My World's on Fire

By Colleen Hagerty

Like a ton of BRICks

#46・
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My World's on Fire
Like a ton of BRICks
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #46 • View online
Thanks for reading my World’s on Fire, a weekly newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you found this dispatch interesting, I hope you’ll subscribe!

FEMA
We were happy to welcome @POTUS to FEMA headquarters today to discuss our readiness and needs for this hurricane season. Afterwards, the President and @SecMayorkas took a tour and met with @FEMA_Deanne and some of our staff. https://t.co/hLqrgkjFzn
On Monday, the White House announced a major investment into disaster mitigation. The press release came hours before President Biden visited Federal Emergency Management Association headquarters for a briefing on the Atlantic hurricane season, where he pledged to “spare no expense, no effort” to help keep Americans safe from and respond to crises. 
The announcement raised some questions, though, from where exactly that money was coming from to when it will actually be distributed. So, I thought it could be helpful to break down what we do know about this funding and how it will be distributed.
Show me the money
First, let’s look at the White House statement:
“…the Administration is announcing it will direct $1 billion for communities, states, and Tribal governments into pre-disaster mitigation resources to prepare for extreme weather events and other disasters, and the Administration is announcing the development of next generation climate data systems at NASA to help understand and track how climate change is impacting communities.”
My focus for today is going to be on that $1 billion, which the fact sheet says will be allocated through the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. This is a new initiative launched last fall to fund mitigation projects. I actually wrote about it as part of my deep-dive into United States disaster flashpoints for Fenix:
“This fall, the agency launched its latest initiative in this space, a new grant program called Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC). The site for the program, which has been two years in the making, explains its aim to “categorically shift” federal dollars away from post-disaster spending in favor of community resilience projects. In total, the Agency will distribute up to $500 million for the program this fiscal year to states and tribes that have had a major disaster declaration within the past seven years. Applicants are encouraged to think “big and bold” when it comes to proposing projects, which can include everything from energy-based initiatives like microgrids to infrastructure upgrades and even community relocation programs.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the creation and basics of BRIC, I recommend this read from Scientific American.
The application period for the first round of BRIC funds closed this past January, and there are a few local news articles that describe some of the applications. For example, officials in Colorado hoped to use the funds for improving evacuation infrastructure and officials in Illinois would like to put some towards fixing failed sewage systems. FEMA also offered an overview of the applications it received:
“FEMA received 980 subapplications, which is the most subapplications received to date for pre-disaster mitigation. For this grant cycle, $500 million is available, and FEMA received requests for $3.6 billion in applications, with total proposed project costs exceeding $5.49 billion.”
I wrote in a previous newsletter about the difficulty of understanding numbers in the news when it comes to disasters, as the degree of destruction and funding alike can appear daunting without being put into any sort of scale. This information from FEMA offers some critical context around how much the agency was initially putting into the BRIC program – $500 million – versus the requests it received, which stretched into the billions. As a bit more background, the US spent $95 billion responding to “22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters” in 2020.
Courtesy of Climate.gov
Courtesy of Climate.gov
So, where is that money?
Earlier this year, the New York Times found that FEMA could invest “as much as $3.7 billion” into the [BRIC] program based on the formula that determines its annual funding. E&E News reported that, despite the larger amount available, FEMA at first limited BRIC spending to $500 million “because the program is in its first year and involves new procedures and selection criteria.” It’s unclear, then, how they landed on the $1 billion number in particular.
In response to the increase, the New York Times included a quote from former FEMA Administrator and Biden transition team member Craig Fugate saying that municipalities might “struggle” to spend more than a billion on resiliency efforts. But that seemingly discounts the $3+ billion in funding requests seen in the first round of BRIC applications.
Brock Long, who oversaw FEMA when the BRIC program was originally conceived, both praised the increase in funding and pointed to the need for significantly more in the Washington Post, saying the $1 billion is “just scratching the surface.” I spoke with Long for that Fenix article last year, and he had expressed frustration that “resilience has become the buzzword of every of every community” – but few communities are actually prepared for the challenges they face.
“How many times have we been through considerable events that have changed laws but yet communities are rebuilt back into the area and not really to a much higher standard?” Long said. “We create this vicious cycle, and then people demand more of FEMA.”
I reached out to FEMA for comment, but the agency declined to respond on the record. However, Ali Zaidi, the Deputy White House National Climate Advisor, did acknowledge during an interview with FOX 8 that the $1 billion is a “small down payment in the sort of resilience investments we need.” Zaidi also touched on another aspect of the funding that has been unclear – the timeline on when this money will actually make it into communities. According to Zaidi, it will happen “over the course of the year.“ Per the BRIC page on FEMA’s website, the first round of applications selected for “review and potential funding” will be announced this summer. That does not include the funding increase, according to E&E News, which reported that it will apply to "the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.”
As a final note – while this announcement was tied to Biden’s visit to FEMA, which was billed as a “briefing on the Atlantic hurricane outlook and preparedness efforts,” that hurricane season is already here, with the first named storm forming last week.
I asked, you answered
Last week, I put up a survey to see if anyone could be interested in an informal book or movie-watching club this summer, and the consensus was overwhelmingly pro-movies. Drop your email in the form if you’re interested in joining – also soliciting movie recommendations in there now, too!
As always...
thank you for reading and subscribing to My World’s on Fire. You can support this newsletter and get access to exclusive content by signing up for my Patreon. It also means the world to me when you share it on social media like Monica Sanders did (thank you so much!):
Monica Sanders
Here we go again by @colleenhagerty https://t.co/gk2qp0IoZM via @revue. If you haven't been reading this newsletter, which keeps an in-depth and important view of the communities in which we work, it's time to sign up. Happy Weekend! #disasters #community #emgtwitter
Now, here’s a little something for reading to the end.
Colleen
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Colleen Hagerty

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