Witnesses: W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency; Major General Frank Grass, Director of Operations, United States Northern Command
Chaired By: Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Copyright ©2009 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500, 1000 Vermont Ave, Washington, DC 20005 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service at www.fednews.com, please email Carina Nyberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-202-216-2706.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Good afternoon. Our Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery will come to order. And let me welcome everyone that's joined us today for what I think is a very important hearing in what is one of a series of hearings that will have happened, are happening today, and will continue to happen as we strive to get our nation's response in the very best possible shape that we can for hurricanes and all disasters.
And that is the subject of this hearing today, to see where we are and have the opportunity to have on our first panel the new FEMA administrator, who will be testifying today for the first time since his confirmation -- welcome, Mr. Fugate -- and Major General Grass from Missouri, who will be testifying today as well.
Let me say that this hearing is focused on hurricane response because we started hurricane season this week. But we will be examining issues that affect not just the hurricane region but all regions of the country in this hearing today. And we will be focusing on plans and processes that actually have applicability across the board for many different types of threats, be it hurricanes, earthquakes, et cetera.
The ranking member and I both represent states that have seen large portions of our states, major cities and very important rural areas devastated by recent hurricanes. 2004, 2005 and 2008 were particularly hard years for cities and communities throughout the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Texas. But the last century has been difficult for many, many states. And I'd like to put the first chart up.
These are the number of hurricanes that have hit this particular region of the country, which is the hurricane belt, from 1955 to 2005. The blue line is Hurricane Katrina, which was the greatest among all the storms depicted there by a significant amount in terms of size of damage, and then Hurricane Rita, which ranks second amongst the storms in terms of damage.
And I'd like to show you the next graph, which is even more startling, are the storms since 1851 to the present. So when we in the Gulf Coast talk about the threat, it is real. It is frightening. And it is important for this committee and all committees of this Congress to continue to focus, as best we can, on the sure threat of hurricanes that are getting more and more predictable.
We know and can be better focused on where they're going to hit and when they're hitting, unlike earthquakes, although our science is getting much better on earthquakes and fires as well. But we've gotten pretty good at predicting where these storms will hit. There's very little we can do, I think, immediately to stop them, but we most certainly can prepare our people better for the threat that they are facing.
It's important for us to understand our capacity to deal with these real and ongoing and, in some people's minds, ever-strengthening threats. And that is what this committee will focus on and has focused on since the wakeup call of Katrina, which will be four years August 29th.
We want to make sure that we continue the science necessary to make more scientific-based predictions and warnings for people so they can move out of the way of these powerful storms. We want to make sure that their evacuation routes are clear and secure and that the rules and regulations involving evacuation are clear to the millions of people that have to use them, as well as to those of us organizing the evacuations. What will people be reimbursed for, what they won't be reimbursed for, is of particular interest to me.
Immediately stabilizing water, food and medicine to all the people that flee from storms like this is important, and we haven't quite gotten that right yet. Where do people that flee these storms, where do they live in the event that they can't go back to the house or the shelter or the apartment or the place, nursing home, hospital, that they evacuated from? Where do we shelter them? And who pays for that, and how long?
And then what do we do to recover these communities when they're big cities, large metropolitan areas of multimillions of people? How do we help the small rural communities that don't get any attention from anybody once the wind and the waves are gone? How do we help them to recover? And I would suggest that we have a lot of work to do.
I'd like to say a few words about the devastating hurricanes that struck Texas and Louisiana last year, because the response to those demonstrated progress that has been made, as well as demonstrated the requirement for significant improvement.
The evacuations for Gustav and Ike were the largest in U.S. history. Louisiana moved 2 million people out of harm's way, including the elderly, the disabled, and those without transport. And, yes, some people were left behind. Texas kept Houston residents at home so roads could be cleared for people on the coast to flee from Ike without getting stuck in traffic, as they did when Rita was approaching. Communications and coordination between different levels of government was better. FEMA declared pre-landfall disasters in both states and surged resources into the areas before impact. And in most instances, the federal levees held.
However, insufficient quantities of generators forced hospitals in Baton Rouge to evacuate patients. Insufficient supply of generators caused gas stations to shut down, which almost caused a panic in a major metropolitan area, as for weeks people could not access any gasoline. When people can't access gasoline, they can't get to work. It shuts the economy down. People start getting laid off of work. Even within a week or two of a storm, that could happen. We can't afford loss of jobs right now, I might remind the people testifying today.
Local governments waited days for commodities like ice and water and blue tarps. The state of Louisiana's bus contractor failed. Evacuees were forced, thousands, to take school buses without air conditioning, which doesn't seem like much except if it's 100 degrees out and your bus ride is 10 hours or longer, it becomes a real issue for people who are sick or elderly, or for small children to still on a bus is very hard, particularly if they have to do so without bathrooms.
Evacuees from Texas and Louisiana arrived in Shreveport and Bastrop, just two to give examples of -- and I've walked through these shelters myself -- that were wholly inadequate. There were no cots. There were no blankets. There were inadequate showers. And people were forced to sleep on floors because the cots and towels didn't arrive until 17 days after people arrived. So it was a very interesting couple of weeks for the mayors of those towns, which did their very level best to make a bad situation better.
Local levees in south Louisiana failed again. They failed in Katrina. They failed in Rita. They failed in Gustav and Ike. And as the administrator knows, because he's from Florida, the people of south Florida are very concerned about their water management issues and whether their dikes and levees and water will hold. And that's the subject of another hearing.
Recovery has continued to be a frustrating and cumbersome process for individuals and local governments, despite many improvements, which I will mention in a moment. I believe we're still relying, Mr. Fugate, too much on trailers in order to jump-start recoveries. And we're going to be pressing hard on new housing and shelter options from this committee.
