State of Louisiana EMPG budget grab — Governor vetoes cost sharing language for locals

28 06 2013

I am reprinting the article below from the IAEM Dispatch.  With federal funding for emergency management and homeland security activities dwindling, the focus of this Map-Louisianaarticle is very concerning.  Disasters happen at the local level.  That is plain and simple.  As pointed out in the headline, this appears to be a money grab by state officials that will harm the ability of local emergency managers in the State of Louisiana to prepare and respond to disasters.  Hopefully, this will not become a trend.


Update on State of Louisiana EMPG budget grab—Governor vetoes cost sharing language for locals

Many local emergency managers have followed the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) situation in Louisiana with great concern since we published articles regarding the Governor of Louisiana’s budget proposal on March 7 and on the testimony of the Director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) on March 14. Local emergency managers were encouraged when the state legislature added an amendment to the appropriations bill, HB1, to require a 50/50 split of the funding with local emergency managers. Jerry Sneed, deputy mayor for public safety and homeland security for New Orleans, provided the following update: “This February the State notified us of their plans to distribute only 20 percent of the 2013 EMPG to local emergency managers. With the change, the GOHSEP would reserve 80 percent to adequately fund their department. This was both a surprise and a dramatic change from previous year’s distribution, causing many locals to support a 50/50 allocation through HB 1, the bill funding state government. Last week we were shocked to see that the Governor, who has always been a strong supporter of local emergency managers, line item vetoed this 50/50 split. The new decision, to only send 35 percent to the local emergency managers and to allow GOHSEP to keep 65 percent of this grant, erodes the enormous strides we have made since Katrina and hinders the local ability to effectively manage events and emergencies. This action by the state of Louisiana on EMPG also underlines the concerns of locals regarding the pending Department of Homeland Security FY 2014 budget proposal that would consolidate the homeland security grants. This proposal if accepted by Congress would give more control to the states and send us in the wrong direction.”

Doubts about National Preparedness Grant Program exist

8 05 2012

The following article was written by Rob Margetta of the Congressional Quarterly.  It provides a decent overview of the concerns and questions that are arising related to a proposal to consolidate 16 FEMA administered grant programs into one single grant program.  Some concerns are related to the paucity of details on how the National Preparedness Grant Program would be established and administered.

Other concerns are related to the changes that might be made to popular grant programs that are now run in a more independent manner.  In the case of Fort Bend County, we have received funding from grant programs such as the Urban Area Security Initiative, State Homeland Security Program, and the Emergency Management Performance Grant program.  The funds received from these grant programs have assisted the County in building greater capacities to handle disaster response.

Other questions are being raised about the parts of the plan that give all the funding to state governments for distribution, instead of providing it directly to local recipients, like Fort Bend County.  The primary concern is whether local governments will actually be part of the grant management process envisioned by the National Preparedness Grant Program.

As Margetta writes:

Months after the Obama administration unveiled its proposal to roll 16 grant programs overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency into a single pool, lawmakers and local emergency-response officials are saying they still don’t know enough about the plan to overcome their initial, negative reactions.

The Obama budget request would provide the consolidated “National Preparedness Grant Program” with $1.5 billion in fiscal 2013, $424 million more than the 16 programs received in fiscal 2012, when several of them were zeroed out. Still, the proposal has come under fire from stakeholders worried that their favorite grant programs will suffer under the change, as well as lawmakers and officials who don’t like other parts of the administration’s plan, such as giving all funding to states to distribute, instead of providing it directly to local recipients.

Florida Republican Gus Bilirakis, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications, said during a hearing last week that the administration needs to provide more specifics about how the consolidated system would work.

“I must say that I find it particularly troubling that . . . it’s been more than two months after the president’s budget was released and . . . the subcommittee still has not received sufficient detail on this proposal,” he said.

Ranking Democrat Laura Richardson of California said the administration did not conduct necessary briefings with grant recipients before putting forward its proposal.

