tv Newsmakers Brock Long FEMA CSPAN December 17, 2018 2:25pm-3:00pm EST
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eastern and pacific on c-span. >> our guest on newsmakers this week is the administrator of fema, brock long. he has had a career at emergency response management at the state level and private sector. he has had quite a year with his with two category five hurricanes, one of the biggest wildfires in history. a category seven earthquake. lots of calls for your folks to go into action. let me introduce you to the reporters who will be asking questions.
ron nixon covers homeland security for the new york times. camila dechalus is cq roll call's homeland security and immigration reporter. mr. nixon, you are up first. mr. nixon: the question i would like to start with is, i think there are common misperceptions about fema's role in emergency management and dealing with natural disasters. what is fema's role and what is the state and local first responders role? brick is out for us, please. -- laid out for us please. -- lay that out for us, please. mr. long: fema's mission is incredibly complex. it is a lot more than just the response, which is often covered on tv when big events occur. we have a huge obligation to provide billion's of dollars worth of predisaster grants, mitigation funding. we run continuity of government programs to make sure the executive branch works on its worst day. as well as we are in a position to be providing billions of dollars to help america overcome the last two hurricane seasons and wildfire seasons. the best way to describe what we response andt recovery is when it is locally executed, state managed, and federally supported. fema was not designed to be a first responder, nor should it be.
it is my job to coordinate the federal government to help the governor meet his or her response and recovery goals, and ultimately it translates down to the local level. there, incident command takes place. ms. dechalus: now we know that in 2017, it was a big year. hurricane irma, florence, and maria cost the government more than $265 billion worth of damage. especially with the california wildfires. what did fema learn because of the hurricanes that occurred in 2017? and what are ways that you can improve how you respond to natural disasters in the upcoming years? mr. long: we learned a tremendous amount. before i took office, the country went 11 years without a major landfall hurricane. i guess i am bad luck. the other thing is, to put the magnitude of what happened over
the last 16 months into perspective, we have packed 38 years of history into that time. the amount of disaster assistance that we will provide because of the last two calendar years is the equivalent of what the agency has done in its entire history. it is forcing us to rethink everything. our entire business enterprise. i fully believe that a bigger fema is not the answer. it is a whole community approach that has to be put into play to properly be able to prepare and also recover. it starts with a prepared culture. citizens being financially resilient. properly insured. neighbor helping neighbor, all the way up through a strong local emergency management program, strong state-level program, then putting fema in a position to support for the big events and not the run-of-the-mill everyday disaster we typically deal with.
ms. dechalus: there was a report that came out in september from the government accountability office that said that fema is overwhelmed by the natural disasters that occurred in 2017. they also stated there were staff shortages. more than 50% of the personnel was not deemed qualified in certain roles. has fema addressed those issues? mr. long: we roughly have about 20,000 employees nationwide. one of the things we typically want to do is a lot of local hires to create a backbone. for example, in puerto rico, we are one of the largest employers right now. we have made over 1800 local hires. the goal is to build an emergency backbone that did not exist before the storm. the whole issue about we are sending unqualified people into the field is not an accurate assessment. we have what is called the national qualification system that has different positions you can go in and try to qualify for. you may send an emergency manager into the field with 30 years of experience that has not yet had his or her taskbook signed off to be a public
information officer out in the field. the qualification system is where that storyline started. it is not accurate. we would never send people unqualified out into the field in my opinion. >> we were talking about gao reports. another one criticized the advanced materials planning, which was an issue in puerto rico. they have nine specific recommendations they are offering. how do you plan to incorporate that assessment? mr. long: the gao report lines up with our after action report. it was an open and honest assessment. i would beg to argue that that was such an honest report. asking a government agency that has opened up the hood of the car to say, look inside, this is very r.o.k. and this is really have to improve. what it leads to is, a bigger fema is not the answer. we can provide a tremendous capability when it comes to food, water, ice, mres, generator power and whatever else. the question is, what is the state's capacity to do it? do they have their own logistics
capability set up? even down to the local level. what are the contracts in place to provide their own citizens emergency power, food and water? particularly for low to know notice events like major earthquakes. it takes time for declarations to go into place or for our resources to mobilize. we are not a first responder or 911. if that is the case and that is the reality, like in the recent alaska earthquake, each level of government needs to have their own baseline capability to strengthen the whole system. mr. nixon: could you talk about how fema can help? fema is the dhs's largest granting body. what is your role in that in helping the local and state emergency managers fill their capacity so it takes some of the burden off of you? mr. long: i am a big believer in use of the private sector. we are highly encouraging people to set up the contracts to do things such as disaster cost recovery. how to manage the billions of