I will continue to say that providing these communities with $5 million in community loan assistance is probably not what Charleston or Savannah or Miami or New Orleans or Atlanta or Baton Rouge or any number of communities -- they can't do much with $5 million, and that's all the law allows them to borrow.
So Administrator Fugate from FEMA will discuss the 2008 response and the agency's work on alert and warning systems, evacuation plans, and, from his perspective, if we're better situated as the 2009 season opens.
Major General Grass from U.S. Northern Command will outline the Department of Defense's support mission for hurricane response, including aerial storm surveillance, air medevac, search and rescue, communications support, logistics support, recent hurricane response exercises, and NORTHCOM's coordination with the state National Guard. It's a lot, but we're going to try to get that in. And I will mention that we're very proud to have the general with us. And he's from the Missouri National Guard, which is of particular interest to Senator McCaskill.
And then, in our final or next panel, we will have George Foresman, former DHS official, who's here today to talk about the private sector's role, because this committee chair and ranking member and members recognize it's not just the federal government. It's state and local government. It's individuals. It's the private sector and the non-profit sector. We want to give them voice.
We also are happy to hear from Frank Mascelli, the director of operations of America's Red Cross. They have gone through a major transformation since Katrina. We're very interested in hearing about the fact that they have increased their volunteer base from 23,000 to 90,000. And we think it's not only a bigger but a better Red Cross, and we're excited about hearing, because I think Americans look to the Red Cross to give them particular strength and comfort at times of disaster. And that, of course, has been a key role of the Red Cross for many years.
And finally, Mrs. Janet Durden joins us on behalf of a community in northeast Louisiana, of which I'm very proud, my husband's hometown. And in Katrina, they did a phenomenal job through their 211. As the offices dropped off of their ability in south Louisiana, north Louisiana picked up, as I'm sure the same thing happened in Texas and in Alabama and Mississippi and Florida. As these storms come in, the northern part of the state picks up a great amount of help. And we want to hear about the increased activity of the 211 operation, which is sort of the go-to operation when people need help and assistance. They don't call 911; they call 211. And we want to help Americans understand that.
So with that opening statement, I'd like to ask Mr. Fugate -- good to see you, Senator -- I'd like to ask Mr. Fugate to begin.
Let me ask Senator Burris -- I know you're just coming in, and welcome. Do you want to make any just brief opening statement, or should we go right to the panel, or would you like --
SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D-IL): (Off mike.)
SEN. LANDRIEU: Thank you. Thank you, Senator.
We are happy to have Craig Fugate with us, who is the new administrator from FEMA, a man that I supported and gave my wholehearted support for, and many members of the Senate. You're greatly experienced. We thank you for the work that you've already done. But we're looking forward to hearing from you, Administrator Fugate, because you know, as I know, that while we've made some progress, there's a tremendous amount of work that has to be done. And we're looking to you for leadership and guidance.
And may I say, before you start, my great thanks for Nancy Ward, who came in on the election of President Obama and the appointment of Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, stepped in in the interim and was immediately able to make a tremendous difference and improvement. And I know that you are happy with what she was able to do. But I wanted to acknowledge that, and then thank you for now being the formal and official director and look forward to your remarks.
MR. FUGATE: Thank you, Madame Chairman, Senator Landrieu, Senator Burris.
There are, as always, your first time to testify, a lot of formalities. I've submitted written testimony to address some of the questions. I have some opening statements. I will try to keep these short, because I'd rather have the questions and be able to have the dialogue.
I'm pleased to be here to represent Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to talk about preparations for 2009. And I really appreciate the opportunity to come before you, particularly your leadership on these issues, this committee's work in identifying as a nation where we need to go. And that kind of talks about changing how we want to approach things.
We at FEMA believe our role is to ensure that we are working together as a nation to build, sustain and improve our capabilities, to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against all hazards. And the key thing here is recognizing that FEMA by itself cannot be successful. Many of the groups that you have represented today in your hearing are part of that team. More importantly, it is our local and state officials and the volunteer organizations.
But ultimately it's our citizens that are part of that team. And if nothing else, I'm trying to get people to recognize that the public is not the liability. They are the resource that can help us be more successful. But we also have to be there for their needs when disaster strikes.
As you know, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 established the position of administrator, provided for the authorities and additional functions that we now have at FEMA, more tools that, as you pointed out last year, began showing the improvement, but again, we still have a ways to go. And it allows us to further strengthen that relationship with our state partners, with our tribal and local governments, as part of that community.
It's contributed to our increased operational capacity to manage all types of emergencies. As you remember, one of the challenges in Katrina was not being able to move and release items until there was a declaration, and the challenges of pre-positioning and providing that assistance, that clarity has been brought because of the work your committee did and the findings that said we needed to enable the administrator and the team to support governors more proactively. We continue that work in empowering FEMA to do that. In fact, as you point out, we face a variety of hazards.
We've also instituted -- started this morning -- no-notice exercises to begin testing the team. We simulated a major earthquake in California this morning at 6:00 a.m. -- no notice to the team -- to see and make sure that we're reinforcing these procedures so that, as you point out, we're not, 72 hours after a disaster strikes, getting critical resources there in support of the governors.
This process of building this team and enhancing what you have given us the tools is really where we're focused on in this 2009 season. There's tremendous capability that has been built in the legal construct that oftentimes your work, the committee's work and the legislation that's passed has addressed. Now it's our responsibility to make sure we can implement that fully.
And so, as we go through this and build these integral partnerships, Secretary Napolitano, as you pointed out, Nancy Ward, who I just can't say enough great things about, having worked with her as a state, having her, you know, serve in that role and helping transition as I came on board, and now again a very strong regional administrator as part of the FEMA family, as you pointed out, she brought a lot of common-sense approach and got a good team to address the challenges we face in the recovery. And that is the continual commitment that we have.
You know, as I serve in this capacity, coming from a state director and working with Secretary Napolitano, as she was a former governor, we very much bring the experience that we were once two customers of our federal family, and the challenges we faced in trying to help our citizens. And we continue to work towards that.
