Post by: Kim Stephens
December is a month of reflection and I, along with Patrice Cloutier and James Garrow are using our blogs to highlight interesting social media and emergency management trends from the year and note future possibilities for improvement. 2013 could be seen as a pivot point for quite a few organizations: social networking graduated from being novel and experimental, to just one of the tools in the communication's toolbox.
SACRAMENTO – In a letter sent last night to President Barack Obama, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. renewed the state’s call for federal assistance due to the impacts of the Rim Fire, appealing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) previous denial of a major disaster declaration.
“The Rim Fire ultimately burned 402 square miles over a period of 69 days, encompassing more than 257,314 acres; causing significant impacts to the State and to the affected local jurisdictions of such severity and magnitude that recovery efforts remain beyond our capabilities,” said Governor Brown in the letter. “In the aftermath of the fire, the State and its communities face infrastructure damage, significant negative economic impact, as well as complex and multifaceted environmental damages. The burned area created an enormous potential for catastrophic flooding and debris runoff from winter storms.”
Governor Brown requested a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration on October 8, 2013, after declaring states of emergency in Tuolumne, Mariposa and San Francisco Counties. The Governor’s request can be found here.
FEMA denied the Governor’s request on November 4, 2013. Current estimates of the damage caused by the fire, which continued burning throughout October, now exceed $54 million.
A Presidential Major Disaster Declaration would trigger the release of Federal funds to help communities recover from the effects of the Rim Fire.
The full text of the letter is below:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
c/o Ms. Nancy Ward
Regional Administrator, Region IX
Federal Emergency Management Agency
1111 Broadway, Suite 1200
Oakland, California 94607-4052
Dear Mr. President,
On November 4, 2013, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denied the major federal disaster declaration I requested for the State of California. In the denial letter, FEMA asserted the severity and magnitude of the Rim Fire was not beyond State and local capabilities. I am appealing the denial of Public Assistance for the significantly impacted counties of Tuolumne and Mariposa, as well as for statewide Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funding.
The Rim Fire ultimately burned 402 square miles over a period of 69 days, encompassing more than 257,314 acres; causing significant impacts to the State and to the affected local jurisdictions of such severity and magnitude that recovery efforts remain beyond our capabilities. This critical need for federal help prompted my requests for assistance through various programs, including a request for a major disaster declaration.
In the aftermath of the fire, the State and its communities face infrastructure damage, significant negative economic impact, as well as complex and multifaceted environmental damages. The burned area created an enormous potential for catastrophic flooding and debris runoff from winter storms. The following factors should be considered as a component of the request for reconsideration of Public Assistance program and statewide HMGP funding.
On August 23, 2013, FEMA granted a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) for the Rim Fire. Based on regulations, the incident period for the FMAG was identified as August 20, 2013, through September 8, 2013. However, this FMAG period represents only 29 percent of the time the fire actually burned. Fire activity continued for an additional 46 days beyond the FMAG incident period, resulting in additional damage and requiring the commitment of state and local resources. According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the Rim Fire began August 17, 2013, and was not 100 percent contained until October 24, 2013. Therefore, I am requesting the incident period of the major disaster declaration be August 17, 2013, through October 24, 2013.
Increase in Estimated Cost of Assistance
Pursuant to the regulations, a per capita figure measures the impact of a disaster within a state. California’s impact indicator is $51,037,920 for the Rim Fire event. The original joint FEMA-State preliminary damage assessment (PDA), completed on October 2, 2013; resulted in an estimated total cost to the State of $70 million. These costs included FMAG eligible costs as well as non-FMAG Public Assistance eligible costs. Since the Rim Fire continued to burn for 46 additional days, a subsequent joint FEMA-State PDA was conducted on November 13, 2013. FEMA Region IX has concurred with the costs provided in Attachment A, that reflect the FMAG total of over $27 million and the non-FMAG Public Assistance program costs of over $54 million, which surpasses California’s impact indicator.
