The Stafford Act is the chief legislation that governs the response of the federal authorities towards disasters in the United States. The Act suggests how disasters should be declared, how the assistance should be provided, and governs the arrangements of sharing costs among the local, state and federal governments. The primary federal U.S. agency is mandated with the responsibility of responding to a disaster, executing the Stafford Act’s provisions, and distributing aid as stipulated by the Act in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Stafford Act distinguishes two incident levels – major disasters and emergencies. Emergencies are small events that are rarely served by the federal role. On the other hand, major disasters are large events. The Stafford Act mandates the President with the authority of issuing declarations of disasters that approve assistance for local communities and states that have been overcome by an occurrence that disrupts their normal operations.
Following the occurrence of several disasters, it is evident that the Stafford Act does not adequately address the needs of communities and governments affected by such catastrophes. Despite giving federal administrations much discretion for fitting necessary response to the disaster, the Act’s flexibility is not sufficient to handle the extensive destruction resulting due to the occurrence of a catastrophic disaster. In general, the Act in its current form is not adequately used to come up with effective decisions after the occurrence of an emergency. Therefore, this paper argues for the reformation of the Stafford Act. It identifies particular problems with the current laws of the Act, regulation, and policy that hinder effective recovery efforts, response, mitigation, and preparedness. In addition, the paper proposes necessary changes that will enhance emergency management and capability of recovery.
Reformation of the Stafford Act
The scope and effect of some disasters are so severe that they necessitate the specialized consideration of efforts toward response and recovery. The Stafford Act needs to be amended to be allowed to differentiate such catastrophic disasters as those with the severely devastating impact. Currently, catastrophic events are defined as manmade or natural incident, with the inclusion of terrorism. They result in unusual levels of damage, casualties, or disruptions that can severely affect the population, environment, national morale, economy and functions of the government (Moss, Schellhamer, & Berman, 2009). A formula that determines whether a disaster meets the standards to be termed a catastrophe is needed. Characterization of a disaster as a catastrophe enables the president to have the authority to put aside the provisions of the Stafford Act in the event of a catastrophe. In addition, this characterization would ensure automatic federal funding for all groups of works that are eligible for the period of a disaster. The designation would also order the instant release of federal funding for 50% of the Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) estimation for all grant programs.
The Stafford Act should equally be reformed to include the Catastrophic Disaster Housing Plans to meet the needs of the community. Given the amount of damage that households suffer in a catastrophic disaster, The final National Disaster Housing Plan has to make sure that the unusual needs of the community that have been hit by disasters, and communities that host these victims, are properly met. These requirements entail the provision of shelter, transitional and temporary housing, and authorization of repair of structures that are permanent.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program offers funds to assist communities in long-term measures for hazard mitigation as they rebuild or repair after a disaster (Roberts, 2006). Following this measures, private homes, businesses, public facilities and critical infrastructure can be hardened and retrofitted. New constructions and developments can follow good practices to avoid wastage of future resources for carrying out the repair of what could have been mitigated. A study for FEMA mandated by the Congress approximated that in such a way, $4 would be saved for every single dollar (Roberts, 2006). More funds should be availed for the mitigation of a hazard after the occurrence of a disaster. In addition, there should be an increase in funding and financial enticements for programs of hazard mitigation in communities that are at high risks. Equally, the whole process of hazard mitigation needs to be streamlined so that less funding is used for bureaucratic and complex administration, and more for the real construction of safer structures.
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The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program needs to be reformed to offer the discretion of the President to increase the share of the federal cost to one 100% for hazard mitigation, just as in other programs. Direct funding for hazard mitigation needs to be availed to the communities that are impacted by levels that are proportional to the extent of damage caused by the occurrence of the event. Equally, the Stafford Act should be reformed to avail initial hazard mitigation funds immediately based on estimates of the Preliminary Damage Assessment (Moss et al., 2009). In addition, under the Act’s provisions for mitigation planning, the communities at risk should be “pre-certified” to undertake the initiative following guidelines of hazard mitigation. The criteria for environmental hazard mitigation review needs to be streamlined to simplify the process of application and speed up the completion of the mitigation project.