We are working with our state partners to give them more ownership of this process. We know that, as you point out, temporary housing -- how do we house people after a disaster -- is not a solution that we're going to be able to bring from Washington and fit all states.
We really want to work with our states as we have developed some ideas and concepts to really work with our states and go, "What other ideas have you come up with? How do we make sure that we're able to capture what resources are there? What's the best way to address that?" We know that there's no one solution that fits every scenario, and we want to make sure that we are working with the states to build those housing task forces so that, as, unfortunately, these may occur in the future, we have more options as we go forward.
It's an, again, multi-discipline, multi-team approach. We need to have that ownership and buy in at all levels and integrate. And when I said working together, I think a lot of times -- sometimes we look at our planning process. We're so government-centered, we forget that the community is a lot more than government.
As you have here some of the volunteer agencies that are represented -- of course, our partners, the American Red Cross, the people that promote the United Way with 211 -- and brokering those resources, it's critical that we bring about that team approach and that we work as not just representing government, but what the private sector does.
I mean, to me it's always a challenge. Does it make sense to be distributing supplies when we have an open grocery story but we have other areas of the community that aren't served? And we can't do that if our focus is we're just going to build a government-centric team and we don't recognize we have to build a team that involves all of the partners that can serve and support our citizens, but most importantly, making sure our citizens understand they have a role to be as prepared as they can so that, when disaster strikes, we can focus on the most vulnerable citizens, because we've done our part to get a plan to be ready.
And finally, the last thing, ma'am, as my time runs out, if we could just ask, folks, that all this work that your committee is doing -- we could do a lot more if people do one more thing when disaster strikes. If you and your family are okay, check on a neighbor. We can do a lot more working together than we can just trying to do it from a government-centric approach.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Spoken like a true local FEMA administrator. (Laughs.) I thank you.
And we will give you as much time as you need. Thank you for sticking to the five minutes, but I want to be very liberal with you and your time, because I do think that you have a great message to bring to the nation.
GEN. GRASS: Chairman Landrieu, Senator Burris, thank you for the opportunity today to represent and present comments of the Defense Support to Civil Authorities that we do at NORTHCOM every day.
I would like to take just a moment to introduce my executive officer, Commander Dan Baxter, who grew up in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana -- a great Naval aviator, and has many relatives living there today. He definitely understands the hurricane season, ma'am.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Very nice to meet you.
GEN. GRASS: We at U.S. Northern Command are privileged to be a member of the whole U.S. government approach to disaster response, including active Guard and Reserve, alongside our federal, state, tribal and local partners. We started our planning this year well in advance of the past. We stand ready to assist the primary federal agencies in responding quickly to man-made and natural disasters when directed by the president or the secretary of Defense.
When requested and approved by appropriate federal officials, in accordance with the National Response Framework, we support civil authorities by providing specialized skills and assets to save lives, reduce suffering and restore infrastructure in the wake of catastrophic events in the homeland. Last year, during one of the most destructive hurricane seasons on record, we supported the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in responding to three major hurricanes -- Gustav, Hannah and Ike, within a 13-day period.
We continue to take significant steps in improving our response capabilities. First of all, we have incorporated the Joint Staff standing execution order to streamline defense support to civil authorities within operational planning for the 2009 hurricane season. This Joint Staff execution order provides (the) U.S. Northern Command commander the authority to establish operational staging areas, federal mobilization centers, national logistics support areas, and Department of Defense base support installations to support FEMA.
In addition, our 10 full-time Defense coordinating officers and their staffs coordinate and plan continually with their respective FEMA regions. In collaboration with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, we have also developed pre-scripted mission assignments for FEMA. We have 24 of those approved currently. It provides a menu of response capabilities, with the cost to FEMA, so they can quickly respond and request those mission assignments based on anticipated requirements of medical evacuation, damage assessment and commodity distribution, to mention just a few.
And finally, in 2009 -- February, we co-hosted the first National Guard and Northern Command Hurricane Planning Conference in February in South Carolina. It brought together adjutants general from the Eastern and Gulf Coast states, along with the chief of the National Guard Bureau and General Renuart, my boss -- to the opportunity to look at gaps, and also work with FEMA, and other interagencies, and provide a list of shortfalls that we anticipate based on current deployments for the 2009 hurricane season.
Additional planning for the 2009 hurricane season included: discussions with U.S. Transportation Command on aeromedical evacuation, general population evacuation; discussions with the Department of Homeland Security, and also FEMA, Health and Human Services, and our Service component commands. All of these are planning conferences and table-top exercises we've conducted in preparations for the season.
If and when called, Northern Command continues to stand ready to provide robust support to civil authorities during the 2009 hurricane season. Thank you for the opportunity to present today, and I stand ready to answer your questions.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Thank you, General. We very much appreciate it.
SEN. BURRIS: Thank you very much, Madame Chairman.
And, to our distinguished panel, it's certainly a good opportunity to listen and learn what we are preparing for.
And, Mr. Fugate, we know that we had a bad -- it wasn't quite a tornado. So, you know, we hear a lot about hurricanes but, inland, a hurricane is a tornado, and that's what we get in Illinois. And my home, as a matter of fact, is in "Tornado Alley," down in southern Illinois.
And we just had a big storm to come through a few weeks ago. And it wasn't quite at the tornado level, they called it a "dorado," or something, but they come up with this new name for it. But, it's high winds that reaches about 75 miles an hour. Is that correct, Mr. Fugate? Is that what they call it now, a "dorado," or?
MR. FUGATE: That's one term they use. You also may hear it called a "microburst." But --
SEN. BURRIS: A microburst.
MR. FUGATE: -- my experience has been, if you lose your roof it's kind of academic. It was a strong --
SEN. BURRIS: It's a hell of a storm, right. (Laughs.)