dollars coming into your community or how to do debris management. emergency power. being able to get their hands on generators without having to ask the federal government. we become more of a block granting role instead of actually doing the job on behalf of the state and local government. we are about to roll out a predisaster toolkit that helps states understand what they have in place ahead of time. there are barriers. there are a handful of states in the country where the legislation or laws get in the way of them being able to set up blue sky day. no cost retainer contract. that is where they have to tear the laws down and be configured in a manner where they can do this and reduce the reliance upon fema. i started an initiative called
the fema integration team concept. i want to move my staff out of headquarters and out of regional offices and embed into state agencies to make sure we are doing training and execution exercises together. to make sure we are helping them to overcome the gaps that they have identified. saying, you need a housing plan. you need these contracts in place. let us help you do that on a blue sky day rather than going through the emergency bid process. mr. nixon: can i just follow up briefly? you talk about the integration team. you had that place in north carolina. how did that work? mr. long: they were on the ground as everything was unfolding. florence was a tough one because it was a slow moving event. it gave us a huge leeway in understanding evacuation processes. they were verifying information on what the state was requesting
and what we were able to provide to them to prepare for the onset of the storm. they are also there to start getting the ball rolling once the declarations are in place. it was great. they are right there. it is not a team that i have to deploy. they are there working with the state. they already have strong partnerships in place. at this point, we have 15 teams that we rolled out. hopefully we will have teams in all 50 states within the next year and a half. ms. dechalus: in your experience handling the disasters that occurred in 2017, do you need more funding for fema in this year's spending package? for disaster relief programs or for other programs? mr. long: again, it goes back to emergency management. it is like the chair you are sitting in. it is supported by four legs. each one of the four legs
represents a different thing. the federal government is one leg. that is me coordinating all of the resources down to a governor. the second leg is the state and local tribal government. the third leg is the private sector and nonprofit. the fourth leg is prepared citizenry. when all four legs are present, the disaster preparedness response and recovery phases go well. when one is missing, if anything is missing, if the state government is not strong or if the local level collapses, the chair is less stable and disasters do not go nearly as well as they should. the question congress needs to ask is, why are there nine states that do not have their own rainy day fund to support their own citizens if a disaster occurs in their state and fema assistance is not coming to town? we need to start asking those questions. what building code, what land use plan, what zoning is being put into place at the local
level and the state level? the key to disaster resiliency is not a bigger fema and bigger budget. the key to disaster resiliency is smart development in areas that are susceptible to known disasters we have known about for years. if we continue to build a bigger fema, it puts an unrealistic expectation on the agency that we will never be able to meet. coming into the job, there are 20,000 dedicated employees who serve their country and serve others. the average deployment is 136 days out in the field. and they get stomped on. they get ridiculed. they are never doing it fast enough. the only way we overcome that is if all four of the legs on the chair get stronger. not just fema. ms. dechalus: the former fema chief michael brown stated in august that he feels the u.s. has not learned from hurricane katrina. do you agree with that assessment? mr. long: i do believe that what i call hazard amnesia is alive and well. we went many years of rebuilding communities after disasters without making them more resilient.
now what we have put forward is an outcome recovery. we use what is called section 428 in the stafford act to say we are not just going to rebuild the community back to its predisaster condition. if we are going to spend billions of dollars, we are going to do this right. we are going to factor mitigation into the recovery effort right up front so we are not having to replace blown out infrastructure again and again. you watch states tear down building codes. i may be wrong on this, but it is my understanding that florida, the 2001 building code, which proves effective was stripped down this year before michael hit. we need to start asking the questions as to why. i do not want to put fema in a place where we have to hold back preparedness funding or holdback recovery funding until building codes and proper land use planning or proper contracts are put into place. but we may get to that point, to force communities to get better. mr. nixon: a lot of these natural disasters you have
talked about, forest fires, hurricanes, it seems these are all attributable to climate change. how is the agency adjusting to that? are you looking at modeling disasters or are you looking at how you are getting funding? what is that doing for the agency in terms of its mission and how it responds to the disasters? as you mentioned, you have dealt with probably more than anyone else in your position in quite some time. mr. long: one of the things i recently did was i created the office of resilience. when i inherited fema, there were a lot of stovepipe programs. our mitigation division, our preparedness division, our continuity division operated in these silos. we brought them all together under one umbrella called the office of resilience.