The law and regulation of the Stafford Act authorizes several programs to help people who are affected by disasters and emergencies. Presently, funds availed for the programs of the Act are not sufficient to cater for the needs and implementation of the programs. The program’s implementation needs to be improved, since the lapses hurt not only the victims of the disaster, but also the communities hosting residents after their evacuation. The problem is especially severe in cases of disasters catastrophic which require a considerable amount of time before affected people move back to their communities. A thorough case management undertaken by professionals who are qualified is key for the success of programs, such as individual assistance that accords help to victims. Reforms in the regulations and laws of the Standard Act are necessary to ensure that communities that host victims are made whole after they have provided shelter and other necessary resources for disaster victims.
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The Stafford Act needs to be transformed to create a national program for disaster case management. The program will avail an approach that is comprehensive for disaster recovery which will ensure the incorporation of interagency (Moss et al., 2009). Equally, qualified case management personnel trained in Individual assistance, Assistance of other needs, and other possible programs assisting disaster victims should be provided. In order to reduce misunderstanding and to serve the affected communities better, local jurisdictions need to be educated to advise citizens on available options of receiving federal assistance and responsibilities. Additionally, all the people who are evacuated should be eligible for Individual Assistance to prevent them from burdening the local communities that host them.
In addition, FEMA needs to accelerate the finalization of a plan for disaster housing which does not predominantly rely on vouchers and travel trailers and has proven problematic. In order to ensure improved ways of providing disaster housing, the Act needs to be reformed to authorize the President to utilize emergency funding for permanent structures repair, which is necessary for transitional and temporary housing within the affected communities. Strategic investments for permanent repairs can avail housing faster in places of need, and this project has proven to be cost-effective in the long-term recovery of the community affected. Additionally, the Act should be reformed to avail disaster housing for displaced residents and workers who are key to recovery and response operations.
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Since jurisdictions and individuals require quick access to funding for replacing and repairing homes, facilities, infrastructure, and businesses to simplify disaster recovery, insurance regulations need to be reformed. The regulations of the Stafford Act should be reformed to allow grantees and subgrantees to be repaid for insurance deductibles at a cost that is eligible. As a result, there will be a withdrawal of policy change which limits the recovery of deductible to a one-time event. The Act should be reformed to allow jurisdictions to reimburse the federal government for claims of insurance payments received during the phase of close out of the grant instead of deducting the amount anticipated from a Public Assistance grant.
Additionally, the threshold for insurance requirement should be increased from $5,000 to $100,000 to be in compliance with the proposed threshold of small projects. Requirements for proving insurance for Individual Assistance need to be waived to allow for immediate assistance to be distributed to people who are in need. Receipts to reimburse the program should be required when the claims for insurance payments are made. Finally, the Act should be reformed to enable the establishment of criteria whereby entities of local governments with the exclusion of the state are authorized to insure it.
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Finally, the Stafford Act should be reformed to empower FEMA to be recognized as the lead agency in the event of a disaster (Gosselin & Miller, 2005). FEMA should be enabled to coordinate all the departments of the federal government that have been given responsibilities of funding disasters to make sure that funding for the community affected by the event is ensured. Coordination between agencies and departments that have overlapping jurisdictions should be ensured. Additionally, the staff capabilities of FEMA need to be increased by making sure that it is an adequate, stable and experienced body.
In conclusion, reformation of the Stafford Act would help the cleanup and recovery efforts of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil. The reformation of the Stafford Act would avail the necessary support required to undertake the clean-up process. Reformation will provide more funds to the program for the clean-up process and eliminate the bureaucratic issues on the way to carrying out the clean-up process. Therefore, reformation of the Stafford Act is necessary and should be speeded up given the increased disaster occurrences.