RAND Gulf States Policy Institute Analysis of the Stafford Act and Proposed Reforms

RAND Work Provides Insight Into Reforms Proposed to the Stafford Act and Newly Released National Disaster Recovery Framework

FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate at the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Senate Committee on Stafford Act,  photo courtesy of FEMA/Koplitz

On September 23, 2011 United States Senators Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., introduced the Disaster Recovery Act of 2011. The Act proposes reforms to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act that are aimed at improving the nation’s capability to recover from disasters. On the same date, the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) was released, providing a conceptual guide to how federal agencies will work together to meet the needs of states and communities during disaster recovery. The proposed reforms to the Stafford Act and core principles of the NDRF cluster around five key areas where RAND has relevant studies that offer additional insight and context for the proposed reforms.

Area 1: Establishing negotiated contracts pre-disaster

To reduce damages from disaster and strengthen local capacity, both the proposed legislation and NDRF recommends developing pre-incident recovery plans and pre-negotiated contracts.

In analyses with key stakeholders, RAND identified concerns among nongovernmental organizations that current federal policy does not adequately support financial mechanisms suitable for private sector and nonprofit partners. Recommendations from these analyses include establishing contracts with private sector and nonprofit organizations before a disaster in order to quickly mobilize human and material resources locally.

Relevant RAND work:

Area 2: Tracking financing and measuring return on investment

To help maximize limited resources the proposed legislation recommends streamlining requirements for reimbursement and conducting costs-benefit assessments of recovery projects. The NDRF also underscores this point calling for well-administered financial acquisition processes.

A recent RAND study assessed disaster recovery financing (e.g., on what recovery projects, how much) and identified challenges because federal databases are incomplete and there is little known about the cost effectiveness of different models of recovery. RAND's assessment of Louisiana's Disaster Case Management Program also found that the intake procedures for accessing public assistance dollars were cumbersome and inconsistent, often deterring disaster affected individuals from seeking and receiving needed assistance. Recommendations included: streamlining client intake and triage of services, improving the tracking of federal spending, and developing reliable measures of effectiveness.

Relevant RAND work:

Area 3: Engaging private sector and nonprofit organizations

The proposed legislation recommends improvements to training, certification, delivery models and information sharing for case management and crisis counseling and the faith-based groups and nonprofit organizations that provide these services. These improvements are needed for effective coordination and to manage recovery well, two of the success factors listed in the NDRF.

RAND's assessment of Louisiana’s Disaster Case Management Program found that confusion over FEMA reimbursement guidelines, the rapid start-up period, and a lack of operational capacity resulted in difficulties sharing information and long lag times for reimbursement of organizations. To address these challenges, RAND recommended developing a web-based knowledge center at program inception that would facilitate coordination among service organizations involved in case management.

Relevant RAND work:

Area 4: Rebuilding smarter and with help from the affected community

Both the proposed legislation and the NDRF encourage resilient or smart rebuilding, including the use of energy-efficient rebuilding designs, and the elimination of high-price contract labor for emergency.

Through focus groups and other analyses, RAND recommended an examination of federal policies that could be enhanced to allow smarter rebuilding and help mitigate some of the persistent inequities that can challenge human recovery. In addition, RAND studies have explored the impact of disaster on the flood and wind insurance market, which will have implications for smart rebuilding.

Relevant RAND work:

Area 5: Meeting the needs of children

To enable parents to focus on rebuilding homes and returning to work, the proposed legislation calls for more emphasis on the unique needs of children in disasters. The NDRF underscores the importance of being inclusive of the needs of children.

RAND work has shown that children have unique physical and behavioral health needs that should be addressed before, during, and after a disaster, can be addressed through evidence-based programs, and should be acknowledged in emergency plans and policies. RAND presented a new online toolkit to help child-serving organizations implement a 7 Step Emergency Preparedness Plan to address children's needs.

Relevant RAND work: