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F.E.M.A. Disaster Recovery Rules and Local Climate Adaptation Efforts

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Abstract:

The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires all local governments to develop hazard mitigation plans (HMP) in order to be eligible for federal disaster relief and disaster mitigation grants. This policy motivates local governments to create comprehensive plans to prepare for natural disasters including floods, fires, droughts, and severe storms. Due to the low cost-to-benefit ratio of developing a HMP, most localities submit plans for approval by their state government and then by FEMA in order to be eligible for millions of dollars in disaster relief aid. Although FEMA does not specifically require including climate change as a hazard or a threat multiplier for existing hazards, many localities identify climate change as a problem in their HMPs. This situation has led to an interesting change in local policy concerning climate change adaptation.

This project seeks to understand under which conditions local governments decide to include climate change as a threat in their hazard mitigation plans and the potential consequences of this for local climate adaptation planning. The main variables of interest are (1) the level of political polarization concerning climate change in the state government, (2) the amount of local agreement about climate change, (3) the professionalization of the local bureaucracy, (4) resources available to the local government in terms of time, staff resources, and money, and (5) the frequency of severity of previous disaster experiences in the local area. The cases are built using government documents including hazard mitigation plans, government meeting minutes, interviews with local and state politicians, interviews with local and state bureaucrats, and news media coverage. Additionally, FEMA’s database of federally declared disasters and the US Census’s database on local government resources are used.

The six cases (listed alphabetically) are the Albemarle Sound Region in North Carolina, Berkshire County in Massachusetts, Greenville County in South Carolina, Martin County in Florida, the Pamlico Sound Region in North Carolina, and Rensselaer County in New York. Cases were chosen based on two criteria. First, each case focuses on the local jurisdiction that the state government legally requires to write the HMP. For four of the cases, this is the county government. However, in North Carolina the state government is moving to regional multijurisdictional HMPs, which include up to 10 counties and 30 municipal governments. Second, these cases represent areas at high risk of climate change-related flooding based on climate change models for groundwater levels, sea level rise and coastal vulnerability, and precipitation change in the next 100 years. Holding climate change-related flooding risk constant allows us to eliminate climate change-related flooding risk as a causal variable. At the same time, it does not prevent variation in the dependent variable of interest (the extent to which climate change is treated as a threat or threat multiplier in local HMPs), or any of the key independent variables (listed above). The six resulting cases represent a spectrum of HMPs from a plan that does not mention climate change at all to a plan which dedicates a substantial amount of the plan to addressing climate change as a threat and a threat multiplier.

The project finds that in areas experiencing high risk of climate change-related flooding, climate change is not always or consistently integrated into HMPs. State level polarization surrounding climate change influences if and how climate change can be discussed in HMPs. This occurs because of two factors: (1) state governments approve local plans before they are submitted to FEMA and (2) local governments want to maintain positive relationships with the state government so they conform to state politicians’ attitudes towards climate change. Local experience with disaster does not determine if HMPs will include climate change, however, when a recent disaster is linked to climate change by politicians and in the media, it does influence if climate change is included in HMPs. This reflects the potency of problem definitions in shaping policy outcomes. Finally, local government resources and professionalization of the bureaucracy does not appear to have a direct effect on whether or not a HMP addresses climate change. Overall, integration of climate adaptation into HMPs is a political process. Attitudes of state and local politicians as well as prevailing problem definitions influence whether or not climate change is integrated into HMPs more than other variables like frequency and severity of previous disasters and local government resources.
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Name: American Political Science Association Annual Meeting
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MLA Citation:

Fahey, Bridget. "F.E.M.A. Disaster Recovery Rules and Local Climate Adaptation Efforts" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, TBA, Philadelphia, PA, Sep 01, 2016 <Not Available>. 2017-11-28 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1128003_index.html>

APA Citation:

Fahey, B. K. , 2016-09-01 "F.E.M.A. Disaster Recovery Rules and Local Climate Adaptation Efforts" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, TBA, Philadelphia, PA Online <APPLICATION/PDF>. 2017-11-28 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1128003_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires all local governments to develop hazard mitigation plans (HMP) in order to be eligible for federal disaster relief and disaster mitigation grants. This policy motivates local governments to create comprehensive plans to prepare for natural disasters including floods, fires, droughts, and severe storms. Due to the low cost-to-benefit ratio of developing a HMP, most localities submit plans for approval by their state government and then by FEMA in order to be eligible for millions of dollars in disaster relief aid. Although FEMA does not specifically require including climate change as a hazard or a threat multiplier for existing hazards, many localities identify climate change as a problem in their HMPs. This situation has led to an interesting change in local policy concerning climate change adaptation.

This project seeks to understand under which conditions local governments decide to include climate change as a threat in their hazard mitigation plans and the potential consequences of this for local climate adaptation planning. The main variables of interest are (1) the level of political polarization concerning climate change in the state government, (2) the amount of local agreement about climate change, (3) the professionalization of the local bureaucracy, (4) resources available to the local government in terms of time, staff resources, and money, and (5) the frequency of severity of previous disaster experiences in the local area. The cases are built using government documents including hazard mitigation plans, government meeting minutes, interviews with local and state politicians, interviews with local and state bureaucrats, and news media coverage. Additionally, FEMA’s database of federally declared disasters and the US Census’s database on local government resources are used.

The six cases (listed alphabetically) are the Albemarle Sound Region in North Carolina, Berkshire County in Massachusetts, Greenville County in South Carolina, Martin County in Florida, the Pamlico Sound Region in North Carolina, and Rensselaer County in New York. Cases were chosen based on two criteria. First, each case focuses on the local jurisdiction that the state government legally requires to write the HMP. For four of the cases, this is the county government. However, in North Carolina the state government is moving to regional multijurisdictional HMPs, which include up to 10 counties and 30 municipal governments. Second, these cases represent areas at high risk of climate change-related flooding based on climate change models for groundwater levels, sea level rise and coastal vulnerability, and precipitation change in the next 100 years. Holding climate change-related flooding risk constant allows us to eliminate climate change-related flooding risk as a causal variable. At the same time, it does not prevent variation in the dependent variable of interest (the extent to which climate change is treated as a threat or threat multiplier in local HMPs), or any of the key independent variables (listed above). The six resulting cases represent a spectrum of HMPs from a plan that does not mention climate change at all to a plan which dedicates a substantial amount of the plan to addressing climate change as a threat and a threat multiplier.

The project finds that in areas experiencing high risk of climate change-related flooding, climate change is not always or consistently integrated into HMPs. State level polarization surrounding climate change influences if and how climate change can be discussed in HMPs. This occurs because of two factors: (1) state governments approve local plans before they are submitted to FEMA and (2) local governments want to maintain positive relationships with the state government so they conform to state politicians’ attitudes towards climate change. Local experience with disaster does not determine if HMPs will include climate change, however, when a recent disaster is linked to climate change by politicians and in the media, it does influence if climate change is included in HMPs. This reflects the potency of problem definitions in shaping policy outcomes. Finally, local government resources and professionalization of the bureaucracy does not appear to have a direct effect on whether or not a HMP addresses climate change. Overall, integration of climate adaptation into HMPs is a political process. Attitudes of state and local politicians as well as prevailing problem definitions influence whether or not climate change is integrated into HMPs more than other variables like frequency and severity of previous disasters and local government resources.


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