About The Resilience Institute

The Resilience Institute is part of WWU Huxley’s College of the Environment. It facilitates scholarship, education, and practice on reducing social and physical vulnerability through sustainable community development, as a way to minimize loss and enhance recovery from disasters in Washington State and its interdependent global communities.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Do Presidential Candidates Understand Disaster Risk Reduction?

The recent news cycle describing John McCain's visit to New Orleans to criticize the Bush administration's response to the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe made me curious how the three current presidential candidates compare on the issue of community resilience and each compares with what the experts say on the topic.

To see my quick comparison, keep reading.

John McCain

Unfortunately, the McCain campaign doesn't have anything on its website related specifically to Hurricane Katrina, emergency management, hazard mitigation, etc. Interestingly, they don't even have links to the New Orleans news coverage in the "In the News Section." So all I can go on are the news stories about his New Orleans campaign stop. For example, this New York Times article describes McCain as making three general recommendations:

  1. Use qualified people

  2. Allocate as much money in the recovery phase as is necessary

  3. Utilize the private sector, like FedEx, UPS, etc. in the response phase

Hilary Clinton

Clinton's campaign does have a section on their website specifically devoted to Hurricane Katrina and what could be done to prevent future catastrophe. The campaign lists 10 points related to disaster response and mitigation, though most of them are specific to on-going recovery in the Gulf Coast:

  1. Elevate the Gulf Coast federal rebuilding director

  2. Cut red tape

  3. Attract workers to rebuild New Orleans and the region

  4. Build a reliable hurricane protection system so there is not another Katrina

  5. Expand affordable housing

  6. Combat rising crime and give first responders needed tools

  7. Build 21st Century schools in New Orleans

  8. Revitalize a lagging health care system

  9. Promote smart development

  10. Revamp federal response so we are ready next time

Barack Obama

Obama's campaign definitely gets the nod for having the most verbiage on the issue, with a Hurricane Katrina fact sheet [PDF file] posted. The major points in the fact sheet are the following (caps below are theirs):



      1. Strengthen the Levees

      2. Restore the Wetlands

      3. Fight Crime


      1. Shake the Money Loose

      2. Rebuild Hospitals

      3. Rebuild Schools

      4. Restore Housing

      5. Improve Transportation


      1. Ensure Locals Can Get Recovery Jobs

      2. Provide Incentives to Employers in Hardest-Hit Areas

      3. Support Financial Infrastructure

      4. Fix FEMA Insurance Rules


    1. Fix FEMA

    2. Fix the Small Business Administration

    3. Adequately Plan for Emergency

    4. Direct Rebuilding Efforts from the White House

    5. Minimize Waste and Abuse

    6. Provide an Insurance Backstop

The "Experts"

Of course there are many experts related to various facets of emergencies and disasters and there is not a enough room to put all their views here. So I chose one expert, Kathleen Tierney, who gave congressional testimony on this subject [PDF file]. As part of her testimony she discussed the following seven points towards reducing the potential for another Katrina-scale disaster:

  1. Ensure that the nation develops a fully-functional intergovernmental emergency management system, placing a priority on the nation’s most vulnerable urban areas.

  2. Ensure that an all-hazards approach to emergency management is implemented at all levels of government.

  3. Ensure that FEMA and other crisis-relevant organizations center their efforts on comprehensive emergency management [meaning all phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery].

  4. Explore organizational arrangements and authorities that de-politicize high leadership positions within FEMA, DHS, and other crisis-relevant organizations.

  5. Invest in and mobilize institutions that provide the “backbone” for effective emergency management.
  6. Develop and implement a strategic emergency management workforce strategy for the nation.

  7. Build oversight, accountability, and evaluation into emergency management programs at all levels of government.

The Verdict

Sorry, there's no verdict. This is just a quick (i.e., way longer than intended) blog post and the information synthesized is incomplete and not directly comparable.

That said, it's interesting to note the emphasis of each of the above on the components of resilience (loss reduction and recovery facilitation). The emphasis overall seems to be on response/recovery, rather than risk reduction.

Isn't it always? [Sigh.]

McCain makes no mention of loss reduction, unless of course the qualified person he would appoint will focus on it. Clinton does not specifically mention loss reduction, but certainly investing in flood protection, smart development, good schools, and quality housing could count as risk reduction, depending on how implemented. Obama mentions several similar points, in addition to restoring wetlands, investing in transportation infrastructure, and taking a local approach to economic development. Tierney was asked to testify specifically on issues of response and recovery, but if you read her testimony she takes many opportunities to emphasize the important of loss reduction, particularly in her points 1, 2, and 3.

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