to be able to say, regardless of what causes the disasters, how do we work to mitigate and overcome them and make sure that the conversations are coming across? we also look at things like climate variability. it is not just a changing climate, it is variability like transitioning from la niña el niño, which happens every five years. one of the primary drivers of decreased and increased periods of activity is the ocean's conveyor belt. it is the way it pumps water in and out of the basins. we entered into an increased period of hurricane activity in 1995. i used to make presentations on that. that for the next 30 years, we are going to be paying for the
fact that we built a lot of communities in vulnerable areas along the coast and we did not do it to a standard where houses are elevated nor were they wind mitigated. we have been paying for it ever since. ms. swan: we have 10 minutes left. ms. dechalus: on the topic of hurricane maria, i know there has been a lot of controversies surrounding the death toll. george washington university put out a study saying nearly 3000 people died from hurricane maria. you have said time and time again that fema does not count the death toll. don't you think it is fair that fema should be responsible to count the death toll in order to properly assess the damage that the natural disaster caused? mr. long: fair question, but we are not set up or designed to do that. we do not have medical examiners who can say this was attributable to hurricane maria or this is a death due to heart attacks. i do not think fema needs to be in that role. we have to rely upon the local
and state's ability. the county coroner's capability, and the medical examining capability it is not entirely functional, which is part of the problem. i do not think we will ever know how many deaths were directly attributable to maria. directly or indirectly. there is a difference. the number that was reported as 65. those are direct deaths that are reported like a building collapse. due to drowning from storm surge or whatever it may be. the indirect deaths are always a problem after any disaster. including in florida as a result of michael. people try to clean up debris, get injured, hurt, fall off their roofs. when you power is out, stop lights don't work, people die in car crashes. the thing is, you have to look at the studies. neither one of the studies goes through and says, this is exactly how these people died or
what the cause was. it was a trend in the numbers of baseline averages over time. we have to look at that. the bottom line is, fema thinks that one death is a death way too many. we work every day to try to prevent that through $2 billion preparedness grants that goes out to understanding how to do public warning systems. making sure people are heeding evacuation warnings. we were trying different things. this year, we started using an emergency alert system to reinforce. the governors were reinforcing the evacuation methods to say get out of here, it is a dangerous place. it goes back to our strategic plan. goal number one is to build a culture of preparedness. a lot of times, people do not understand why they are vulnerable. many people do not understand
that storm surge due to a hurricane is the primary reason you see a tremendous amount of damage. a storm surge has the highest potential to kill the most amount of people. yet, it is classified by wind. people think, my home is under construction, it will survive the wind. the people who experienced storm surge in michael are not alive to talk about it. mr. nixon: could you talk about your assessment of -- there are people who say fema would be more effective if it was an independent agency rather than a sub agency within a department of homeland security? what is your assessment of that? mr. long: that's a tough question. that is a question that has been up for debate. i have a solid relationship inside the department of homeland security. they understand the complexity and we moved at lightning speed to get disasters declared. there is great communication. that is a question for congress. it is set up to where i have a
direct line to the president in times of need. by all means, that has occurred, where there has been a direct line of communication. i never thought i would have so much direct line of communication with the president of the united states as a result of everything we have gone through. ms. swan: just a follow-up on the question about puerto rico, could you give us a snapshot on the status of recovery? mr. long: we have a long way to go. it is not we as in fema, the united states has a long way to go to help the commonwealth recovery. fema is one of the greatest assets to the commonwealth because of the money we put forward. there are other agencies involved such as hud. putting billions of dollars in as well. i think we put over $15 billion to work to do emergency repairs the grid. trying to bring up the infrastructure to where it is no longer a threat to life because it is not working. now is the tough task of working with the commonwealth to say, governor, what is your clear plan to build an energy grid that is resilient, that will make you more economically viable down the road, one of the biggest tasks we have is
rebuilding a tremendous amount of schools and repairing schools. these are not things that happen within a week. these are things -- imagine a new school being planned in your community where you live. it takes years to do so. we are trying to be thoughtful and work with the governor to understand, here is what you are entitled to, here is how the money works. we have broken it out into sectors such as education or health and medical or transportation to try to go in and fix everything simultaneously. there are thousands of breaches in the roadways. it is not something that goes in overtime. fema is always facing unrealistic expectations to make communities work immediately after a disaster. puerto rico has the best opportunity it has ever had to become more economically viable and resilient. it is not solely up to fema to make sure that that happens. ms. swan: we have five minutes left. ms. dechalus: on the recovery aspect, republican senator is the chairman of the budget committee. he wrote a letter to fema last