Hui-Shan L. Walker, emergency management coordinator for Hampton, Va., and U.S. president of the International Association of Emergency Managers, said local officials agree homeland grant dollars should be spent transparently and effectively. However, she expressed concern about the president’s plan, calling it “a vision with very few details on how the process would work and what the impacts would be.”

The consolidated grant pool plan would require all funded projects to be based on capability gaps identified by the federal Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) guide. Walker called the approach “state centric” and said the administration has not clearly explained how local government officials would have meaningful participation in the THIRA process.

She and other witnesses expressed particular concern about the administration’s plan to include the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), worth $532 million in fiscal 2012, in the grant pool. Judson Freed, director of emergency management and homeland security for Ramsey County, Minn., who appeared on behalf of the National Association of Counties, said the plan would ramp up conflicts between state and local governments, damaging a decade’s worth of work in building relationships.

While a new block grant program “may be a worthwhile concept and certainly deserves consideration, it must not be implemented at the cost of dismantling what has already been built and consigning local risk to a minor role,” he said.

One vote of confidence for FEMA’s plan came from Jim Davis, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety and vice chairman of the Homeland Security Advisors Council at the National Governors Association. In a time of tight budgets, he said, grant funding should be centralized, and the states would be the best entities for distributing it and monitoring its use. “I can say that the one thing that we are very appreciative of is FEMA’s recognition that the state has a role in the coordination of grant funding for the state,” he said.

The National Association of County Officials (NACo) has adopted a Resolution opposing the restructuring of grants as recommended by the federal government.  NACo opposes the change in the 2012 Emergency Management Performance Grant Program (EMPG) guidance expanding eligible subgrantees for the grant program, and urges Congress to require the Secretary to return to the intent of the EMPG funding and ensure that the funding is passed to local governments.

NACo opposes the assignment of final authority of the Adopted FY2013 National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP) block grant to the state administrator. NACo requests that Congress require the Secretary to ensure that commissions consisting of county Emergency Managers and other county Public Safety agents be established in each state to vet requests for funding and ensure that the overall needs of the local communities are met, and that the State Administrator not become the final decision maker. Further, the NPGP must include the requirement to pass through no less than 80% of the funds to the Counties directly.

NACo opposes the inclusion of the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) funding in the NPG block grant. NACo requests that Congress fully fund the UASI program and assure that no less than 80% of funds are passed through to the large urban areas. Further, NACo requests that Congress fully considers the risk of disaster to such areas and not limit the UASI program to the specific terrorism risk of certain large cities.

Fort Bend County Regional SWAT Obtains New Vehicle

5 02 2012

The following item is an article that was published online by on February 2, 2012.  It provides good information about an effort over the last two years to build a Fort Bend County team of law enforcement officers capable of responding to high-risk situations.  It is important to note that the “Fort Bend County team” is a multi-agency collaborative effort involving the cities of Missouri City, Rosenberg, Stafford, Sugar Land and the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office.  Danny Jan, Captain in the Sheriff’s Office, has been integral part in facilitating meetings and getting all the agencies to come together to form the team.  The Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management has played a key role in the development of the grant applications required to fund the team’s formation.  By using Urban Area Securities Initiative (UASI) monies, the Fort Bend County Regional SWAT effort is able to be deployed anywhere in the five-county Houston Urban Area should a need arise.  The article below provides more information about the team and the new vehicle it has just recently received:

Leaders of the Fort Bend Regional SWAT Team are shown with the team's new Bearcat. They include, from the left, Capt. Scott Soland, Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office and West Division Commander; Sgt. Wayne Coleman, Sugar Land Police Department, East Division; Sgt. Kurt Maxheimer, Missouri City Police Department, East Division; Sgt. Brian Baker, Rosenberg Police Department, West Division; Sgt. Patrick Herman, Stafford Police Department; Capt. James Davis, Sugar Land Police Department and East Division Commander; and Sgt. Reggie Powell, Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office, West Division.

Fort Bend County’s new tactical, armored response and rescue vehicle is expected to enhance the safety of SWAT officers throughout the region.

