I haven’t seen public comment from Noem yet on her vote against disaster relief, but if she followed her naysaying Texas colleagues, we may interpret her nay as telling flooded Houstonians or soon-to-be Irma-whipped Floridians that righting their upended lives is not as important as reducing the national debt. I look forward to Rep. Noem wading through the streets of Miami to make that argument.
Trump has been weirdly animated about the hurricane, exclaiming on Twitter about the unprecedented nature of the damage. Now, as he rushes to the scene (or close to the scene) to get his mug on TV, he might want to reconsider whether he will be blamed for diverting resources from those who need it. Trump loves seeing his own image (e.g. in big trucks, in the Oval Office), but his enthusiasm for the limelight and “looking the part” only emphasizes that he views the presidency as another reality show with him in the leading role [Jennifer Rubin, “Mr. President, the Flood Victims Come First, Not Your Photo Op,” Washington Post, 2017.08.29].
Donald Trump has made the White House a karaoke bar, where he turns the armchair musings of the average TV viewer and belts out what he thinks sound like Presidential pronouncements. He’s more concerned about hearing his own voice shout from the loudspeakers than about listening to others and taking practical action:
His aversion to substance is well-known. (Why did he just eliminate an order to require infrastructure to meet higher flood-protection rules? Why did he propose an 11 percent cut to the Federal Emergency Management Agency? Where is the new Department of Homeland Security secretary?) But when the post-crisis analysis happens, Trump will find that the president can rarely escape blame. So rather than rush to the cameras, maybe Trump should start filling empty slots at DHS, rule out the need for offsets (as Republicans did in prior natural disasters) and figure out how he’s going to keep the government open after the end of next month. (Hint: Drop the demand for funding the useless wall and rebuild Houston instead.) We promise not to criticize if he stays away, but that would require that he, for once, think of others first [Rubin, 2017.08.29].
Build a wall? Nuts to that: build a seawall. Build bigger dams and levees. We’ll pay for that.
[Todd Gillman, Dallas Morning News]: I’m wondering what you can tell the people of Texas in terms of long-term recovery efforts. And, in particular, you have been feuding [with] key congressional leaders and also threatened a government shutdown, potentially next month, over border wall funding. Are these [fights] going to hamper, long term, the funding that will be needed long term? …
TRUMP: No, Todd. I think you’ll see very rapid action from Congress, certainly from the president, and you’re going to get your funding. It’s a terrible tragedy. Your governor has been absolutely outstanding in the job he’s done.
… We expect to have requests on our desk fairly soon, and we think that Congress will feel very much the way I feel — in a very bipartisan way. That will be nice, but we think you’re going to have what you need and it’s going to go fast. …
GILLMAN: Does this situation make you reconsider the possibility of a government shutdown next –?
Sylvia Christen, who works with livestock producers though the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association,… says that private insurance bought for cattle losses rarely covers suffocation deaths in a blizzard. She notes there are programs through federal agencies like the USDA aimed at disaster recovery for ranchers who suffer massive losses.
But when ranchers call the USDA these days, here’s what they get: “Hello, you’ve reached the USDA service center. Due to the lapse in current federal government funding, all employees aren’t available until further notice. Thank you” [Charles Michael Ray, “Shutdown Hunders S.D. Post-Blizzard Cleanup,” NPR, 2013.10.14].
Understanding that you have to keep the federal government open and funded to provide disaster relief isn’t a complicated requirement for being President of the United States; it’s just common sense. But hey, maybe Donald Trump thinks he can get FEMA to work for free just like his overstretched Secret Service agents.
If I’m reading the poster right, admission is $10, but the money for tornado-destruction relief comes from the raffle tickets Gaddy and associates are selling. $3 a pop or $10 for four tickets gets you a chance to win an autographed guitar and “lots of swag.”
I checked the mileage and travel time charts to see how much more time it would take for regional emergency management staff to drive to various communities. Looking just at towns of population over 1,000, I found that 28 population centers out of 66 listed would experience longer physical response times from regional OEM staff having to travel from Mitchell or Rapid City instead of Sioux Falls or Pierre. 24 of those towns, with total population of over 267,000, would see an increase in physical response time of over 30 minutes. The average increase in physical response time to those communities is 52 minutes.