Impact to California
California Disaster Assistance Act (CDAA)
In order to help mitigate the effects of the devastating fire, I proclaimed a State of Emergency for the County of Tuolumne, the City and County of San Francisco, and Mariposa County on August 22, 2013, August 23, 2013, and August 29, 2013, respectively. Subsequently I issued an Executive Order on October 23, 2013, which provides financial assistance through CDAA to local agencies and non-profit organizations that provide services, and directs additional assistance to support local recovery efforts. Without a major disaster declaration, CDAA will cost-share with the FMAG at a rate of 18.75 percent and provide 75 percent of the remaining eligible costs (except to state agencies) of the event. The local governments will be responsible for 6.25 percent cost-share with the FMAG and a 25 percent cost-share with CDAA. These totals equate to $61,185,428 of the $82,035,496, which is the combined total of the FMAG and non-FMAG estimates. In addition, California will be cost-sharing with the estimated $1.7 million in Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Emergency Relief (ER) program damages.
Since CDAA is available for services rather than facilities of private non-profit organizations, the completely devastated Camp Tawonga will not be eligible to receive an estimated $264,000 in public assistance for its damages. It is significant to note Camp Tawonga, a 160 acre residential Jewish summer camp located on the middle fork of the Tuolumne River, is ineligible for reimbursement under the FMAG declaration. Therefore, without a major disaster declaration, the entire cost of the Camp Tawonga’s fire-related damages will be borne solely by the private non-profit.
Consistent with the President’s Council on Environmental Quality’s recently approved Principles and Requirements for Investments in Water Resources, which recognized ecosystem service values in project benefit cost analyses, San Francisco recently prepared a draft report on the ecosystems impact of the Rim Fire. This ecosystem valuation analysis is consistent with FEMA- prescribed cost-benefit policy already employed by FEMA for its hazard mitigation assistance programs.
The preliminary study (Preliminary Assessment: The Economic Impact of the 2013 Rim Fire on Natural Lands) estimated ecosystem losses and damages at a minimum of $115 million. This loss could ultimately be much higher as values and assumptions are reviewed and new information becomes available. The largest economic losses to the environment are associated with burnt coniferous forest, primarily due to the vast extent and severity of the burn. High loss values related to this fire include habitat and biodiversity loss, recreation, water filtration, aesthetic values, carbon sequestration and storage, and recreational value. These losses, due to the damage to the ecosystem, must be considered when determining the impact on California.
There are 720 miles of roads and 118 miles of trails in the burn area. Roads and trails throughout the burned watersheds are likely to be impacted by runoff, sediment, and debris derived from burn areas. U.S. and State highways, county roads, and forest roads exist in these watersheds. Increased runoff and sediment from the burned areas can negatively affect the road prism, damaging the roads, eroding land downslope and routing flow and sediment directly to stream channels. Culverts associated with these roads are at risk of plugging from debris carried down channels from burned watersheds. Some culverts are undersized for the expected increases in peak flows and are at risk of failure from overtopping. Culvert failures may increase the magnitude of flood, sediment and erosion hazards in downstream communities and private lands and increase scouring of stream channels on USFS lands.
Based on historic precipitation patterns, it can be expected that frontal storms have a high probability of occurring. The risk of flooding and erosional events will increase as a result of the fire creating hazardous conditions within and downstream of the burn area. These areas are at risk due to flooding and sedimentation affecting water quality, roads, hydroelectric powerhouses, and private camps. Impaired soil productivity and hydrologic function affect:
Human life and safety on or in close proximity to burned lands through increased flood threats;
Property and infrastructure on or in close proximity to burned lands through increased flooding, erosion, and debris threats; and
Critical and occupied habitat for state and federally listed threatened or endangered terrestrial and aquatic animal species within and in close proximity to burned lands through increased flooding and water quality impacts and through delayed vegetative recovery affects.
The Rim Fire negatively affected state and federally listed endangered and threatened species, which may have a profound impact on California for years to come. The fire destroyed significant habitat for a number of California’s rarest animals, and biologists are studying the effect of the fire on wildlife. Additionally, locals have reported an increase in starving bobcats, mountain lions, and bears near campsites, which also puts the lives of the members of the community at risk.