Known simply as the Bearcat, the newly realigned Fort Bend Regional SWAT Team will utilize the vehicle for deployments throughout the county. The Bearcat, which carries up to 10 people, can traverse a variety of terrain. The vehicle has been utilized by police for barricaded situations, high-risk warrants, active shooters, dignitary transport and more. The Bearcat has proven itself in the field as an invaluable resource in high-risk situations, most recently in Tyler, Texas, where a SWAT team last year approached a kidnapping and murder suspect who was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle.

Excerpts from a article follow:

The officers were investigating the house of Howard Granger, a suspect in the murder of Benjamin Gill Clements – the son of a former Texas governor. The suspect fired 35 rounds at the Bearcat before a sniper brought him down.  “It allowed officers to approach the residence safely and protected them under heavy fire from a very high-powered rifle,” said Tyler PD SWAT Commander Rusty Jacks, noting the vehicle saved lives and prevented injury to SWAT officers.

Fort Bend County purchased its Bearcat with an Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Homeland Security Grant Program.  According to FEMA, the UASI Program provides funding to address the unique planning, organization, equipment, training and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas and assists them in building an enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism. Per the 9/11 Act, states are required to ensure that at least 25 percent of UASI appropriated funds are dedicated towards law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.

The Fort Bend Regional SWAT team is comprised of an east division staffed by the Missouri City, Sugar Land and Stafford Police Departments and a west division comprised of the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office and the Rosenberg Police Department.  The effort through the five agencies here is also a component of a higher security push in the Greater Houston area with other law enforcement agencies.

The objective of the regional team is to:  1) allow for the integration of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure; 2) enable a coordinated response among various jurisdictions; and 3) establish common processes for planning and managing resources.

The acquisition of the new Bearcat is one example that illustrates a year-long effort by law enforcement agencies throughout the county to collaborate more closely on regional partnerships, especially in the area of SWAT response.

Homeland Security Grants to Cities Soon to Suffer More Deep Cuts

30 12 2011

The following article depicts a less than pretty picture for homeland security grant funding in the near future.  Many federal programs budgets are being slashed, and homeland security programs are not immune from the cuts.  Fort Bend County is part of the Houston Urban Area, which is one of the 11 Tier 1 UASI regions in the United States.  This means that it is likely a homeland security revenue stream will still come to Fort Bend in 2012, but it is likely to be at a much reduced amount of funding.

Over the years, Fort Bend County OEM has utilized its federal grant funds wisely, focusing on utilizing homeland security money for needed equipment and and systems; perhaps some jurisdictions in the United States have not effectively used grant funds, as suggested by Eric Holdeman, in the article below, but that is not the case in Fort Bend County.  Instead Fort Bend County has utilized available federal funding to purchase items that were both NEEDED and that would not be financially obtainable without the federal aid.

The Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management uses an “all-hazards” approach for protecting the County from threats.  Such an approach means that we are working on projects designed to project our citizens from all type of hazards (e.g. chemical spills, hurricanes, river flooding,etc…), not just terrorism hazards.  Clearly, much federal money has been made available to local governments to combat unseen terrorism threats.  However, it is imperative that investments in emergency management deliver a tangible benefit on a daily basis not just potential benefit in the relatively unlikely event of an attack in Fort Bend County.

Improving outdated radio equipment used by the County’s first responders has been a primary focus of homeland security expenditures in the County.  As many are well aware, lack of interoperable communications equipment compounded the problems in New York City on September 11, 2011.  However, using the federal funds to purchase new state-of-the-art radio equipment for our first responders facilitates effective response during a terrorist attack OR during daily routine.  The same equipment used to respond daily to accidents and crime scenes is exactly the same equipment that will be used during disasters caused by terrorists.  The key is to find dual-benefit solutions; Fort Bend County has done exactly that.

