Main federal disaster relief law has fallen behind modern threat levels, study finds

March 13, 2009

In new research published in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, New York University Professor Mitchell Moss explains that the cornerstone Federal disaster relief legislation, the Robert T. Stafford Act, is dangerously out of date, and must be reformed to provide for rapid relief after a catastrophe.

Two years after Hurricane Katrina, and six years after the September 11 attacks, the Federal government still lacks the legal authority to provide rapid financial assistance to residents, small businesses and municipal governments following a , according to the Journal article (Vol. 6 : Issue 1, Article 13, January 2009).

Moss, professor of and planning at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU, faults the Robert T. Stafford and for:

• Not recognizing 21st century threats such as chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological attacks or accidents as legal grounds for a major disaster declaration by the President;

• Failing to establish a difference between the scale of rural and urban disaster - the Stafford Act offers the same level of aid for a blizzard in a rural community as it does for a major earthquake in a metropolis.

Moss recommends that Congress:

• Amend the definition of a "major disaster" to recognize 21st century threats such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks and accidents;

• Create a level of disaster specifically for "catastrophes" to cover incidents such as Hurricane Katrina and September 11 and to provide increased levels of aid beyond that provided at the "major disaster" level;

• Eliminate the $5 million cap on tax recovery assistance for state and local governments;

• Allow FEMA to pay, in part or in full, the salaries of public employees in areas stricken by a catastrophe, and expand coverage for utility providers to include private and for profit corporations;

• Provide expedited micro grants and loans to small businesses to help defer immediate costs;

• Following a catastrophe, waive proof of insurance requirements and provide immediate assistance to those in need, which can later be reimbursed to the government when insurance payments are made.

"It is time for Congress to strengthen the nation's capacity to respond to the catastrophes that we face in the twenty-first century," writes Professor Moss. "We face serious threats of biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear attacks that require fundamental reform of the Stafford Act. The time for action is now; we must create a new set of policies that can protect the nation from the risks of the modern era."

The research was conducted under the auspices of New York University's Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response (CCPR).
CCPR Director Brad Penuel underscored the importance of Professor Moss' work.

"CCPR's report is a significant contribution to the dialogue on making America safer in times of catastrophe, be it from a natural event or one derived from human actions. I applaud the findings of this report and Professor Moss for highlighting the role academia can play in understanding politically and socially complex issues like disaster preparedness and response," he said.

More information: The full report is available at .

Source: New York University (news : web)

Explore further: Briefs: AT&T to conduct biggest disaster excercise

Related Stories

Globe Talk: Tech no panacea to preparedness

April 8, 2006

Be prepared for the next big one to strike. That's been the rallying cry of the government ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and yet public confidence in the public sector to deliver on those calls has been ...

Emergency response

November 12, 2007

Disasters are getting worse it seems but the federal government's preparedness has been limited to helping after a disaster has occurred. On the other hand, local organizations often do not have the resources or the training ...

Recommended for you

48-million-year-old horse-like fetus discovered in Germany

October 7, 2015

A 48 million year-old horse-like equoid fetus has been discovered at the Messel pit near Frankfurt, Germany according to a study published October 7, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jens Lorenz Franzen from Senckenberg ...

Chimpanzees shed light on origins of human walking

October 6, 2015

A research team led by Stony Brook University investigating human and chimpanzee locomotion have uncovered unexpected similarities in the way the two species use their upper body during two-legged walking. The results, reported ...

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.