MR. FUGATE: Yes, sir.
SEN. BURRIS: Well, and we had quite a bit of damage. And, of course, our governor has asked for some assistance. And I'm just hoping that that assistance would be forthcoming because, unfortunately, in southern Illinois there's a lot of poverty, and there's just not that much resources. So, I just hope that we can get some assistance on that.
Are you familiar with that request that has been put in for southern Illinois yet?
MR. FUGATE: No, sir, I'm not.
We will research that. It could still be at the region. I haven't seen it.
SEN. BURRIS: It was about six weeks ago, and --
MR. FUGATE: Yes, sir. It may have already come through. I've been on the job for about two weeks and three days. So, if I haven't seen it, I'll find out where it's at, sir.
SEN. BURRIS: Check it out for us.
And General, I was down in my National Guard facility down in Camp Lincoln the other day, and we were talking about a coordination of the disasters, of what our National Guard does.
We also have another issue called "flooding," over that Mississippi River, that ends up in New Orleans. But, it comes down from Illinois roaring like a Mack truck going 90 down, you know, I-55. And it leaves in its wake, you know, a lot of flooding.
And I was just wondering, how does NORTHCOM coordinate with the National Guard, in terms of the disaster coordination? Does it go through the National Guard first? Or, who is really in charge there?
GEN. GRASS: To answer you question, our coordination is with the National Guard Bureau. But, the first response will always be with the National Guard supporting the state and local officials.
We, though, immediately upon indications that there's a disaster pending, will continue -- will begin to coordinate with the National Guard in case there are gaps in their capability to respond. And I talk with the National Guard chief of operations daily -- looking across the country, looking at where they have forces deployed, so we're prepared to respond if they have gaps.
We recently responded to the flood in the Red River of the North in North Dakota, working with the National Guard in North Dakota and Minnesota. And we provided some active duty forces to back them up, at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And we prepositioned six aircraft --
SEN. BURRIS: Pardon me, sir, you say your requests also can come from FEMA to you? Now, does that have to originate at the state level? It generally originates at the state level.
GEN. GRASS: Senator, the process by which we would activate NORTHCOM would be at the request of the state. And we would not have assets within either your National Guard or other federal assets. (And if ?) it was appropriate, we would mission-task the folks at NORTHCOM to provide the assistance.
But, one of the things we've done -- and this goes back to some of the issues that Madame Chairman had raised about previously, a lot of times these would be requests that we had not planned ahead of time. What we've done is, after Katrina, and then after the hurricanes last year, we have developed what we call a "pre-scripted mission," which is essentially we put together the types of things that we would be likely asking for from NORTHCOM. We write these missions out very clearly what were trying to accomplish.
NORTHCOM then identifies the resources; trains those resources; and has that ready to go. So that, rather than trying to describe or call up pieces to do something, we can activate a mission package that NORTHCOM can then execute and support, of our mission, which is working through those states.
So, if it exceeds the capability of that National Guard, we've oftentimes have built these packages for the threats we know about. So that, whether it was to do a flood fight, whether it was to support mass care, whether it was to support commodity distribution, or bring in specific equipment -- these are the types of things that we have written out.
I believe there's over 200 and some-30 of those missions that we've already written -- 260-some of those missions we've already written out. And that's in addition to the capability that NORTHCOM could do in addition to the support we would have from the federal family for things we had not written one on.
And one of the things we try to do in our "after-action" reports is capture anything that was different, that we either needed to adjust that mission or we needed to create a mission support for. And so that's a constantly evolving process each time we go through a disaster.
SEN. BURRIS: Well, you know, gentlemen, I haven't (actually ?) been a citizen for -- you know, just a civilian for so long, coming back into the government. I think the general public has no idea of the preparation and planning that goes into these disasters. And what I'm certainly saying, as now a public official, it's good that I know these things, and hope we can get a message out, you know, to the people that, you know, we are really prepared to assist in these situations.
Which lead me, Mr. Fugate, to another question: Are you familiar with what the University of Illinois has, with this supercomputer that they are simulating the tornados and hurricanes, and simulating disasters on these computer models?
I was down at University of Illinois, which has the fastest computer, Madame Chairman, in the whole country. And what they showed me a demonstration of is a simulated tornado. And they can then study this, and then actually prepare, based on the atmospheric conditions that are taking place, and the development of the various winds, and velocities and all the other elements that go to make up a tornado; as well as simulating floods and a disaster, even in the City of Chicago. They have this computer design that say if there's a disaster in Chicago, where its evacuation routes are.
Or, do you know of any other facility where this is being studied -- computer-wise, or these assimilations (sic) are taking place?
MR. FUGATE: Senator Burris, I know there's a lot of different programs out there. I'm not directly -- I do not know directly about this, but I will ask my staff to get with your staff. So, I can be briefed on it, sir.
SEN. BURRIS: Yeah, we would certainly like to let you all know what the University of Illinois is really coming up with, in terms of the simulations and the preparations for it.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Thank you, Senator.
I'm actually aware of a center like that in Louisiana. I don't know if our computer is as fast as yours, but will say I think it is. (Laughter.) We'll have the battle of the computers here between Illinois and Louisiana.
But, I am very impressed with what several of our universities have done on the heels of Katrina and Rita, and using technology that was there, and building some strategic partners. So, let's explore the opportunity, because there may be some real expertise out there, Mr. Fugate -- I know, at the University of Lafayette, because I've seen it. Perhaps Senator Burris has a suggestion as well.
I'd like to get to my line of questioning, if I could, Senator, and we'll come back. I wanted to ask first, Mr. Fugate, what are your top three priorities? I know you have many, but if you could, for this committee -- because we'd like to work with you. We're going to push -- we're going to work with you, but push to get the very best systems we can.