“Killing two birds” with one stone is the concept of a dual-benefit solution— an armored vehicle used by SWAT during a hostage situation can also be used by EMS crews to rescue injured citizens in them midst of hurricane force winds.  Developing two hazardous materials response teams in the County provides for quick and effective response to 18-wheelers that overturn on US 59, but the equipment and trained firefighters, doubling as trained haz-mat response experts, stand ready if an Oklahoma City bombing situation occurs in our area.  Prior to the development of a County-wide Hazardous Materials Response Team, responders would have to wait 30 or 45 minutes for a team to respond from the City of Houston.  In a County of almost 600,000 citizens, such a response time is unacceptable.  Instead, grant funds were effectively used to meet the intent of the DHS program while also assisting in everyday emergency management situations.

This article from Andrea Stone, Huffington Post, was published yesterday.  It is a pretty fair read on the situation.  We are definitely in time where budgets are lean and elected officials have to struggle to allocate limited resources against competing priorities.  As you read the article, please rest assured that the activities of Fort Bend County, led by County Judge Bob Hebert, are undertaken with the specific goal of enhancing security in the long-term, while simultaneously delivering benefit to daily operations.

When the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapse in 2007, a specially equipped urban search and rescue team based in the Twin Cities responded immediately, precious hours before a unit from Chicago could arrive.

When a lone deranged gunman shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 others in a supermarket parking lot last January, Tucson police monitored the chaotic scene with a real-time aircraft-to-land video link.

And when a devastating tornado destroyed Joplin, Mo., in May, a mobile command vehicle based in Kansas City rushed there to help coordinate the response.

In every case, federal grant money intended to help urban areas plan, equip and train for a terrorist attack was used to respond to the non-terrorist emergency. Now, a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, deep cuts in funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative  (UASI) threaten to leave those cities and dozens of other smaller population centers without the money to maintain programs into which the federal government has already sunk millions of tax dollars.

It’s already happened in Tucson. In October, the city shut down the reverse 911 notification system paid for with UASI funds. Police have advised residents to check for alerts on Twitter– even though most don’t use the social networking site.

Advocates for continued funding warn of a not-too-distant future filled with mothballed, broken and outdated equipment; unemployed and expensively trained intelligence analysts; and fewer training exercises for first responders. A recent report by the UASI managers group argued that the federal government has “an equity stake” in improved local and state radio communications, information sharing, hazardous material response and regional planning and that it is not in the interests of taxpayers to see them “wither and eventually evaporate over time.”

“Whether it’s a bridge collapse or a skyscraper coming down, a natural or man-made disaster, tornado or terrorist — it’s the same kind of response,” said Bill Anderson, a Minneapolis emergency manager who heads the National UASI Association. “It’s crazy that DHS would bring people to this level of preparedness and then cut them off and walk away.”

But others are pleased that Congress has cut spending that they say has spiraled out of control.

“UASI funding should be directed to those urban areas at greatest risk, not spread far and wide to satisfy each mayor, governor or congressman’s inherent desire to have the maximum amount of homeland security funding,” said Daniel Kaniewski, deputy director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University and a former official in President George W. Bush’s White House. “The budget reality in Washington requires that scarce federal resources be allocated according to risk profiles, not wish lists.”

Until recently, Congress has granted the wishes of emergency managers from Bridgeport, Conn., to Oxnard, Calif. Since 2003, the UASI program has handed out $6.5 billion — most of it initially to 10 “Tier I” metro areas considered at the greatest risk of terrorist attack: New York, Washington, Los Angeles/Long Beach, Chicago, Houston, the San Francisco Bay area, Jersey City/Newark, Philadelphia, Boston and Dallas/Fort Worth.

Once the gravy train left the station, though, lawmakers and officials in 54 smaller, second-tier cities clamored for and received money to buy new equipment, conduct training and create regional information-sharing organizations known as fusion centers. Suddenly, places like Bakersfield, Calif.; Salt Lake City; Toledo; Memphis and El Paso, Texas — hardly obvious al Qaida targets — were getting millions.