month stating that he expressed concerns about fema not properly giving or allocating money to puerto rican residents that were trying to recover from hurricane maria. the money was instead being used to pay excessive markups and overhead costs. has fema addressed those concerns? mr. long: there is a lot of bad information from the media from the standpoint of how the system works. a lot of the contracts are not our contracts. they are commonwealth contracts or local municipal contracts that we reimburse. before we reimburse it, we do our due diligence to make sure it was competitively bid. the cost rates are competitive as well. we are not being gouged or anything like that. we work with them, but there is a massive responsibility of ensuring this money we put down is being put to work correctly. it cannot be done too quick. we have to be methodical.
did it put back together? when you look at the amount of assistance provided to puerto rico, it is unprecedented. we literally have made 100,000 homes. roughly 100,000 homes. that is direct construction going in and do that. imagine if i had to come in and fix 100,000 homes in any of the communities they that you lived in. it takes a lot of time and there's a lot of assistance going in to puerto rico. the question for the congress is, this is the biggest opportunity puerto rico has had. is the commonwealth ready to lead that? particularly with rebuilding a power grid that is sustainable for the future. we do not rebuild we grant the power grids. money to do that. we do not have the authority to go back in and rebuild the grid. that is up to the commonwealth. we try to help them with the planning efforts. this is going to take more than fema to help the commonwealth
overcome what happened in maria. ms. swan: last couple questions, we have about three minutes left. mr. nixon: if you could talk briefly about -- you mentioned this before. continuity of government efforts. it is one of those things where there is not a lot known about it. can you briefly talk about what that is in fema's role in it? mr. long: basically, continuity of government is making sure that -- what fema's role is to make sure the executive branch of government can work on its worst day. the executive branch of government, regardless of what we face, whether it is a public health event or whatever it may be, it is still in a position to meet its essential critical functions to the american public. it is a massive job. it requires the ability to do redundant communications and to make sure the executive branch can work if they have been displaced from a building. if we have seen a reduction in people as a result of a public
health event. you have lost resources. fema leads the planning efforts in the process to make sure that happens. continuity of government is not just our responsibility. it is also the responsibility of state emergency management agencies working with governors to make sure the governor can speak to the president at any given time. how does the governor speak to the municipalities and leadership at the local level of government? it is an incredibly complex job. one of the most important jobs on my shoulders in the united states. ms. swan: final question. ms. dechalus: you mentioned before about the presidential alert system. a lot of people have been hesitant about whether they want to receive that or not given the political climate. given what happened in january in hawaii where an employee accidentally sent a ballistic missile alert, it resulted in a lot of chaos. what procedures are in place to make sure that does not happen? mr. long: the hawaii alert issue was truly unfortunate. hawaii were doing their due diligence to test a very important concept for a very real threat. they had been through a series
of exercises in being proactive. we always encourage that. unfortunately, a simple mistake largely, from what i understand, it boils down to the digital interface that they were using. now they have gone back and put in redundancies to make sure that does not happen again. the way that the software was designed to be able to blast that out. the integrated public alert warning system was originally designed to make sure the president could get a blast of information out to all citizens of the united states. for any type of emergency. we recently had to test that. the system had never been tested. it'd been around for basically a decade. if you do not know something works, you have to test it. that is what happened. we reached well over 200 million cell phones, which is a success. these are systems that hopefully we never have to use. the bottom line is, the threats are always evolving. we have to be prepared. i cannot afford to sit back and
take things for granted. ms. swan: fema administrator brock long, thank you for being our guest. mr. long: thank you so much. ms. swan: welcome back to newsmakers. after our conversation with administration or of fema, two reporters are ron nixon and camila dechalus. what are the expectations of a democratic house and the kind of oversight fema might have that it has not experienced before with a republican congress? ms. dechalus: a lot of house democrats i have talked to especially in the house government oversight and reform committee have said that they need to see more oversight on fema. they are concerned that he did not agree or disagree with the george washington study that found nearly 3000 people died
from hurricane maria. he has been hesitant to speak on that. he has always stated that one a death is a death too many, but what we will see come january is that more democrats will start conducting or calling for investigations to understand fema. there is a lot of misconceptions about what they can and cannot do. mr. nixon: i think that it is going to be a different environment because i do not think that there was the look back from the congressional standpoint. particularly on hurricane maria of what happened. him and what were the lessons and what are they doing about that as a result of the things they were able to go back and look at?