So, what are your top three priorities, as you're stepping into an agency that has, you know, really been at the front line, in many ways, these last few years? How do you see your top three priorities? And I'm certain that you've discussed this with the secretary and with the highest levels of this administration, so would you outline that for us now?
MR. FUGATE: Yes, ma'am. They're rather broad; they're easy to communicate; and they require a lot of moving pieces. And, they've very simple:
My first, and my greatest, priority is to increase the responsibility and participation of our citizens to prepare for a disaster. I truly believe that far too many of us -- who do not get ready, do not prepare, oftentimes put our most vulnerable citizens in jeopardy as we compete for those needed resources. And, in looking at these large-scale type disasters, I know that the more that those of us that can be ready, can be prepared, the more successful the team will be. That's one.
Two, I really have, you know, come into this job with the understanding that, in our response to the immediate needs to a state and governor, we need to be focused on what the outcome we're trying to achieve, and not necessarily look at process. I'm challenging the team -- as we have been participating in hurricane exercises, to not merely define our response by our capabilities, but define the response by what is needed to support an impacted state and local government, recognizing there are many parts of that partnership.
But, as an example, it doesn't seem to me to be very effective, in search and rescue operations, that if we're not reaching the injured quickly -- that we're mobilizing, staging and assessing, and it's still two, three days into the event and we still haven't reached people -- we haven't changed that outcome.
So, I'd rather take the approach of: Let's define what that outcome should be. Let's then work in partnership, and say, "Rather than wait for the disaster and try to bring in from the outside, how do we build that capability within those communities, within those states?" And then, with the federal government response, how do we do that?
But, speed and stabilization have to be based upon not what we can build capability to, and say that's what the response will be; but look at what could happen, and go, "If that does, have we got all the parts of the team working together, including our support from the National Guard, from our active duty Reserve components, to achieve that?" And not merely go, "We're going to incrementally improve something."
And I think that starts getting back to the crux of some of your issues that you raised; some of the challenges we had in 2008, such as hospitals that we hadn't gotten the generators pre-planned for. We need to do that ahead of time. Because it isn't a generator, it's getting that hospital back on-line.
And that may mean a generator, an electrician, a mechanic. And if you just look at one piece of it, you didn't get the outcome, which was getting that hospital back on-line so you don't have to evacuate it. And that's one of the things that I learned and continue to bring forward. So, that response, based upon changing outcomes.
The third piece -- and this is the piece I've seen, and much of what you have been trying to get in testimony, it's much of what you've been writing about -- is, what is recovery? We keep talking about long-term recovery. We keep trying to build it. And I keep walking away from it. I'm not sure that all the pieces understand what we're trying to do.
And I certainly recognize that the Stafford Act, all by itself, will not achieve what we need to achieve. But, if we don't have some focal point that says, "this is where we're going," then I think we get lost in our housing programs, we get lost in these solutions, because we're not really tied to that outcome.
So, I use -- and it's a very simplistic approach, but it helps me guide an outcome that I can articulate, and begin looking at the variety of resources we have at the federal level (to support a ?) state -- and that is reestablishing a tax base in a community, within a time frame that I would say, no greater that five years, that equals or exceeds that tax base prior to the event.
And this is recognizing you don't want to just take five years, but in an event like Katrina, where we have so much rebuilding to take place, that it's a -- sometimes people say it may be a simplistic measure, but having been in government most of my life, tax bases are a good indicator of the health of the economy. It tells us how many homes we have. It tells me that businesses are buying permits and people are buying cars. It tells me that I can provide for the services, such as schools and other components.
And it gives me a chance to start looking at our programs that can come in, such as HUD dollars, from Community Block Development Grant; training dollars that come in from the Department of Labor; working with Commerce and other groups in SBA to make sure that -- sometimes disasters happen as a community is pivoting economically, and it doesn't make sense if you don't recognize that just putting it back won't change the economic outcome, and we still end up with a failure.
So, looking at something that may not be the best answer in all cases, but from the standpoint of being able to give us a focal point to start driving recovery; not just merely administering the Stafford Act, but really getting to the point where a community has their tax base intact -- which is a good indicator that they can continue to have services; that we've been successful in the housing mission, getting schools open, providing public safety, setting the stage for business to thrive, helps me articulate a view that says, as much as we work as a team to respond to the governor in a disaster -- it's not FEMA, we merely are articulating, on behalf of the president, the team approach of all of our federal agencies -- that approach in recovery, which is, to me, one of the things that you cannot have a great response and not recover, is still a failure.
It gives us a better opportunity to start looking at, holistically, what federal programs do we already have? What authorities do we already have? And even though FEMA may not have those programs, helping provide that focus of the Stafford Act -- parts of the program doing what it can, but also bringing in the rest of the federal family to help a local government and a state reestablish that government, that tax base, which, in turn, (is a) reflection that we've been able to achieve the things such as housing, jobs and maintaining the community infrastructure.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Well, let me say, Mr. Fugate, what you've just outlined is music to my ears. And the people that I represent will be very grateful to hear such a clear and passionate vision of what is needed, and truly what has been lacking for many years here.
And your focus on citizens, and empowering them to make decisions that help us make all of this much better, even those these are very difficult challenges -- whether it's hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados or great floods. Your focus on results, as opposed to process, I cannot tell you how happy that makes this Senator.
And your focus on -- which is something that I had not even thought of and I really am challenged about what you said -- about trying to define what recovery is, because I myself have searched for that. And your focus on identifying it as restoring the tax base either 100 percent or 120 percent or being satisfied with 80 percent -- whatever we decide it is -- at least it gives us a goal that we all know what we're working for. And I think that is a very excellent vision that you've outlined and I most certainly can appreciate the significance of it.
Let me ask you this question here on -- which I have to bring up to you, and you know, because it's a very tough issue at home -- is the V-zone issue.