“Everybody and his brother got a shiny new command vehicle, a communications van, patrol vessels, fire and police boats,” said Eric Holdeman, former emergency manager for Seattle and the surrounding King County. “It’s going to be very hard to sustain a lot of these.”


Especially now. In the 2011 budget, Congress cut 33 “Tier II’ cities from the program, including Providence, R.I.; Omaha, Neb.; and Sacramento. Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Albany were zeroed out in New York state, leaving only New York City in UASI.

More cuts are expected in 2012. Under the recently passed spending bill for DHS, state and local grants will be reduced by about $1 billion. The remaining $959 million in homeland security grants will be divvied up among at least nine different programs covering everything from port security to emergency medical response.

The legislation specifies that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano allocate no less than $100 million for “areas at the highest threat of terrorist attack.” Joshua Filler, a former DHS official who helped create UASI, recently wrote that while it was “reasonable” to assume that money would go to urban areas, Napolitano has discretion to distribute it “according to threat, vulnerability and consequence.”

Napolitano isn’t expected to announce a decision until late February. But many observers expect DHS will shrink the program back to the original 10 metro areas. That would leave Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Miami and Seattle among those left out in the cold, with smaller metro areas already feeling the sting of budget cuts in areas such as bio-terrorism preparedness.

Democrats have railed against reduced funding. Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo has said the cuts pose “the potential of creating gaping holes in regions making significant contributions to our national security.”

Anderson and other UASI managers have asked Napolitano to allot $600 million for urban area grants, including $60 million for “sustainment and preservation of the capabilities developed over the past decade” in cities no longer eligible for funding in 2012.

But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and critics in Congress question the value of UASI grants. They say there has been little research into their effectiveness and even less oversight. Many point to millions in “unspent” grants sitting in city coffers, despite the fact that cities are given three years to spend grant money for services or equipment that has yet to be delivered.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, whose Long Island district lost more than 150 constituents on 9/11, has said it is time to stop spending money on low-risk regions of the country and instead concentrate increasingly scarce resources on big cities that remain the main targets of terrorists. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, also defended the cuts, arguing that “more government and more spending does not necessarily equal more security.”

“It never made sense for these grants to turn into permanent subsidies,” said Benjamin Friedman, a research fellow in homeland security studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “If states and localities think they need more emergency response capability or port security or whatever, then they ought to pay for it themselves. They have a better sense of what the relative priorities are.”


Supporters of continued funding point out that Osama bin Laden had been urging his followers to target smaller cities when he died and that recent terrorism suspects grew up or lived in American suburbs. They insist it is naive to think state and local governments walloped by the recession can fill the gap left by a cutoff of federal funds.

Before 9/11, counterterrorism was almost exclusively a federal issue. Today, in part due to federal homeland security grant programs like UASI, every state and 22 major urban areas have fusion centers, where analysts from local, state and federal agencies sift through and interpret threat data. Several big-city police departments, most controversially in New York, have set up their own intelligence divisions. The infusion of federal money also has contributed to an unwelcome militarization of police departments, which have bought Army-style armored personnel vehicles to use for crowd control and drug sweeps.

Despite some questionable purchases, Filler, the former DHS official, pointed out that UASI funds have played a small but critical role in securing cities against man-made and natural disasters by giving them “certain exotic capabilities they could not otherwise afford.” New York’s bomb squad used a UASI-funded remote-controlled robot to handle a car bomb in Times Square. Minneapolis has blasted federally funded sirens to warn of impending tornadoes. Miami purchased a fireboat to handle emergencies on cruise ships in its port.

By far the biggest chunk of UASI funds, $1.2 billion, has gone toward interoperable communications that allow first responders from different jurisdictions to talk to each other during emergencies. The 9/11 Commission Report cited construction of wireless networks as a top priority, and major cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have deployed systems with help from the federal government. But smaller cities are still playing catch-up and worry funding cuts will reverse the progress they’ve made.