But notice that I keep saying physical response time. We don’t appear to be talking about moving firetrucks and bulldozers. We appear to only be talking about moving emergency management coordinators, the folks who call around to the local response teams to find out what they need and help direct first responders and gear where it’s needed. Do regional OEM staff need to race out to a disaster site and be on the ground to coordinate, or can they phone in the job?
“I think having a person here would be better,” Commissioner Jeff Barth said during a commission meeting Tuesday. “The potential for disaster is greater here than it is in, let’s say, Harding County. With our population and the transportation issues, the infrastructure issues that we have — we could easily have some incredible disasters out this way” [Joe Sneve, “State Emergency Office Pulling Coordinator from S.F.,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.05.19].
OEM state director Tina Titze says Sioux Falls and other big towns are better equipped to handle disasters:
The reorganization efforts, she said, are aimed at increasing efficiency and better positioning the department’s six regional coordinators to assist smaller communities that might not have the local resources needed for emergency response.
“Minnehaha County and the city of Sioux Falls are very well prepared, probably our most prepared county in the state with the resources they have available to them,” Titze said. “What we find is it’s the other counties, some of the smaller populated counties, that need us to respond more quickly to assist them because they just don’t have those resources available” [Sneve, 2015.05.19].
Check that, Director Titze: yes, you’re getting efficiency, but you’re not moving any new offices any closer to those small communities. Colman, Onida, and Reliance don’t get quicker service by closing the Sioux Falls and Pierre offices. On face, it only appears the state is reducing services.
And whatever efficiency may be gained, it’s not reflected in the budget. The Legislature gave emergency services a 3.5% increase in state funding. OEM appears to be largely funded by federal dollars: from FY2014 to FY2015, federal dollars for emergency services more than doubled, and in FY2016, federal funding for emergency services remains at over $15 million compared to the state’s spending of $1.7 million.
We like to talk about consolidation of South Dakota government services as a potential budget saver, but the closing of these two regional emergency management offices doesn’t appear on paper to be delivering the savings we’d expect.
Update 08:20 CDT: Tony Mangan of the Department of Public Safety tells Dakota Free Press confirms that this consolidation of administrative locations does not affect the placement of any first-response resource. We also aren’t cutting any jobs; we are simply moving three regional managers. Let’s borrow the KELO map:
Under the consolidation plan, the Sioux Falls and Pierre regional offices close, but the remaining three offices will each house two managers. Mitchell will house the managers for Regions 6 and 1. Rapid City will house the managers for Regions 4 and 5. Aberdeen will house the managers for Regions 2 and 3.
Two regional managers in one office is not new. Pierre right now houses the managers for Regions 3 and 5.
Mangan says the efficiency Titze speaks of is less about budget savings (not a major factor in this decision-making process) and more about efficient allocation of existing resources. Mangan says OEM sees no reduction in service resulting from this change. To the contrary, having two managers in one office allows more collaboration to respond to large disasters in any given region.
Update 10:03 CDT: OEM director confirms and expands on spokesman Mangan’s responses to my questions:
DFP: How many FTEs does this consolidation cut?
Titze: “The SDOEM office will have the same number of FTE covering the same areas as they currently do.”
DFP: How much money will this consolidation save?
Titze: “The potential savings from reducing offices is not the reason for the consolidation. Currently most regional offices are staffed with one person, this consolidation of offices will allow us to better utilize resources and allow our staff to more easily work together and support each other’s assigned regions. By being stationed together they will have a better understanding of each other’s regions and can quickly assist that regional coordinator in a large event or in a situation where more than one impact affects a region. We have discussed the plans with the County EMs across the state over the past month and have received positive feedback. Services and support to the counties will remain the same.”
DFP: Does this consolidation include moving or reducing any emergency response resources (vehicles, heavy equipment, rescue gear, first responders, etc.), or does this consolidation only move management personnel?
Titze: “It is simply locating some personnel in different locations. It does allow them to share some resources however items such as vehicles will remain the same as it is important that each Regional Coordinator can respond quickly to assist their regions.”