(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘wildfire

“I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity”*…

Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, wildfires– they’re all on the rise, in both number and severity. Which is putting more strain on FEMA… But as Nicole Wetsman explains, FEMA is so hard to deal with that a new industry, “disaster consultants,” has emerged… and looks likely to prosper…

… FEMA is, in theory, complicated for a reason. Its labyrinth of rules is there to curb fraud and to make sure that local governments are using taxpayer money appropriately. But a laser focus on fraud prevention sometimes leads to the agency spending as much or more on documentation and reviews as the project itself should cost. “FEMA will spend thousands of dollars writing a project worksheet for $250 of eligible costs,” says Ben Rose, recovery and mitigation section chief at Vermont Emergency Management. “It’s not seeing the forest for the trees.”

And it also makes the process nearly impossible to navigate alone, particularly for cities and small towns that have never dealt with disasters before. Most don’t have any in-house emergency management experts who understand even the basics of the process. Some states, like Vermont, usually send in their own teams from emergency management departments to help cities and towns with the FEMA process. They only use consultants as force multipliers during really, really big disasters. Others, like Oregon, rely on them more often because the state just can’t maintain the level of staffing required.

That layers on additional costs for communities and, by extension, FEMA — which is well aware of the role consultants play in the public assistance program. It even pays for them: the towns, counties, or other groups applying for public assistance funding can use up to 5 percent of any grants for management costs. Still, FEMA used to be a bit dismissive toward consultants, [disaster consultantr AThat layers on additional costs for communities and, by extension, FEMA — which is well aware of the role consultants play in the public assistance program. It even pays for them: the towns, counties, or other groups applying for public assistance funding can use up to 5 percent of any grants for management costs. Still, FEMA used to be a bit dismissive toward consultants, [disaster consultant Alyssa ] Carrier says. That’s changed over the past few years. “It’s much more like, let’s work together,” she says.

If anything, the public assistance process has only gotten more byzantine over the past few years, experts say. The agency set up a digital portal to streamline the process of submitting public assistance grants. But it’s an undertaking to train local officials — who might have six other jobs — in that tool. “You have to upload every document and do them in a certain order,” Carrier says. “It can be hard to follow if you don’t understand the process to begin with. And one of the issues is, if you don’t do everything in order, you’ll get kicked back out and have to start all over again.”

FEMA is assessing the public assistance program with a focus on simplification, Jeremy Edwards, FEMA press secretary, said in an email to The Verge. “FEMA continues its ongoing efforts and initiatives to simplify and streamline the public assistance program,” he said.

But experts say FEMA also seems to be getting stricter with how it applies its own rules around what’s eligible for public assistance funding and around the rules cities and local governments have to follow to get that funding. Some of that is likely because of pressure from the various oversight agencies, like OIG, that come in and double-check the agency’s work. In 2016, the OIG released a report saying that FEMA wasn’t doing enough to make sure that groups receiving public assistance grants were sticking to procurement guidelines. They followed up with a similar report in 2021. “After another report like this, Public Assistance Recipients and Subrecipients should expect FEMA to take an even firmer stance on requiring compliance with procurement regulations,” wrote Michelle Zaltsberg, an attorney specializing in disaster recovery, in a blog post.

All of that oversight colors FEMA’s decisions. “Too often, FEMA prioritizes or looks through the lens of avoiding audit findings, avoiding Inspector General reports, and avoiding waste, fraud, and abuse complaints,” Phelps says. “And then like third or fourth on the list of what they try to do is help survivors.”

None of this is relieved by the growing frequency of disasters pulling the agency — and its money — in all directions. The amount distributed through public assistance funding has gone up for the past three years. There are no restrictions to the program based on dollar amounts; how much money gets spent is purely based on what’s eligible for the program. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the changing climate meant things like wildfires and hurricanes were appearing more frequently and in places where they may not have hit before. Before around 2015, Oregon used to average a federal disaster every 17 or 18 months, Phelps says. Since 2015, they’ve averaged a disaster declaration every seven or eight months — more than twice as often.

