You are not logged in. Login

March 16, 2006 - ASCE Statement - FY 2007 Appropriations for FEMA

Testimony of the
AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS
on the Proposed Budget for Fiscal Year 2007
for the Department of Homeland Security
before the
Subcommittee on Homeland Security
Committee on Appropriations
U. S. House of Representatives

March 16, 2006

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is pleased to offer testimony on the President’s proposed FY 2007 budget for the Department of Homeland Security. ASCE would like to specifically address the Dam Safety Program, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program.

ASCE, founded in 1852, is the country’s oldest national civil engineering organization representing 139,000 civil engineers in private practice, government, industry and academia dedicated to the advancement of the science and profession of civil engineering. ASCE is a 501(c) (3) non-profit educational and professional society.

I. The National Dam Safety Program

ASCE respectfully requests that the Subcommittee increase the Administration’s proposed budget of $5.9 million to $8.6 million to fully fund the National Dam Safety Program at its authorized level for FY 2007. ASCE further requests that there be a line item in the DHS budget that clearly identifies the funds be used to carry out mandates authorized in the National Dam Safety and Security Act of 2002.

The National Dam Safety Program Act of 1996 (PL 104-303) created the first national program that focused on improving the safety of the nation’s dams. Congress reauthorized the program through the Dam Safety and Security Act of 2002 (PL 107-310) and made modest increases in the authorized funds. This small yet critical program provides much needed assistance to the state dam safety programs in the form of grant assistance, training and research; and through facilitating the exchange of technical information between federal dam safety partners and the states. The program provides $6 million in grant assistance to states based on the relative number of dams in each state. The grants may be utilized to best suit the individual state’s needs. In addition, the National Dam Safety Program provides $500,000 each year to be used for training of state dam safety engineers and $1.5 million annually for research. These research funds are used to identify more effective methods of evaluating the safety of dams and more efficient techniques to repair dams. And now, these research funds can be used to develop better methods to assess and improve the security of dams.

There are over 79,000 dams in the United States, but the responsibility of assuring their safety falls largely on the shoulders of the states, as they regulate 95% of the country’s dams. Because of limited staff and funding, most states are overwhelmed by that challenge. Currently states have identified over 3,300 dams as being deficient, or unsafe. The number of unsafe dams has risen by 33% since 1998. Unsafe means that they have identified deficiencies that make the dam more susceptible to failure, which may be triggered by a large storm event, an earthquake or simply through inadequate maintenance or outdated protection standards.

There are over 10,000 dams classified as high hazard potential meaning that the consequences of the dam’s failure will likely include loss of human life and significant downstream property damage. According to the National Inventory of Dams, more than 53% of the high hazard potential dams have not been inspected in the last ten years. High hazard potential dams should be inspected every year.

ASCE’s 2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave Dams in the United States a grade of “D.” The dams across the United States are aging as 85% of the dams will be 50 years or older by the year 2020.

Downstream development within the dam failure flood zone places more people at risk. When homes are built in the dam failure flood zone below a low hazard dam, (low hazard: failure is not expected to cause loss of life or significant property damage) the dam no longer meets dam safety criteria as the potential consequences of a failure now include loss of life.

There is a clear need for continued federal leadership to provide assistance in support of dam safety. This country suffered several large and tragic dam failures in the 1970s that focused attention on dams and prompted Congress to pass national dam safety legislation. In 1972, the Buffalo Creek Dam in West Virginia failed and killed 125 individuals; in 1976 the Teton Dam failure in Idaho caused $1 billion in damages and 14 deaths; the Kelly Barnes Dam in Toccao Falls, Georgia failed in 1977 killing 39 Bible college students; also in 1977 40 people died from the failure of the Laurel Run Dam in Pennsylvania; and in 1996 the 38 foot tall Meadow Pond Dam in Alton, New Hampshire failed killing one woman and causing $8 million in damage.

The National Dam Safety Program has been very successful in assisting the state programs. The training program is one aspect of this success ($500,000). This training provides access to technical courses and workshops that state engineers could not otherwise attend. Examples include Dambreak Analysis, Concrete Rehabilitation of Dams, Slope Stability of Dams, Earthquake Analysis, Emergency Action Planning and many others including recent training in Dam Site Security. Training courses are also offered through FEMA’s training facility at their Emergency Management Institute in Maryland where state dam safety inspectors receive training at no cost to the states.

The Research Program is an important program to all within the dam safety community. Its funds have been used to identify future research needs such as inspections using ground penetrating radar or risk analysis. In addition, these funds have been used to create a national library and database of dam failures and dam statistics at the National Performance of Dams Program at Stanford University as well as a national clearinghouse and library of dam safety bibliographic data at ASDSO.

Research funds are currently being used to provide security training, security assessment tools and best management practices for states to utilize in addressing potential terrorists actions against the 75,000 non-federal dams. The small increase ($500,000) in the funding levels authorized by the 2002 act was intended to address dam site security. Dam site security is now an urgent area of concern for state dam safety officials both in training needs and in research to better understand and respond to potential threats to dams.

It is disappointing to see that appropriations over the past two years are well below the authorized levels, just as we begin to realize the benefits of the grant assistance program—dam safety inspections have increased, the number of Emergency Action Plans, used to notify and evacuate downstream populations in the event of a failure, have increased. Despite the increase in funding approved by Congress in the Dam Safety and Security Act of 2002 to $8.6 million, appropriations have remained at the previous level of $5.9 million. States have not realized any increase in assistance. Budget reductions at FEMA have further reduced the state grant assistance funds by almost 22%.

II. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP)

For the past 30 years NEHRP has provided the resources and leadership that have led to significant advances in understanding the risks earthquakes pose and the best ways to counter them. ASCE is pleased with the Administration’s requested increase of $29.4 million to $233.5 million for readiness, mitigation and recovery and the requested increase of $99 million to $149.9 for the National Pre-disaster Mitigation program within FEMA.

ASCE supports the President’s requests and supports the inclusion of a line item in the appropriations to the full funding level contained in the reauthorization for FY 2007 of $22.3 million for NEHRP responsibilities at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This would include $2.2 million for the creation of performance based earthquake standards.

Under NEHRP, there has been a constant source of funding for seismic monitoring, mapping, research, testing, code development, mitigation and emergency preparedness. It has served as the backbone for protecting U.S. citizens, their property and the national economy from the devastating effects of large earthquakes. Although NEHRP is well known for its research programs, it is also the source for hundreds of new technologies, maps, design techniques and standards that are used by design professionals every day to mitigate hazards risks that will save lives, protect property, and reduce adverse economic impacts.

NEHRP is of direct benefit to homeland security. It provides a framework for safeguarding our communities from a multitude of threats that include natural hazards, severe accidents, and terrorism. It is the source for hundreds of new technologies, maps, design techniques, and construction standards. In spite of all the good activities that have been stimulated and supported by NEHRP, the United States continues to face an earthquake risk that is unacceptably high and growing. FEMA estimates that 45 states and territories are destined to experience earthquake damage. This exposure has been estimated to equal an annualized loss of over $6 billion per year, with a single event loss potential of $100 to $200 billion and tens of thousands of casualties. (FEMA 2001, adjusted to 2004 dollars) NEHRP’s ability to expand monitoring, research and the development of tools that will significantly improve the nation’s ability to address the problem is limited by the funds that have been appropriated and actually spent on earthquake mitigation.

The earthquakes that have affected the United States during the past 20 years have demonstrated that the nation needs to reconsider how much damage is acceptable in a major earthquake. Traditional thinking has held that communities need only assure that people are safe and able to exit damaged buildings after the shaking stops, with little regard to the economic disruption caused by the destruction. Current thinking recognizes that higher performance objectives are appropriate for certain classes of buildings. For example, hospitals and emergency response support facilities, transportation systems and other infrastructure networks should be designed to remain operational. High value manufacturing facilities should be designed to be easily repairable and residential construction should be designed to remain safe to occupy. These changes have led to the emergence of Performance Based Earthquake Engineering design standards that direct development of cost effective and affordable solutions in the design of buildings to predictable performance levels. Nearly $1 trillion dollars is spent each year on the construction of buildings, transportation, and infrastructure systems in the United States. The total value of construction in the nation is about $7.5 trillion dollars. The development of new performance based engineering standards will directly affect the safety and reliability of this extraordinary investment in new and existing construction.

The American Society of Civil Engineers, along with other members of the NEHRP Coalition, worked closely with members and staff in both the House and Senate in crafting the five year reauthorization of NEHRP through H.R. 2608, which became P.L. 108-360. We strongly support the results and believe that, when fully carried out, the changes made and funding levels set under the new law will support and stimulate significant new mitigation activities that will result in reduced vulnerability to earthquake hazards and a real and significant reduction in the loss of life and property. It will also result in the savings of hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal disaster relief spending.

III. The Windstorm Impact Reduction Program

In October 2004 the President signed Public Law 108-360 which authorized the creation of a National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. As the representatives of the profession most responsible for mitigating the impact of high wind, we know full well the benefits this program holds for the nation. As last year’s events on the nation’s gulf coast have so vividly illustrated, the nation remains highly vulnerable to major windstorms. We have not yet fully calculated the full damage inflicted by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, but it could well exceed $150 billion.

For Fiscal Year 2007 the law authorizes $25 million in spending, spread between four federal four agencies. ASCE urges Congress to support these funding levels. Specifically, for the agency under the jurisdiction of this subcommittee, the law authorizes $9.4 million for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

This legislation represents five years of work in which stake holders representing a broad crosssection of interests such as the research, technology transfer, design and construction, and financial communities; materials and systems suppliers; state, county, and local governments; and the insurance industry have participated in crafting this legislation. This bill represents a consensus of all those with an interest in the issue and a desire to see the benefits this legislation will generate. ASCE worked closely with members and staff in both the House and Senate in crafting the language contained in H.R. 2608, which became P.L. 108-360. We strongly support the results and believe that, if fully carried out, the new law will result in reduced vulnerability to high winds and will lead to real and significant reduction in the loss of life and property. The United States currently sustains billions of dollars per year in property and economic loss due to windstorms. The Federal government’s response to such events is to initiate search and rescue operations, help clear the debris and provide financial assistance for rebuilding. With this legislation, the Federal government can provide increased research funding to mobilize the technical expertise already available and help reduce the significant annual toll in casualties and property damage from windstorms.

Under the authorization, the FEMA is charged with supporting the development of risk assessment tools and effective mitigation techniques, windstorm-related data collection and analysis, public outreach, information dissemination, and implementation of mitigation measures consistent with the Agency's all-hazards approach.