Hazard Mitigation:

Proposed Changes to FEMA's Multihazard Mitigation Programs Present Challenges

GAO-02-1035: Published: Sep 30, 2002. Publicly Released: Oct 15, 2002.

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Jayetta Hecker
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Over the past 12 years, federal disaster assistance costs have totaled more than $39 billion (in fiscal year 2001 dollars)--a nearly fivefold increase over the previous 12-year period--as a result of a series of unusually large and frequent disasters and an increasing federal role in assisting communities and individuals affected by disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the lead agency for providing federal disaster relief, has provided the bulk of the assistance to help those in need respond to and recover from disasters. As the costs for disaster assistance have risen, FEMA has made disaster mitigation a primary goal in its efforts to reduce the long-term cost of disasters and has developed mitigation programs designed to minimize risk to property or individuals from natural or man-made hazards. FEMA's multihazard mitigation programs differ substantially in how they have sought to reduce the risks from hazards but each has features that the state emergency management community believes has been successful for mitigation. The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), FEMA's oldest multihazard mitigation programs, is a post disaster program that has provided the bulk of mitigation assistance to states and communities. State mitigation officials view the HMGP as a highly successful means for achieving mitigation because commitment to undertake mitigation efforts is greatest in the aftermath of a disaster, and the HMGP takes advantage of this "window of opportunity." FEMA has used its more recent and smaller predisaster Project Impact program to provide funding directly to communities in every state, regardless of whether the state had recently experienced a disaster. State and local officials said that Project Impact has been successful in increasing awareness of and community support for mitigation efforts due to its funding of these types of activities. The proposed new mitigation program would fundamentally change FEMA's approach by eliminating the postdisaster HMGP and by funding mitigation activities on a nationally competitive basis. The administration believes that the new program will ensure that mitigation funding remains stable from year to year and that the most cost-beneficial projects receive funding. The heightened focus on homeland security has raised several issues related to the conduct of hazard mitigation activities. Foremost among these issues is whether the increased emphasis on preventing and preparing for terrorist events will result in less focus on natural hazard mitigation concerns.

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