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Highlights

The administration is developing the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) in order to enhance the nation's ability to deliver recovery assistance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Long-Term Community Recovery Branch (LTCR) is responsible for leading a network of primarily federal agencies, known as ESF-14, that supports long-term recovery. LTCR's experiences offer potential insights for developing the NDRF. GAO was asked to report on (1) the roles that LTCR played in recent disasters, (2) broad criteria and timing challenges that affected this assistance, (3) the effectiveness of specific coordination practices, and (4) the effectiveness of specific planning assistance practices. GAO focused on three disasters with significant LTCR involvement: the Greensburg tornado (2007), the Iowa floods (2008), and Hurricane Ike (2008). GAO reviewed agency documents and policies and interviewed relevant federal, state, and local officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security 1. As a result of insights based on the experiences of FEMA's LTCR and recognizing the administration's current efforts to develop the NDRF and improve recovery authorities and programs, the Secretary of Homeland Security, as a leader of these efforts, should establish, as part of the new NDRF or related efforts, a long-term recovery structure that more effectively aligns the timing and level of involvement of the entity responsible for coordinating long-term community recovery assistance with both the capacity of state and local governments to work with them and the need for coordination assistance, which may last beyond the operation of the Joint Field Office (JFO). One approach could allow for the deployment of resources in phases to provide long-term recovery assistance tailored to a community's evolving needs, and could be provided remotely when necessary, similar to LTCR's experience during recovery from the 2007 tornado in Greensburg, Kansas.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2011, FEMA finalized the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), which established a recovery structure intended to more effectively align the timing and level of long-term community recovery assistance with the capacity of state and local governments and the need for coordination assistance. The NDRF establishes a Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator (FDRC) and assigns this official to be involved in disaster recovery immediately after the disaster and to stay past the close out of federal disaster response activities, in order to ensure that recovery is supported during its various phases. The NDRF acknowledges that the transition from disaster response to initial recovery operations and then to recovery varies. Therefore, the FDRC is charged with closely coordinating the progress and timelines of recovery with local, State and Tribal officials as well as other key stakeholders in order to reinforce a shared understanding of the objectives and expectations for the recovery effort and eventual Federal demobilization.
Department of Homeland Security 2. As a result of insights based on the experiences of FEMA's LTCR and recognizing the administration's current efforts to develop the NDRF and improve recovery authorities and programs, the Secretary of Homeland Security, as a leader of these efforts, should evaluate and assess, as part of the new NDRF or related efforts, what would be an appropriate level of authority for the entity responsible for coordinating long-term recovery in order for it to foster effective coordination among federal agencies involved in disaster recovery and to resolve related policy and program conflicts that may arise.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2011, FEMA finalized the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), which established the role of Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator (FDRC) as a leader in federal disaster response and recovery assistance. Specifically, the NDRF assigns this official with responsibility and authority to facilitate the coordination of information and activities among the federal agencies whose programs, technical assistance and expertise are relevant to recovery, within the framework of the Recovery Support Strategy. In large-scale disasters and catastrophic incidents, the NDRC states that the FDRC will take over as the lead from the FCO, when the FCO demobilizes, to continue management of Federal recovery resources, for those incidents that require continued significant interagency disaster recovery coordination. This includes coordination of the longer-term RSF structures associated with the NDRF that continue operation.
Department of Homeland Security 3. As a result of insights based on the experiences of FEMA's LTCR and recognizing the administration's current efforts to develop the NDRF and improve recovery authorities and programs, the Secretary of Homeland Security, as a leader of these efforts, should communicate more clearly the objectives and processes used when assessing the value of specific recovery projects to help prevent unrealistic expectations about the implementation of such projects among members of the affected community. Toward this end, FEMA should resolve any inconsistencies in relevant guidance or terminology and take steps to ensure that these assessments appropriately reflect the feasibility of projects, including their importance to state and local leaders as well as the broader community.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2011, FEMA finalized the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), which established a checklist of roles and activities for federal recovery officials during post disaster recovery, including recommending that federal officials provide timely, accurate and accessible information to the public and manage expectations in coordination with local, State, Tribal and other stakeholders. The NDRF checklist also recommends that, as part of recovery planning assistance: (1) the federal government ensure local ownership of the early recovery process through the engagement of local, State and Tribal authorities in the planning, execution and monitoring of recovery actions: (2) provide planning guidance, tools, resources and best practices to local, State and Tribal governments to facilitate their recovery planning; and (3) develop an accessible public information campaign to increase stakeholder awareness of the processes involved in recovery.
Department of Homeland Security 4. As a result of insights based on the experiences of FEMA's LTCR and recognizing the administration's current efforts to develop the NDRF and improve recovery authorities and programs, the Secretary of Homeland Security, as a leader of these efforts, should develop clear and consistent criteria that identify factors that determine whether and how the entity responsible for coordinating long-term recovery will become involved in a specific disaster. Such criteria should provide additional guidance about factors that determine whether the entity responsible for coordinating and planning becomes involved in recovery.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2011, FEMA finalized the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), which established a process that FEMA and others will use to determine whether federal recovery support will be deployed to a disaster, including who is involved in the decision-making and what factors or criteria they will consider. Specifically, the NDRC states that activation of recovery assistance will depend on the magnitude of the disaster, requirements of affected communities, and availability and appropriateness of Federal resources. The NDRF also outlines an assessment protocol intended to determine which coordination structures are necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, among other things. From this assessment, the Federal Coordinating Officer, in coordination with the State, activates the appropriate recovery support assistance, if necessary.

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