Cash-Strapped FEMA Suggests Oklahoma Handle Its Own Disasters

Wednesday, November 9th 2011, 10:37 pm
By: News On 6

Governor Mary Fallin has now declared an emergency for 20 counties due to earthquakes, tornadoes, severe storms, straight line winds and flooding over the last five days.

11/09/2011 Related Story: OK Governor Declares State Of Emergency Due To Earthquakes, Storms

That paves the way to ask for federal dollars -- at a time when FEMA says its money is running out.  FEMA says it's not fully prepared for a major disaster because states are too dependent on the federal government for local disasters.

Damage assessments are underway in the aftermath of earthquakes, as well as in the wake of November twisters and storms.

This state of emergency declaration is at least the sixth this year from Governor Mary Fallin. The state's Department of Emergency management says Oklahoma could likely get federal disaster funds if we applied.

"If that damage exceeds the state's ability to help us and goes to that level, and in the case of the state of Oklahoma it's $3 million, then we may ask for federal assistance," explained Roger Jolliff, Tulsa County Emergency Management Director.

Oklahoma has had five federal declarations this year. A recent USA Today article suggests low-cost storms that would have traditionally been handled entirely at the local and state level are being unnecessarily upgraded to federal disasters.

"State emergency management budgets some money, just like $100,000 a year per community to help. Obviously they couldn't help all the communities in the state of Oklahoma if we all had disasters, thus we turn to the federal government," Jolliff said.

FEMA pays Oklahoma 75 percent when roads, bridges and public buildings are damaged in disasters. The state and city split the difference.

The blizzard cost Oklahoma $8.7 million and the Tushka tornado did $10 million worth of damage. Then the April flooding at $8.6 million and the May tornadoes caused $15 million in damages.

Oklahoma has received $17.7 million in FEMA dollars so far this year in public and individual assistance. Jolliff says the process works.

"We just have to understand there is a limited amount of money, even at the federal government level and this money isn't free," he said.

Governor Fallin's office sent the following statement:

"The federal government's spending problem is not the result of delivering aid to victims of natural disasters. It is directly linked to years of unsustainable entitlement programs, government mismanagement and poor spending decisions."