Will Preparedness Funding Be There When We Need It?

September 1, 2011 | By Liza Casabona | Post a Comment

Yesterday, President Obama issued a proclamation declaring September to be National Preparedness Month. The announcement falls between a run of two unusual natural disasters on the East Coast and the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, widely seen as the most significant human-caused disaster to strike the U.S. in modern history.

Obama noted the timing of his announcement with direct references to the widespread damage inflicted on communities by Hurricane Irene, as well as the series of devastating tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest and the South last April.

In another timely move, a little over two weeks ago, the Department of Homeland Security announced more than $2.1 billion of preparedness grants for states, urban centers, tribal governments, territorial governments, nonprofits and the private sector. The money was set aside to help recipients deal with major disasters, terrorist attacks and emergencies.

$2.1 billion sounds like a lot of money. It is. But there’s not as much available as there once was. The DHS grants were cut by $780 million in fiscal year 2011 as compared with FY 2010, according to the agency, reducing this funding that many communities rely on by nearly a quarter.

In the wake of Hurricane Irene, media coverage is increasingly moving beyond the communities impacted to larger funding questions raised by the event.

Most importantly, people are asking: will the money necessary to deal with future disasters be there for communities that need it?

Some public figures have questioned how Hurricane Irene was dealt with, but many are praising the preparations that took place before the storm. For example, the tax collector in Ocean City, Maryland, acknowledged that the community lost a significant amount of revenue, but he did not say that the abundance of caution used there was a bad idea.  And disaster experts have praised many of the evacuations that happened prior to the storm.

It’s only fair to reveal my own personal bias: I am both the native daughter of communities in Vermont that are currently coping with the aftereffects of Hurricane Irene and a former New Yorker who lived in the city both before and after 9/11 changed the landscape literally and figuratively.

All of which is to say that I come from two places that have relied on federal dollars in times of crisis and disaster. Preparedness is an important element of dealing with catastrophic events when they do happen.

It’s scary to think there might not be enough money to meet future needs – which may be sooner than any of us wants to imagine. According to a public advisory from NOAA this morning, another Category 1 hurricane (named Katia) has formed in the Atlantic, is expected to strengthen over the next 48 hours, may become a major hurricane over the Labor Day weekend, and could follow directly in Irene’s footsteps.  Here’s hoping she changes her mind.

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