New Orleans was one of the first UASI cities to upgrade after a lack of interoperable communications during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina hobbled rescue efforts already struggling with the wholesale destruction of electrical networks and cell towers. Since then, new national standards for public safety communications have been introduced, but the city was cut from UASI in 2011 and doesn’t have the $36 million it needs to upgrade its equipment, said New Orleans’ UASI project manager, Robert Williams.

Bob Maloney, director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management in Baltimore, said his city spent $10 million in UASI money to build compatible regional communications with enough redundancy to work even if part of the system is knocked out. But with Baltimore on the list of cities that could be cut from the program and with Maryland facing a projected 2012 budget shortfall of $1.4 billion, Maloney doesn’t know where he will find the $850,000 he needs each year just to maintain the system. “It’s disastrous,” he said.

“Everything has a shelf life. People retire, equipment fades,” Filler said. “Investing in these capabilities and then to turn it basically off is to guarantee you’re going to lose the capability over time. The reason the feds invested in these in the first place is that they knew state and local governments couldn’t do it and needed it.”


To Holdeman, who blogs about disaster management, the drawdown in homeland security funding a decade after 9/11 parallels the tale of the federal government’s Cold War civil defense program. All the fallout shelters stocked with food and water “just kind of wasted away,” he said, as the threat of nuclear annihilation waned. “The U.S. mentality is not one of sustainment,” Holdeman said. “We don’t have the persistence to maintain a long-term effort.”

Tim Johnstone runs the central California fusion center, a multi-agency operation that covers 34 counties from the Oregon border to Bakersfield. It not only collects and synthesizes information but trains intelligence analysts and police who handle community outreach to religious and ethnic minorities. One-quarter of the center’s $2.4 million operating budget comes from UASI, but that will run out in 2013 because Sacramento was dropped from the program in 2011. Unless he can find an extra $850,000, Johnstone will have to lay off analysts and cancel training.

“It is time we reprioritize and stop buying gas masks, mobile command vehicles and fire trucks, and focus on prevention, education and information sharing in a sustainable model,” Johnstone said. “These cuts will take us backwards [to] a time that is as dangerous threat-wise as prior to 9/11.”

Friedman, the Cato researcher, isn’t worried. “The odds of a terrorist attack in most parts of the country, even in most urban areas, are so low that I don’t think [UASI is] a particularly good investment,” he said.

That attitude is taking over, Holdeman warned.

“Advocacy for homeland security will continue to dwindle — until the next attack,” he recently wrote. “20 years from now emergency managers will tell their children and grandchildren about the heyday of homeland security funding from 2003-2010. At Christmas they will relate how the money flowed in great streams, nay rivers of funding. There were trucks, mobile command posts, bomb robots, chemical detectors and all sorts of suits. It was a wonderful time of toys for boys.”

Fort Bend County Technical Rescue Team practices trench rescue techniques in City of Richmond

11 08 2011

As reported by Don Munsch and reported in the Fort Bend Herald on Wednesday, August 10, 2011, area firefighters who make up a County-wide Technical Rescue Team have been in training this week.  Top-notch instructors from Texas A&M have been leading the students with instruction on trench rescues.  Other training sessions will be taking place throughout 2011. 

The Fort Bend County Technical Rescue Team is a multi-jurisdictional effort to build an urban search and rescue capability that can be deployed in the Houston region if the need should arise.  The cost of the needed equipment and training is being paid for by federal homeland security funds which have been allocated to Fort Bend County. 

In addition to the Technical Rescue Team, homeland security funds have also funded the formation of two regional hazardous materials response teams and a regional mass casualty response team.  All these teams are based here in Fort Bend County providing excellent service the citizens of Fort Bend County and support assistance to the entire region.  Without the formation of all of these teams, response to certain types of disasters would not be as effective or as efficient. 

Related to the training being held this week, as reported by Munsch:

The victim was under some dirt at the bottom of the 8 1/2-foot trench at George Park in Richmond. Upon closer examination, the victim was missing part of his arm.

