Inspector General Echoes Begich Recommendations for Faster Action on Alaska’s Rural and Tribal Disaster Recovery
Report Recognizes FEMA’s Shortfalls and Highlights Areas For Improvement in Alaska
After repeated requests from U.S. Senator Mark Begich and the residents of Galena, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General has released a report assessing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response efforts following the 2013 flood. The report makes recommendations that mirror the concerns the Senator expressed over the last year.
In a letter sent to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in March, Begich joined Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) to express their concerns over FEMA’s lack of timely implementation of their tribal disaster declaration provision in the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act as well as the overall failures in effective outreach to tribal communities. Begich today said he is pleased that the IG agreed tribal outreach is paramount to successful disaster response and recovery efforts in Alaska.
“This report from the Inspector General confirms what disaster survivors in Alaska already know, FEMA must make improvements to better accommodate their unique needs,” said Begich. “Administrator Fugate and I sat down with tribes and I made sure the tribes did the talking while FEMA did the listening. As result, we are now making progress for the first time ever with FEMA taking unique tribal needs and the rural Alaska way of life into account in disaster response and recovery. As chair of the subcommittee on Emergency Management I will continue to pressure FEMA to be accountable for recommendations highlighted in this report and assure that no Alaskan community is asked to overcome federal mismanagement while trying to respond and recover to a disaster.”
The ongoing recovery has shown that even in an atmosphere of complicated federal regulations and policies Galena residents have charged forward and have made huge progress in just one year. Residents experienced unnecessary delays in accessing critical supplies and often faced conflicting guidance from FEMA when it came time to apply for various disaster assistance programs. During his visit to Alaska earlier this year, Fugate committed to following up on recommendations that he heard from Alaskans. Begich is pleased the report reflects that FEMA has accepted the recommendations and is already working to resolve the issues.
A thorough review of FEMA’s processes is incredibly valuable and identifying challenges faced in Galena will help overcome barriers to recovery going forward but the work shouldn’t end with the report. With a disaster of this magnitude, reviews are conducted to address issues raised by State, local, and tribal officials and once action items are identified, Congress must provide oversight to FEMA to assure the agency has what it needs to accomplish them.
“In the Lower 48, food and construction supplies are readily available after a disaster -- but for some Alaskans, a natural disaster can affect their ability to put up enough food to feed their family. That’s why it’s so important for FEMA to recognize Alaska’s unique needs,” Begich continued. “This report demonstrates the importance of a speedy disaster declaration. Alaska’s short summers and long winters mean there is a narrow window of time during which we can get the necessary supplies and rebuilding.”
Begich chaired a field hearing in Alaska last fall to examine extreme weather and imminent disasters in the Arctic as part of his role as Chair of the HSGAC subcommittee that oversees FEMA. He has been a strong supporter of robust federal outreach to Alaska Native communities and has brought FEMA officials up to the State to remind them of the importance of reducing red tape when responding outside the continental United States. He recently commended FEMA for their appointment of Alaska Native tribal member Milo Booth as FEMA National Tribal Affairs Advisor.