State-Managed Disasters: An Interview with Arizona's Director of Emergency Management

Since the founding of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on April 1, 1979, the federal government has viewed its role in disaster response and recovery efforts as supplemental. In other words, FEMA would not function as the first-line provider of emergency assistance and disaster response and recovery. Instead, it will support state and local governments —not supplant them. To further underline this philosophy, FEMA assistance is supplied when, and only when, the state has shown that the disaster event exceeds their capabilities to respond and recover fromwithout federal support.

Echoing this same sentiment in 2018, FEMA’s current Strategic Plan states, “The optimal framework for response and recovery is one that is federally supported, state managed State-Managed Disasters: An Interview with Arizona’s Director of Emergency Management Disaster Recovery Consulting E-Edition and locally executed.”1 Current FEMA Administrator Brock Long further expanded upon this concept during the recent Governor’s Hurricane Conference by detailing the fact that disasters costing $41 million or less constitute 80 percent of declared disasters. He posed the question of how state and local capacities can be built to manage these types of disasters.

The concept of state-managed disasters is not new. Originally introduced as a pilot program nearly 20 years ago, it allows a capable state or tribal government (or Alaska native village) to manage the Public Assistance (PA) field operation by entering into an operational agreement with FEMA, which entrusts many aspects of program management to the state. FEMA retains obligation authority, ensures compliance with environmental and historic laws, participates in quality control reviews, and provides technical assistance as requested. Candidate disasters are those that warrant a major disaster declaration by the president, but are limited in scope and size.

Currently, only five states are actively participating in the state-managed disaster initiative: North Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Arizona. With the current push to have states take a more active role in managing disaster response and recovery efforts, Tidal Basin saw value in interviewing the Director of Arizona’s Emergency Management Division, Wendy Smith-Reeve. Her knowledge and experience with one of the first states to participate and remain active under the state-managed disaster initiative over the past 18 years provides insight into the program and highlights both the benefits and risks involved. Our interview was conducted by Dan Craig, Tidal Basin’s Senior Vice President, and begins on page 3.


ShultzFirephoto courtesyofConconinoNationalForest