In 2012, nearly 4 million people entered Yosemite National Park to explore the park’s natural resources, hiking trails and roadways. Because of the Rim Fire and subsequent government shutdown, the number of visitors has been greatly diminished for 2013, causing short- and long-term economic impacts to the Region. The tourist economy of Yosemite National Park not only provides critical life support for Tuolumne and Mariposa Counties, but also for Merced and Madera Counties. The economy supporting these counties has been hit hard with the impact of the fire, and at the same time potential tourist dollars were left unrealized when the federal government shutdown Yosemite.
Local businesses were severely impacted during the height of the tourist season due to many stores, campgrounds, restaurants, and hotels having to close their doors during the long fire fight and smoke problems. Business owners were also forced to cut staffing, which resulted in residents needing to seek unemployment assistance in order to meet the needs of their families and their homes. For Tuolumne and Mariposa Counties, tourism-dependent businesses like motels, restaurants, and gas stations have all suffered, impacting local and state tax revenue. Tuolumne County estimated it will be out at least $350,000 in hotel and sales taxes and that $3.25 million was lost in tourist spending during the fire and Yosemite closure. Additionally, Mariposa County, estimated lodging revenue losses at more than $3.5 million. The Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau estimates that local business will ultimately lose as much as $15 million in lost tourism and Mariposa County estimates more than $5 million in lost tourism dollars.
Further, the subsequent shut down of the federal government only exacerbated the economic problems brought on by the Rim Fire. Businesses simply could not recover before Yosemite National Park and other federal entities were closed. While some federal employees will be reimbursed for lost wages during the federal shutdown, this will not be the case for employees in the tourist-related private sector in Tuolumne and Mariposa Counties.
Other California communities were distressed to lesser degrees; however, it’s worth mentioning that thick smoke covered areas north of the fire all the way through the Tahoe basin, into northern Nevada, and could also be seen from points as far away as Idaho. In sum, there are not many business owners in the Sierra Nevada who were not impacted by this devastating event.
The Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, its members, residents, employees and customers, suffered significantly as a result of the Rim Fire. While direct damages to tribal land did not occur, the fire threatened tribal borders and surrounding communities, causing a significant impact to the Tribe both spiritually and economically. Smoke from the fire created a health hazard that will have unknown long term effects on the community. Road closures forced the casino, hotel, gas station, health clinic and all tribal governmental entities to evacuate and eventually close, impacting revenue that is vital to the community’s self-sufficiency. Cultural resources were also affected.
Federal and State Resources
In addition to the direct impacts to public infrastructure, both the agricultural as well as business communities were adversely affected as a result of the Rim Fire, which in turn also impacted employment and the local/regional economy. Ranchers and farmers not only lost livestock as a result of the fire, but incurred costs to feed their livestock as well as to physically move the herds to other areas for grazing.
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a disaster designation for Tuolumne and Mariposa, the assistance made available by USDA’s Farm Service Agency did not cover the livestock compensation and feeding expenses. At my request, the U.S. Small Business Administration issued a declaration for economic injury for the primary counties of Mariposa and Tuolumne, as well as six contiguous counties on September 26, 2013. Many of the businesses were so severely impacted by the loss of working capital that they did not have the capability to pay back a loan.
To assist those who lost their jobs as a result of the economic impacts to businesses, I also directed my Employment Development Department (EDD) to waive the one-week waiting period for those who filed unemployment claims. Although this was helpful, unemployment compensation does not equate to one’s full salary.
I also directed my Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to request participation in FHWA’s ER Program, which provides federal relief for emergency and permanent repairs to federal aid highways. The estimated damages, as a result of the Rim Fire, eligible under this program are $1.7 million, which the CDAA program will cost-share with as appropriate.
To alleviate the fires conditions, I deployed the necessary state resources including but not limited to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), California National Guard, California Highway Patrol, Caltrans, California Conservation Corps, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Environmental Protection Agency, California EDD, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and my Office of Emergency Services. These state agencies are not eligible to receive funding under CDAA; however, the financial impact to California is substantial as validated in the joint PDAs.
Additional Impacts on California
Although the following factors are not a direct result of the Rim Fire, they impact California:
CAL FIRE reports that fire response costs for calendar year 2013 exceed $177 million.