Can you take a minute to explain to the country what a V-zone is, how many parts of the country are going to be affected by this decision, and why we're struggling right now with what we rebuild and what we don't rebuild, because I'm going to press you. I'm happy that FEMA released, I think, 60 percent of $33 million or so that we've got tied up in this issue that affects the building of fire stations, police stations alone the coast of Louisiana.
But Mississippi -- all the coastal communities from Texas to Mississippi to Florida are going to be affected. And I understand -- and I'm going to get a map of the United States with all the V-zones on it so people can understand -- you may find yourself in one of these V-zones. And if a tornado comes, Senator Burris, and destroys areas in the V-zone, the reimbursement that your community thinks they may be getting from the federal government is not necessarily going to happen.
So I'd like Mr. Fugate to take a minute. And I'm going to press you on how we can try to resolve this for our state. But go ahead.
MR. FUGATE: Madame Chair, a V Zone is a velocity zone. It refers to in the flood insurance program in determining risk that these are areas that have the highest risk. And that we have had as a policy within the nation to direct new growth away from the most vulnerable, most hazardous areas. That's a good policy. It makes sense.
The challenge, though, however is when we go back and we remap and identify these areas, we're often times finding that we have many communities that were built in the V-zone and historically are there. And as we had developed our policy of passively directing construction out of there and again, not wanting to put new growth there, but when you had a disaster, if something was damaged there we would relocate.
Well, there are probably opportunities in a small event where we had only a few homes that relocation would make sense. But when you're dealing with the challenges we find across the Gulf Coast and other places that when you look at the new data that would suggest is high velocity or a high risk area, merely using a passive approach of removal and not rebuilding the totally destroyed -- but allowing repairs to damaged buildings -- but mitigating, really didn't recognize that we still have to ask the question that as good stewards, we do not want to promote growth in a hazardous area, but if it's already there, can we not look at engineering?
And I understand, Madame Chair, you've just come back from the Netherlands where they do a lot more active engineering to protect property that we would look at as being in a vulnerable zone. So I think we're reaching a point where as we come back and we discuss the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program and we look at V-zones, we have the immediate issue you're facing right now in your district that we are working under our current rules and regulations.
But also looking at, as we go forward, is it time to recognize that there are many places along coastal communities that are going to face the same challenge in a disaster that we have to recognize? And if we're going to allow a repair to occur if we mitigate, why would a destroyed building not also being considered the same factor? And should we not be looking at -- if we can engineer a solution that keeps the public safe, reduces the future damages, does not commit to new growth in these areas, but allows the historical communities to rebuild as they were, but better so they're not damaged, then I think that's something we have to ask ourselves as a country.
And this will be, again, through your leadership and the process of Congress looking at reauthorization that we want guidance on. But I think we have to recognize that far too many areas that a passive approach of relocation only does not provide options that communities need to be able to continue. As you've pointed out numerous times, doing an alternative project for a fire station far away from the community it's supposed to protect doesn't make any sense.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Okay. And I want the public to understand the significance of this issue. Right now we have communities that have been in place for hundreds of years that are vibrant communities, vital communities, that are shipping communities that have been designated as V-zones.
The current law says FEMA will -- you can repair your home, but we won't build a fire station, we won't build a post office, we won't build a library. So the question then becomes: How viable of a community can you remain without a fire station, without a police station, without a library? And that is a big question.
And when this map is put up, which I don't have today, that's going to show all the V-zones in the country and how many millions of people -- millions and millions and millions of people live in V- zones, which is in this senator's state and my senator state -- I can promise you this is going to be a major debate on this reauthorization of flood insurance.
And as you know, I have a hold on that bill. That hold is going to remain until this issue gets resolved in a way that I believe or my committee -- you know, I'm only one senator -- but this committee is going to work very closely with you to find a rational approach, which is part of what motivated me to go to the Netherlands, because I think that they have an extremely rational approach to this issue, which is a whole different system we won't get into at this hearing, but we will have some more hearings on that subject.
I've been joined by my ranking member, and I'd like to recognize him now, because as I was pointing out, he and I have quite a challenge. And while I love having him on my committee, when I pointed this map out to him, he said, and yeah, Strom Thurmond was there through most of these! (Laughter.)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): He didn't miss many of them!
SEN. LANDRIEU: He didn't miss many of them!
So he is ready to work side by side with me.
And let me correct myself: When I pointed out earlier, Senator, the blue is actually the route of Rita, which was one of the second largest, I think, storms of all of these. And Katrina was the yellow and I said the reverse. And I, of course, should know these patterns better than anyone. So Rita was the blue and Katrina was the yellow and this was done before Ike. And I'm going to put Ike up there, because it really ran right smack into Galveston. And I'm sure you've had some major storms in your time.
But Senator, let me recognize you at this time.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Well, thank you, Madame Chairman.
That would be interesting modern art. That's just scary that it represents hurricanes! Hurricane Hugo came through South Carolina and was very devastating.
One, I appreciate the work of the chairman of this committee. I've never met anybody in the entire Congress more dedicated to a cause than you are to this subcommittee. We -- you know, I'm just trying to stay up with you.
But South Carolina's certainly in harm's way. I want to thank all the folks at the state, local and federal level who help our fellow citizens with our disaster. At Myrtle Beach we had a huge fire, you know. The fire did a lot of damage to Myrtle Beach. It's not just hurricanes. The Red Cross was there. So it's hurricanes is what we're talking about today, but you know, coastal communities can be hit in many different ways.
Ron Osborne, the director of the Emergency Management Division, an office of the Adjutant General, Madame Chairman, could not be here today, but he prepared a report about hurricane preparedness and I'd like to submit it to the record. They're doing an exercise in South Carolina -- a major exercise today -- but Ron's a very smart guy and I'd like to put this into the record and share it with the subcommittee.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Without objection.
SEN. GRAHAM: And one final thought, as you talk about -- you know, when you go down to the coast of South Carolina, land is obviously very valuable, but there are a lot of minority communities in these. Where do they go?