Emergency responders said the victim was breathing but not conscious. He was a worker tending to duties inside a trench, according to the public information officer at the scene.

Using various equipment, firefighters from Richmond and Rosenberg, Missouri City and Stafford rescued the victim Monday afternoon in about an hour and 20 minutes. Fire department training teams rescued the victim, a mannequin, in 100-degree temperatures.

“It’s a multi-agency task force that we have with the county and it’s part of the technical rescue training we have,” said Richmond Fire Department Lt. Chris McAnally, explaining the trench rescue training.

Firefighters train together about twice a year, he said.  Trainings sessions include structural collapse, trench rescue, confined space and rope rescue.

“We’ve got a simulated trench collapse here with a mannequin on the bottom simulating a victim,” he said.  McAnally said trench hole collapses are common with utility, electrical, underground and pipeline work.

“We had a trench collapse in Richmond in 2000 in the Office Depot parking lot,” he said. “There have been a few other ones since then, but that was a major one. It was an underground utility trench they were digging.”  Rescuers must simultaneously perform safety measures while maintaining their own safety.

“It’s a methodical process of shoring up to maintain safety to prevent further collapses,” McAnally said.

Do you need a good example of why Mitigation projects save lives and money?

15 05 2011

Okay, so a couple of days ago, I lamented the prospect of deep cuts in FEMA budget, especially in the area of grants to state and local governments.  I made a point of why it might be a bit foolish to eliminate grants for mitigation projects which have proven time and time again to be a cost effective method for saving lives, reducing property damage, and lessening post-disaster recovery costs.

So, keep that in mind as you read about former Mayor Kotaku Wamura of Fudai in Japan.  The Associated Press article by Tomoka A Hosaka, published May 13, 2011, can be found below.  You really have to appreciate the vision former Mayor Wamura and his dedicated efforts to get the wall built before it caused additional deaths in his community.  Wamura served ten term mayor of Fudai.  As the article clearly notes to the reader:  “Without the 51-foot costly floodgate, Fudai would have disappeared.”

How One Japanese Village Defied The Tsunami

In the rubble of Japan’s northeast coast, one small village stands as tall as ever after the tsunami. No homes were swept away. In fact, they barely got wet.  Fudai is the village that survived — thanks to a huge wall once deemed a mayor’s expensive folly and now vindicated as the community’s salvation.

The 3,000 residents living between mountains behind a cove owe their lives to a late leader who saw the devastation of an earlier tsunami and made it the priority of his four-decade tenure to defend his people from the next one.  His 51-foot (15.5-meter) floodgate between mountainsides took a dozen years to build and meant spending more than $30 million in today’s dollars.

“It cost a lot of money. But without it, Fudai would have disappeared,” said seaweed fisherman Satoshi Kaneko, 55, whose business has been ruined but who is happy to have his family and home intact.  The floodgate project was criticized as wasteful in the 1970s. But the gate and an equally high seawall behind the community’s adjacent fishing port protected Fudai from the waves that obliterated so many other towns on March 11. Two months after the disaster, more than 25,000 are missing or dead.

“However you look at it, the effectiveness of the floodgate and seawall was truly impressive,” Fudai Mayor Hiroshi Fukawatari said. Towns to the north and south also braced against tsunamis with concrete seawalls, breakwaters and other protective structures. But none were as tall as Fudai’s.

The town of Taro believed it had the ultimate fort — a double-layered 33-foot-tall (10-meter-tall) seawall spanning 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) across a bay. It proved no match for the tsunami two months ago. In Fudai, the waves rose as high as 66 feet (20 meters), as water marks show on the floodgate’s towers. So some ocean water did flow over but it caused minimal damage. The gate broke the tsunami’s main thrust. And the community is lucky to have two mountainsides flanking the gate, offering a natural barrier.