During the period of August 17, 2013, and October 24, 2013, the State of California and its mutual aid system responded to 56 other significant wild fires throughout the State. Two of these 56 events were significant to the extent that I proclaimed two additional State of Emergencies.
California has suffered several weather events this year resulting in multiple local proclamations statewide, including a state declaration for Inyo County’s July storms, which is more than a $5 million impact on California’s general fund.
The federal and state lands denuded by the Rim Fire present a unique risk to the built environment. At the urban interface where wild land and development meet, the hazard from post-fire flooding, erosion, sedimentation and mud flows can directly impact communities. HMGP funds can be used to employ soil stabilization and sediment control measures to reduce the risk posed by these hazards. HMGP funds can also be used for defensible space, ignition resistant material and fuel reduction activities that can reduce future fire risk. Without a major disaster declaration, HMGP funds will not be available.
In conclusion, California has effectively demonstrated it has met the eligibility criteria for a major disaster declaration. I have provided supporting information, validating the original assertion that the damages sustained and the monetary cost to the State, as well as the economic impact on local governments, exceeds our combined capabilities.
I respectfully seek your favorable consideration of this appeal and request that you declare a major disaster for California, specifically the counties of Tuolumne and Mariposa, as a result of the Rim Fire event.
Edmund G. Brown Jr.
cc: Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor
Denis McDonough, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff
Members of the California Congressional Delegation
- Governor Brown Directs Recovery Assistance for Rim Fire and Requests Presidential Major Disaster Declaration (caloesnewsroom.wordpress.com)
- FEMA denies aid to CA county hit by Rim Fire (sacbee.com)
Thanksgiving Day is the start of the Holiday season. A time of good will, cheer, family fun, peace and joy. The cold days encourage families to gather inside our homes and really reconnect and share the joy of being a family along with a cup of hot chocolate, a good movie or a board game and the warmth of the fire place.
According to Harris Interactive, Americans don’t look forward to each holiday with the same amount of anticipation; they conducted a poll and found that Thanksgiving is one of the top holidays.
“Thinking of all the holidays that occur during the calendar year, which one would you say is your favorite?”
* The Harris Poll of 2,462 adults surveyed online between September 12 and 19, 2011 by Harris Interactive.
It is during this time that family and friends take part in rituals and traditions as diverse as eating special dishes, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade, football, and breaking the wishbone.
Here at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency services, we know that it’s not if, but when because we know the significance of being prepared for a natural or man-made disaster. Cal OES wants to encourage everyone to be prepared, even during the holidays and we have an idea! This Thanksgiving, start a new tradition with your family!
When you have your family gathered before your succulent Thanksgiving meal, make a fun game of putting together your Family Emergency Kit. Here are some ideas:
- Explain why having this kit in your home, and your car is exceedingly imperative
- Share your family communications plan
- Give your family members and opportunity to describe why they want to be prepared
- Assign everyone a category from the supplies needed for the emergency kit
- Time each player to see how long it took them to gather their supplies
- Award the winner! Prizes are always great!
- Take pictures of your new tradition and share them on social media!
Planning and preparedness is a serious business, but you can make it fun! What’s more, if you have relatives around when you are playing this game, you can either include them in the game or have them watch so they will be inspired by your proactiveness and they will be more likely to go to their homes and get ready as well!
“Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.”
Susan Lieberman, “New Traditions: Redefining Celebrations for Today’s Family,” 1991
Thanksgiving Fast Facts
- The largest pumpkin pie ever made weighed 2,020 pounds (916.25 kilograms).
- A ripe cranberry will bounce.
- All turkeys and chickens have wishbones.
- Canadians celebrate their own Thanksgiving every October.
- Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863.
- The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924.
- This Holiday Weekend, We Give Thanks for Safety (nhredcrossblog.com)
Did you know that Cal OES offers more than 2 billion dollars in grants? Local and regional entities are encouraged to apply for funds to use for equipment, training, exercises, planning, citizen preparedness and critical infrastructure protection projects.
The most recent grant recipient is the Anderson Police Department in the Shasta Region. They applied for and received $50,000 through the Homeland Security Program, which it will use for officer equipment, security fencing and electronic gates at the department’s headquarters.