i think there were some misconceptions about what fema could and cannot do, but i do not think we know the clear picture of what actually happened. what could they do that they did not do? what are the things that puerto rico should have been able to take care of that they were not able to take care of? ms. swan: the administrator made the case several times that the public expectations on fema versus its mandate, there is a gap. what are you learning in your reporting about what the public has come to expect from fema and what it is able to deliver? mr. nixon: there is a general perception that when a natural a disaster happens, fema is supposed to get in there and hand out food and water and do all of the things that first responders are supposed to do. i do not think people understand that is not the role. their role is to back first responders and make sure they have the things they need.
the first responsibility for dealing with those things are the state and local level as the administrator said. that is a common misperception about what fema's role actually is. a lot of times, you will hear people say fema is screwing something up. that is not fema. they will go, what are they supposed to be doing? there needs to be more education on exactly how these things break out and what their role is versus the state and local role. ms. swan: the president in his budget proposal has called for cutting back on some of the programs that fema administers. what is the trump administration's view on how to manage the state and local relationship with the federal government? ms. dechalus: that is a great question. i do not think they truly know at this point. fema is still trying to figure out how what happened in 2017 with the natural disasters that occurred, including hurricane irma and maria, the california wildfires, that that does not happen again. their approach is that there needs to be more communication
between the local and state levels and how they interact with fema. fema is not supposed to be the first responder. they're supposed to assist the local and state government. going forward, what they want to have is more of a cohesive will strategy on how to combat some of the challenges that they faced in 2017. as ms. swan: we have about a minute left. in the midst of dealing with these natural disasters we have had, the administrator also found himself in the news for some ethics related things. personal travel back to his home in north carolina. how did that play out for him? mr. nixon: this revolved around the use of staffers for his travels back home. to make a long story short, he ended up being reprimanded by the secretary of homeland security, paying for the use of
the vehicle. basically, owning up to what he did in the use of the vehicle and having staff go home with him. ms. swan: obviously he is still on the job, so he has the confidence of homeland security and the white house at this point. mr. nixon: right. he is not just someone who is a political appointee. he is someone who had years of experience in emergency management. ms. swan: on the climate change issue, that will be the last. what did you learn about how they are incorporating climate change? ms. dechalus: he mentioned in the interview that they are still trying to navigate how to combat some of the technical and issues. one of the things he was mentioning is that first and foremost improving infrastructure. not within fema, but local and state. he was saying there are certain states that do not have proper
infrastructure. they think that when a natural disaster comes, we are going to be prepared. it is not really tested in order to be a good stance in response to natural disasters. it is very clear that fema has a lot to improve on, but so do you local and state governments and how do they respond to natural disasters in their community? ms. swan: thanks to both of you for asking questions this week. we appreciate your time. mr. nixon: thank you for having us. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> and tonight on c-span, former federal reserve chairman jed german janet yellen talking about the 2008 financial crisis. the role of the federal reserve and current risks in the financial market. if there is no agreement on funding.
the white house wants congress to provide $5 billion for the wall. working on a criminal justice bill. c-span two.n >> when the new congress takes off in january, it will have the young this most diverse freshman class in history. on c-span.ve >> this week on cue and day, university of london -- she discusses her book behold america.