That leads to FEMA almost acting more as an insurance company that only pays out money when it has to than an agency providing aid, Phelps says. The first priority often seems to be making sure the paperwork is perfect…

A sobering read: “The Disaster Consultants,” from @NicoleWetsman in @verge.

* John D. Rockefeller, oil tycoon considered the richest person in American history (and possibly in modern history)

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As we ruminate on response, we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that Hurricane Iniki struck the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i; with winds of over 145 mph, it was the second-strongest Pacific hurricane on record, and caused around $3.1 billion (in 1992 USD) in damage and six deaths, making it the costliest natural disaster on record in the state. At the time, Iniki was the third-costliest United States hurricane. The storm struck just 18 days after Hurricane Andrew, the costliest tropical cyclone ever at the time, struck Florida.

Kauaʻi citizens were hopeful for disaster relief from the government or insurance companies, though after six months they felt annoyed with the lack of help.

Hurricane Iniki making landfall on Kauaʻi

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 11, 2022 at 1:00 am

“With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches”*…

California wildfire [source]

As insurance premiums rise, global warming’s effects are impacting collectors’ bank accounts, especially in disaster-prone states like California and Florida where risky conditions have become the norm…

Art collectors in California, Florida and other states experiencing weather-related disasters aggravated by climate change are finding fine art insurance becoming more expensive, with policies increasingly difficult to obtain (or renew) and containing new restrictions.

Earthquake-prone California, which has faced a series of massive wildfires (often followed by landslides) in recent years, is one epicentre in this struggle to find insurance coverage for homes and the art within them, with the annual cost of homeowners policies rising as much as 40% and the premiums for fine art insurance coverage increasing between 5% and 12%, according to Amee Yunn, assistant vice president of the New York-based Berkley Asset Protection, an insurance company specialising in fine art, jewellery and other high-value, personal and commercial assets. Florida, with its increasingly intense hurricanes and floods, is also a concern for the insurance industry.

“Many wealthy people flocked to Florida due to the pandemic,” Yunn says, “and they took their art with them.” That concentration of wealth assets in areas prone to flooding and hurricane damage creates significant risks to the financial wellbeing of insurance carriers. “We are seeing far more billion-dollar claims now than just 10 years ago,” Yunn says, causing companies like hers to write fewer new policies, increase their prices and add deductibles and exclusions. “The problem is acute.”

These days, insurance carriers track the advance of climate change as much as environmental scientists. “We have a corporate catastrophe team, which tracks the company’s total catastrophe exposure,” Yunn says. The risks from tornadoes in the Great Plains, hurricanes up and down the East Coast and earthquakes on the West Coast are well known, but the increasing intensity of hurricanes and tornadoes, as well as the rising numbers of them, are alarming signals. The tornado that ripped through Kentucky and several other states last year in a 200-mile path during the unlikely month of December was yet another sign of a climate that is becoming less predictable, as were a series of hurricanes, wildfires and freezing temperatures that have struck in Texas since 2017. In February 2021 a combination of snow, sleet and freezing rain paralysed Texas’s power grid for weeks, causing more than 200 deaths and nearly $200bn in damage.

“It would seem that there is nowhere safe from the effects of climate change,” [senior managing director at Risk Strategies Steve] Pincus says, all of which impacts the fine art insurance world, leading to higher prices and less available coverage…

‘The only way to stop the bleeding is to stop writing policies’: climate change is making it more expensive to insure art,” from @TheArtNewspaper.

Via @WaltHickey, in his invaluable Numlock News, who observes “Listen, if ‘boo hoo, it’s getting too expensive to insure my vast art collection’ is the thing that gets rich people to actually care about climate change I’m still gonna take that as a win.”

* Adam Smith

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As we ponder protection, we might recall that it was in this date in 1885 that the first issue of Good Housekeeping was published. A “woman’s magazine” (featuring articles on women’s interests, recipes, diet, and health), it is also known for its product testing service and its the “Good Housekeeping Seal”, a limited warranty program that is popularly known as the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” One of the oldest continuously-published magazines in the U.S., it remains popular in its category.

The first issue of Good Housekeeping

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