I mean, there are people who have been there literally generation after generation after generation and where do they go and what do they do? And from someone that may live in Nebraska or in the upper part of South Carolina where hurricanes are not such a factor, I think we want to make sure that our coastal residents can get help.
I mean, people are not being irresponsible. They're not living in areas where mudslides. I mean, so many people in our country live along the coast and it's a rich tradition culturally -- the Gullah culture in South Carolina -- and I want to hang onto it. I want to make sure that we have that rational approach.
So Madame Chairman, I'll help you in any way I can to make sure that when a community is hurt, the community is rebuilt and that community includes fire stations, libraries, other aspects of a community. Because if you're not willing to invest in those things, you've lost a community and these communities are worth hanging onto.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Thank you very much.
Let me ask the general a question, if I might.
You said that the exercises that you've recently conducted identified some gaps, General, in the organization -- that is between NORTHCOM and the National Guard.
Could you identify for us one or two or three of those gaps that you all identified and what you're doing to close them?
GEN. GRASS: Madame Chairman, as we met in South Carolina in February, the first thing we did was we brought together the staff from the National Guard from each of the 11 coastal states. And we sit with the National Guard, FEMA and then we brought in a representative from Beaufort County -- a county-level first responder -- and then we brought in the state coordinating officer.
And what we did is we walked through those gaps from how the locals would be responding, how the state would respond. Then the National Guard gave us a lay down by state of where their shortfalls were. Then FEMA came in and explained what capabilities they may be requesting. And then General Renuart summarized the tabletop exercise.
I would tell you that the biggest shortfall in this current hurricane season probably is in the brigade structure within the National Guard, because of the number of brigades deploying.
Even though it's a shortfall in certain regions -- and it's not a short fall across the nation -- so it's a matter of reallocating forces. And the National Guard is working very closely right now with the state adjutants general to identify those forces that can fill those shortfalls. So the brigade structure was one area.
Another area was the number of rotary wing aircraft that could be deploying. Again, we looked at across the states and there's plenty of assets available. It's again, identifying those well in advance -- who would backup who within the states.
And then on top of that, we've looked closely at the active component -- both Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard assets -- working with the Coast Guard through DHS to see where their assets would be available as rotary wing would be called into the emergency.
The last area that I would mention that is of concern to us -- and we worked closely last week with U.S. transportation command, DHS, FEMA, Health and Human Services and the Veterans Administration -- is aero medical evacuation. And I think we've improved greatly since the last hurricane season on the ability to identify patients that may be moved, how to receive them on the outbound end.
And the problem, I think, that we'll face -- and we brought it up and discussed it at great length -- is the release time of those patients at local and state level, because if you wait till the last moment, we can only move so many patients.
So we're trying to have our defense coordinating officers working closely with Administrator Fugate's federal coordinating officers to talk to the locals and give them that timeline. And say if you make the decision in 48 hours, here's the number of patients that we can still move and get aircraft in.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Now, I'm going to ask my staff for the next hearing to design a chart along the Gulf Coast from Texas to New York and indicate how many nursing home patients live within 30 miles of the coast. And I'm going to provide those numbers for you, because as you know, in Katrina we had the very unfortunate incidents of dozens of patients drowned in those nursing homes and of course, it was quite traumatic for the families -- as well as for the victims, obviously.
But I don't think people realize -- as Senator Graham just said -- how many people live near this coast. And not everyone that lives near the coast has an automobile; not everyone is well; not everyone is strong enough or young enough to move out -- they've got to have help moving; or wealthy enough to afford the several thousand dollars at a minimum that it costs to leave your home for several days even if you manage to just find shelter in a tent, there is some expense associated with this.
And I just don't think people have an idea of this that have not recently gone through what some of our states have gone through. So that is going to be an interesting focus. And I think that you've identified this MEDEVAC situation as something the National Guard and NORTHCOM can be very, very helpful. Because as you know, states -- normally, governors might have one helicopter that moves them around, but we don't have helicopters that move like all the citizens around. So it would be helpful to have these federal assets being able to do this evacuation.
Did you have a comment or question?
SEN. GRAHAM: Very quickly: General, it's not a question of lack of capacity in terms of overall numbers for the Guard, it's just the resources may not be in the right spot.
Is that correct?
GEN. GRASS: Senator, yes sir.
SEN. GRAHAM: And I hear recruiting and retention is pretty good now in the Guard?
GEN. GRASS: Yes, sir, they're over strength right now.
SEN. GRAHAM: How important is the Guard to hurricane assistance in terms of the different agencies involved? How important does the Guard -- what role do they play?
GEN. GRASS: I can't talk for the National Guard being a Title X federal officer right now serving at Northern Command but I grew up in the Missouri National Guard so I'll talk about my experiences from the past. But they're the first responders in support of the fire departments, the emergency responders and the governor. And so they're going to be there first. And it behooves us at NORTHCOM to under their capability, look at their response times because if they're successful at the local level, that's less federal assets that we have to put forward.
SEN. GRAHAM: One final -- you don't see any need from this committee or the Armed Services Committee to plus-up anything, it's just to redistribute, reorganize what we've got?
GEN. GRASS: Yes, Senator. The Congress has been very gracious with the Department of Defense in our ability to look at what we call the 10 essentials that we use in the homeland, those capabilities that we respond to disasters. And we're coming along very well in improving that capability, especially in equipping of those 10 essentials.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Thank you. And Mr. Fugate would you comment from your perspective on the National Guard, the role of the National Guard and do you find it to be essential?
How do you want to position your organization with it? And then if you could do that in one minute or less -- or two. And then also comment on this idea that has been moving around here about a sort of a civilian ready reserve that could supplement both FEMA and the National Guard in terms of trained personnel that could be called out in the event of a catastrophic disaster which obviously we can't maintain, you know, on call every day, but it would be nice to maybe have something like that. Maybe we don't need it, maybe that's what the Red Cross is going to do or maybe that's the role the National Guard plays. But if there is a gap -- so comment on the National Guard and then this ready reserve idea.