“Our department was awarded the Homeland Security Grant, because patrol vehicles and evidence storage sheds on the property pose a security risk,” said Police Chief Michael Johnson. “This grant will allow the department to install perimeter fencing on each side of the building’s front, leaving the entry and front parking for public access.”
The Homeland Security grant program is a California supplement to the federal program funding, which serves to expand the efforts that continue to make California a national leader in emergency management and homeland security. As a direct result of the collaborative efforts with the US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Cal OES has made communities safer and better prepared for when a disaster strikes.
“All 58 California counties (Operational Areas) received a portion of more than $38 million dollars available in 2013 for the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) funding awarded to the State and passed through to our local partners,” said Kris Whitty, Chief of the Homeland Security and Prop 1B Division. “The funding benefits the Anderson Police Department to ensure all critical law enforcement equipment is secured yet available at a moment’s notice to assist Anderson residents with any type of incident or emergency.”
Cal OES is pleased to make these funding opportunities available to stakeholders to enhance their ability to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from all events or hazards.
What would you do if you received a call or an email with this plea?
“Hi, my name is Jose Rizal. I’m from the Philippines United and I’m pleading for donations for my country. I’m collecting contributions for the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Efforts, because the Philippines still needs help. More than 11 million people have been affected and we are asking for your compassion and donation. Please send a check or click on this ‘link’ to donate.”
(linked to a legitimate sounding domain name)
Many people still fall prey to these types of emails or phone calls, because scam artists take advantage of the public’s willingness to provide money to victims of a disaster. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, scammers begin sending out charity relief scams within just a couple of hours after a disaster. For example, after Hurricane Sandy, the FBI reported that more than 500 illegitimate websites were created to collect money that ostensibly would go to Hurricane Sandy survivors.
In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen, read and watched the disasters affecting the Philippines and here in the U.S. the floods that destroyed many cities in Colorado and New Mexico. This is a wake up call, so we can be prepared, but also to be alert, because scammers still rely on the good nature and generosity of human beings. Fake solicitors may call, email, come to your door and now-a-days they even use social media to seek donations to help with recovery efforts. Regardless, of how the appeal is made, caution must be exercised in all cases.
For peace of mind, everyone should donate directly to a recognized charity of choice. There are also specific credentialed sites, like Charity Navigator, that will provide details on philanthropic organizations that can help donors make wise decisions.
Before you donate, remember:
- Do not give cash
- Do not give out your credit card number
- Write a check payable only to the charity
- Do not be pressured into giving
- Do not give to a charity because you were sent a gift or you are offered a “free” prize
- Do not be fooled by names that sound similar to legitimate charities
- Beware of organizations offering to send a courier to pick up your donation
- Do not do business over the telephone
- Ask for information in the mail
Beware of appeals that are long on emotion and short on fact. When people solicit a charitable donation, ask questions:
- What is your full name?
- What is the phone number and address that you are calling from?
- What is the full name of the charity you represent?
- What is the headquarters’ address?
- What is the telephone number?
- How long has the charity been in operation?
- What are its goals and purposes?
- How will my donation be used?
- Is my contribution tax deductible?
- How much of my donation will go directly to the charity?
The bottom line is to be alert, exercise caution, and ask questions –as well as inquiring with others you trust for referrals. You should not make a decision under pressure and do not feel you must act in haste.
Of course, the best way to stop fraud is to keep from being a victim in the first place, and that means being aware of how fraudulent schemes work.
To report fraud, waste, or abuse involving disaster relief operations, contact the Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721, or via e-mail at email@example.com. You can also report criminal activity to at 1-800-CALL-FBI or electronically on their website.
- For more on the questions to ask and for a list of groups that can help you research a charity, go to Charity Scams.
- For more information on Signs of a Charity Scam, go to the Federal Trade Commission.
- IRS Warns Consumers of Possible Scams Relating to Relief of Typhoon Victims (clarksvilleonline.com)
Typhoon Haiyan (known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda) is the second-deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing at least 3,976 people in that country alone. The thirtieth named storm of the 2013 Pacific typhoon season.
Relief organizations are still accepting cash donations to provide basic necessities such as food, water and medicines. Click here to get more information.