The man credited with saving Fudai is the late Kotaku Wamura, a 10-term mayor whose political reign began in the ashes of World War II and ended in 1987.  Fudai, about 320 miles (510 kilometers) north of Tokyo, depends on the sea. Fishermen boast of the seaweed they harvest. A pretty, white-sand beach lures tourists every summer.  But Wamura never forgot how quickly the sea could turn. Massive earthquake-triggered tsunamis flattened Japan’s northeast coast in 1933 and 1896. In Fudai, the two disasters destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 439 people.

“When I saw bodies being dug up from the piles of earth, I did not know what to say. I had no words,” Wamura wrote of the 1933 tsunami in his book about Fudai, “A 40-Year Fight Against Poverty.”  He vowed it would never happen again.

In 1967, the town erected a 51-foot (15.5-meter) seawall to shield homes behind the fishing port. But Wamura wasn’t finished. He had a bigger project in mind for the cove up the road, where most of the community was located. That area needed a floodgate with panels that could be lifted to allow the Fudai River to empty into the cove and lowered to block tsunamis.

He insisted the structure be as tall as the seawall.  The village council initially balked.

“They weren’t necessarily against the idea of floodgates, just the size,” said Yuzo Mifune, head of Fudai’s resident services and an unofficial floodgate historian. “But Wamura somehow persuaded them that this was the only way to protect lives.”

Construction began in 1972 despite lingering concerns about its size as well as bitterness among landowners forced to sell land to the government.  Even current Mayor Fukawatari, who helped oversee construction, had his doubts.

“I did wonder whether we needed something this big,” he said in an interview at his office.  The concrete structure spanning 673 feet (205 meters) was completed in 1984. The total bill of 3.56 billion yen was split between the prefecture and central government, which financed public works as part of its postwar economic strategy.

On March 11, after the 9.0 earthquake hit, workers remotely closed the floodgate’s four main panels. Smaller panels on the sides jammed, and a firefighter had to rush down to shut them by hand.  The tsunami battered the white beach in the cove, leaving debris and fallen trees. But behind the floodgate, the village is virtually untouched.

Fudai Elementary School sits no more than a few minutes walk inland. It looks the same as it did on March 10. A group of boys recently ran laps around a baseball field that was clear of the junk piled up in other coastal neighborhoods.  Their coach, Sachio Kamimukai, was born and raised in Fudai. He said he never thought much about the floodgate until the tsunami.

“It was just always something that was there,” said Kamimukai, 36. “But I’m very thankful now.”  The floodgate works for Fudai’s layout, in a narrow valley, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the solution for other places, Fukawatari said.

Fudai’s biggest casualty was its port, where the tsunami destroyed boats, equipment and warehouses. The village estimates losses of 3.8 billion yen ($47 million) to its fisheries industry.  One resident remains missing. He made the unlucky decision to check on his boat after the earthquake.

Wamura left office three years after the floodgate was completed. He died in 1997 at age 88. Since the tsunami, residents have been visiting his grave to pay respects.  At his retirement, Wamura stood before village employees to bid farewell: “Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand.”

Homeland Security Bill Cuts Over $1 Billion From Current Funding Level

13 05 2011

A proposed spending bill being discussed in Washington DC cuts over one billion dollars from the current level of funding, with the biggest cuts coming to disaster aid for states and local governments.

Substantial cuts are proposed to come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s state and local grant program.  Some in Congress have indicated that FEMA’s state and local grants are wasteful and backlogged.  To balance this out, there is a proposal to add money to the Disaster Relief Fund.  This specific issue is a concern to me.  Reducing investment in mitigation and preparedness projects is being “penny wise and pound foolish.” 

Why?  Take FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program for instance.  This program has been proven to be a highly effective program for state and local governments to help prevent damage due to natural disasters.  The PDM program has proven to save lives, mitigate damage, and, perhaps most importantly, reduces post-disaster costs.

The PDM program has been studied extensively.  Studies have shown that it SAVES taxpayers $4.00 in post-disaster expense for every $1.00 in PDM grants funded.  So, does it really make sense to cut funding for programs like PDM which have been proven to save lives and money simply to spend even more money to clean up after a storm and support individuals with disaster relief funds?