org is a national coalition comprised of a variety of interests in favor of environmentally responsible and fiscally sound approaches to natural catastrophe policies. The coalition includes an insurance organization, taxpayer advocates and environmental interests.
Advocates of the framework also addressed the handling and funding of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the National Flood Insurance Program, which they noted “has borrowed billions from taxpayers to cover claims,” and the impact of Superstorm Sandy.
According to SmartSafer.org, work drafting the framework began before Sandy struck the east coast in October, 2012.
The framework will enable the government and communities to be better prepared to provide adequate relief after storms such as Sandy, according to the coalition.
“We should be planning on these events all along,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog. “Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in our disaster policy is we quickly jump to recover, and we’re spending billions of dollars recovering.”
The focus of the framework is to encourage more mitigation efforts, which Ellis highlighted by stating that “every dollar spent on mitigation is worth $4 spent on recovery.” Instead, the goal should be to “prespond to disasters,” he suggested.
Matt Gannon, assistant vice president of federal affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, called Superstorm Sandy a “wakeup call” for the insurance industry and the federal government.
“From the insurers’ perspective you look at in a way, specifically with Superstorm Sandy, is rarely does a wakeup call storm hit at the same place at the same time, but in last 14 months with Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, that’s exactly what happened,” Gannon said.
Sandy destroyed more than 30,000 homes, and caused a reported $37 billion in damage. Claims due to Sandy are likely to be close to $25 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute. And disaster losses along the coast are likely to escalate in the coming years, partly due to increased, according to I.I.I, which reported that at least one catastrophe modeler predicted cat losses will double every decade or so due to growing residential and commercial density, and more expensive buildings.
Recently President Barack Obama signed into law a $50.5 billion emergency measure for Superstorm Sandy victims, which includes $16 billion for Housing and Urban Development Department community development block grants for Sandy and other federally declared disasters, and $5.35 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects for Sandy-related damages and protections against future storms.
In fact Sandy has already changed the way affected communities are rebuilding. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he adopted flood maps issued late last year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as New Jersey’s standard for rebuilding from the worst storm in its history.
However, the coaltion is pushing for having goals beyond more intelligent rebuilding p0licies. Joshua Saks, legislative director at the National Wildlife Federation, believes the coalition’s framework will help reduce pollution to streams, and give access to open spaces though smarter, more sustainable development practices.
“The key here is to plan ahead,” Saks said, adding that steps need to be taken to force the federal government to adopt a “holistic approach to disaster planning.”
The framework encourages leaders to “use environmentally friendly mitigation to increase community reliance,” he said.
According to its supporters, the framework seeks to:
- Increase community resilience by prioritizing sustainable, environmentally friendly mitigation.
- Reduce risky development and unsustainable investments in disaster-prone areas.
- Maximize cost effectiveness of federal disaster funds and incentivize investment of non-federal resources.
Among the groups suggestions are to require states to adopt comprehensive mitigation plans as a precondition of receiving disaster assistance, provide incentives for mitigation disaster assistance, develop a framework of codes, standards and guidelines for critical structural resilience and require communities participating in NFIP to conduct a vulnerability assessment of their critical facilities.
Supporters also are seeking to encourage states to transfer risk to the private sector.
“Federal and state governments should explore opportunities to transfer risk to the private market through public-private partnerships that will shift some post-disaster financial burdens to the private market from taxpayers,” a draft of the framework states.
Following the conference call Gannon told Insurance Journal various parts of the framework are in different stages of development.
The overall goal, he said, is “responsible development, mitigation and basically fortifying the nation from natural disasters without putting more people at risk.”
Gannon said the coalition has discussed the framework with members of Congress, but he declined to name which lawmakers the group has reached out to.
“We are having an ongoing dialogue with policymakers on both sides of the isle and have found bipartisan support for the goals of this approach and the coalition,” Gannon said.
He suggested the framework would be implemented though several bills, or one piece of legislation.
“Moving forward we anticipate working with Congress to either introduce this as one bill, or as a series of bills,” he said.