By Neely Bardwell
For the first time in its 43-year history, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has released a national strategy to fulfill its responsibilities when preparing for and responding to disasters on tribal lands.
There “FEMA National Tribal Strategy 2022-2026provides FEMA, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, with a roadmap to help Indigenous communities deal with disasters, including situations created by climate change.
“We see communities across the country that are facing increased threats due to climate change,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a conference call with reporters earlier this week. “What we want to do in this strategy is make sure we can reach out to tribal nations and help them understand what potential future threats will be.
Developed with broad input from tribal nations, the strategy calls for FEMA to initiate a nationwide study of tribal emergency management capacity and capabilities, expand communications and training with tribal nations, and develop emergency management resources. Tribe-Specific Technical Assistance. The strategy reflects the voices of 135 representatives from 78 tribal nations who provided critical feedback during the tribal consultation in 2022, according to the strategy document.
As part of this effort, FEMA has earmarked $50 million specifically for its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program that tribes can apply for.
The newly released Tribal Strategy builds on FEMA’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan and its efforts to advance equity in emergency management to increase climate resilience and prepare the country for disasters.
During the media call this week, Criswell touched on some of the practical challenges tribes face in disaster situations, such as cost-sharing with FEMA for some mitigation and recovery efforts.
When it comes to cost sharing, “there are some things we are required to do by law, but there are other things where we have flexibility,” Criswell said. “When we have the opportunity to increase the federal share of the costs, we will do so. In areas where we can’t, what we want to do is work with the tribes to help them find other sources of funding (and) help them put together the different funding streams… to help them initiate these projects. ”
Criswell said climate considerations facing tribes are a critical part of the strategy, as is making sure tribes of all sizes are fully aware of all of FEMA’s resources, including technical assistance, grants and access to agency staff at regional and national levels. levels.
“Climate considerations are an integral part of our FEMA strategic plan and are also definitely integrated into the tribal strategy,” she said. “One of the big goals that I’m excited about in this strategy is the ability to provide more direct technical assistance to tribes to help them understand and navigate some of the programs we have, but also to help them plan the future… which way we can seek to invest money in future risks, and not always based on historical risk.
Another important part of the strategy is to expand communication and engagement with tribal nations and personnel responsible for emergency management on tribal lands.
“We understand that many of our Tribal Nations have very small emergency management offices and often that is (alongside) other assigned duties. It’s not their only job. And so we want to make sure we’re providing the right level of support,” Criswell said. “A lot of it starts with our regional offices and our home tribal liaisons, so they have their own engagement strategies and we’re looking to increase that engagement,” she said.
This will likely include increased visits to Indian country by agency officials. During the consultation process, tribal leaders told agency officials that they wanted to see FEMA representatives in the field more often.
To that end, FEMA has increased the number of regional workshops it holds for tribes across the country and plans to increase the number of meetings it holds with tribal emergency management officials.
For his part, Criswell intends to meet more regularly with tribal leaders during his field trips.
“I know we have a lot of work to do to serve our tribal nations,” she said.
Associate Editor Brian Edwards contributed to this story.
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