MR. FUGATE: Thank you Madame Chair. National Guard is a key component of any state governor's ability to respond to a variety of disasters. They are a force multiplier for the local and state responders. And, again, after -- with your leadership upon my confirmation, one of my first visits was General McKinnley, commanding general of the National Guard Bureau, having worked very closely with my TAG knowing that relationship. And again we have a very strong state wide mutual aid system under EMAC, we leverage that with the National Guard so that as units rotate in and out, we have capability, we identify in other states. In addition to that, there's a lot of work done within the TAGs to make sure that things such as your joint operations center training that they're ready to go and support each other in a disaster.
So I think it's a good team, it's a key component of our national defense strategy, but most importantly they are the first of those assets available to the governors under that governor's authority, and those governors can request from other state governors additional Guard units as part of their authority in managing a disaster.
As far as the Reserve component, there's actually some requirements that have been provided in the post-Katrina emergency management format for FEMA to build and take our existing structures and build a more professional response force and provide more training and capabilities within our Reserve force. And so we are looking at that.
As far as a standing Reserve, that would be something I'd like to do further research but I think there are some elements of that that we're already seeing in some of our programs where we're not creating so much a formal Reserve processes but building like community emergency response teams through the CERT training. And in many cases building capabilities that are more adequately leveraged at the local level by enhancing through community emergency response teams through citizen corps capabilities that people stand ready to help in their neighborhoods and their communities when a disaster strikes.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Thank you. General, I have one more question for you and then one more for Mr. Fugate and then we're going to move to the next panel in a minute. When you all did your assessment of the joint task force one of the issues that came up were the significance of, particularly this coast; I mean all of our coasts have port assets, that of course must be maintained not just for the benefit of those communities. But the nation's economy depends, and in some measure you could say the world's economy depends, on the continued operations of these major ports.
Many of them obviously -- if you start from Houston and just work your way up to New York, are many major ports that can be affected. And we saw when Katrina hit one of the -- the largest, by volume, port in the nation was shut down for a long period of time, and the oil and gas operations off the Gulf Coast came precariously close.
Had Rita hit Houston, which it did not -- it hit close to Houston -- it's very -- you know, it was interesting as someone want to write what could've happened to the price of oil and gas had both the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Houston and almost all offshore operations at that point would've been shut down for quite some time. That didn't happen but it would be an interesting research project.
But what is your responsibility to the ports to keeping them open and how did you all discuss that at your exercise and could you testify to that point please?
MR. FUGATE: Madame Chairman, again working with FEMA -- and I'll give you an example of what we did during Hurricane Ike last year. We worked closely with the Coast Guard through DHS and FEMA, and FEMA requested an amphibious ship be deployed into the Gulf. And the Port of Galveston was devastated by Hurricane Ike and there was over 100 obstacles in the channel. And so the USS Nassau was deployed there.
We have any given day two ships on the East Coast and two ships on the West Coast, primarily amphibious ships that can take on rotary wing helos, also the type that you unload vessels out the back that can respond. And we had Navy Seabees onboard that went ashore and they worked with the locals to try to open the port facilities. Again, working at the request of FEMA.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Okay. Now you said you have two ships on the East Coast and the West Coast. Do you have any on the Gulf Coast?
MR. FUGATE: No ma'am, not at this point. But the two on the East Coast would respond --
SEN. LANDRIEU: And they're able to get there in time or be prepositioned in the event --
MR. FUGATE: We could move them
SEN. LANDRIEU: -- you had enough notice?
MR. FUGATE: Yes, ma'am. If we received a request from FEMA we're prepared to move those. And as we move those, again we're looking at the storm path to try to get them as close into a port as we can outside of the storm path.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Okay. Last question, Mr. Fugate, and I'm going to submit several about pets, about community disaster loans and other things -- trailers, alternative housing. But because my time is short and because the season is now and because a storm will hit, this debris removal for local communities is a nightmare and it causes unmitigated pain and suffering on the part of local officials that one of the first things they have to do is remove debris.
And we had just one headache after another about FEMA's rules and regulations that went something like this: if the tree limb was more than five inches round, you got reimbursed at 100 percent. If it was four inches, you got 80 percent. And if it was two inches, you got 30 percent. I'm exaggerating a little bit but for the purposes of this hearing, what has been changed about debris removal in a catastrophic or major storm? What hope could you give to these local officials that that is one of their immediate headaches trying to just clear their streets, clear their roads so their people can get back?
Obviously, with debris there, no one can move that has to be done, and it seems to me that we keep making mistake after mistake after mistake. So what can you do as the FEMA director to put a system in place that's clear, easy to use, and cost effective? We're not asking the federal government to pick up 100 percent, but we are asking the federal government to have clear rules and regulations so the local officials can actually begin the recovery. Because without debris removal, there is no recovery.
MR. FUGATE: Madame Chair, debris and emergency protective measures are two of those things that I think that we have to make sure we know what the outcome is so we can get there quickly, and that is to get debris where, one, we can get access into the community; and two, we get the debris up so we prevent the problems it creates and we begin the recovery.
There was some successful programs started. There were pilots, I would like to revisit those, that provided a better incentive financially to the local governments and states who went a head and developed debris management plan. So they had many of these questions answered and knew what they were going to do.
But I think it's also incumbent upon us at FEMA to make sure that our guidance is providing clear direction without being a process that is so difficult that as a local official the only way I can understand it is to hire a former FEMA official as a contractor to explain to me the rules that I am now having to seek reimbursement from the federal government in my time of need.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Thank you very much.
All right. Thank you, the panel's been wonderful, I wish we could spend more time but we will follow up. Thank you all. And if the second panel would come forward.