Disaster Assistance:

Information on Federal Disaster Mitigation Efforts

T-RCED-98-67: Published: Jan 28, 1998. Publicly Released: Jan 28, 1998.

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Judy A. England Joseph
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GAO discussed the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) disaster mitigation efforts, focusing on: (1) the reasons why disaster mitigation efforts are not always undertaken by state and local governments and individuals; (2) FEMA's efforts to encourage mitigation; and (3) issues that GAO believes are pertinent to ensuring the cost-effective use of federal dollars for hazard mitigation.

GAO noted that: (1) hazard mitigation is primarily the responsibility of state and local governments, and individuals; however, mitigation actions are not always taken; (2) the reasons for this include local sensitivity to such measures as: (a) building code enforcement and land use planning; (b) conflict between mitigation and developmental goals; and (c) individuals' perceptions that the possibility of a disaster's occurrence is low; (3) FEMA's hazard mitigation efforts include grants and training for state and local governments, funding for mitigating damage to public facilities and purchasing and converting flood-prone properties to open space, federal flood insurance, and programs targeted at reducing the loss of life and property from earthquakes and fires; (4) in recent years, FEMA has taken a strategic approach to mitigation by publishing a 15-year national mitigation strategy and establishing 5-year mitigation objectives in its strategic plan pursuant to the Government Performance and Results Act; (5) FEMA expects to reflect its strategic goal and objectives in future performance partnership agreements with states; (6) GAO's work has identified several issues pertinent to ensuring the cost-effective use of federal dollars for hazard mitigation; (7) studies have shown a variety of approaches with the potential for increasing the level of mitigation, including regulatory and financial incentives proposed by FEMA, the National Research Council, and the National Performance Review; however, these and other proposals require analysis to determine their relative costs and benefits; (8) under existing approaches, it is uncertain that, collectively, federal funds are effectively targeted to projects where the risk of loss is greatest because: (a) limitations on data needed to estimate risks often make it difficult to determine the cost-effectiveness of specific actions; and (b) federal hazard mitigation funds are provided through a number of different programs and agencies--some limited to particular hazards; and (9) the extent to which cost-effective mitigation projects will result in federal dollar savings is uncertain, depending upon the actual incidence of future disaster events and the extent to which the federal government would bear the resulting losses.

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