Monday, December 3, 2012

National Disaster Review Board, Part II


In Part I, I explained why I believe the United States needs a National Disaster Review Board (NDRB). Now, I’d like to explain how I think it should work and what its benefits would be.

First, as a “Reagan Conservative,” it pains me to increase the size and scope of government for any reason. My initial impulse was to propose a non-profit agency for this purpose. But, given the behavior of NOAA in the wake of the terminated first Hurricane Sandy Assessment team, I now realize that the Board I am proposing must have subpoena power and must be able to put witnesses under oath as the National Transportation Safety Board is empowered to do.

The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal agency, largely free of politics, which has made aviation safety a modern miracle. Having participated in NTSB investigations of train and aviation accidents, I’m been impressed not just at the NTSB but also at the culture that has developed in the transportation industry: It is expected you will cooperate with the NTSB and take their recommendations seriously. There is even an NTSB Academy to assist people in the transportation industry implement best practices. 

So, how would this work?

Recommend it be based anywhere but Washington, D.C. Physical distance from the ever-shifting political winds in D.C. would be a good thing.

It should be small: Permanent staff of five or less (weather expert, geo-hazard specialist, social scientist, expert in recovery best practices, a support person) but with ironclad consulting agreements with outside experts that can be activated on an as-needed basis.  So, in the case of a Sandy, the staff could be enlarged very quickly at minimal on-going cost to the taxpayers.

I do not see the NDRB investigating every tornado, earthquake, or tsunami.  The four events in 2012 that I believe would need investigating are the June 27 Derecho, the Colorado Springs Wildfire, Hurricane Isaac, and Hurricane Sandy. The Board would do field investigations and hold evidence-gathering hearings just as the NTSB does. Its findings would be in the form of public reports as are the NTSB’s.

What is the economic justification for this agency? This was published Friday:
  
Are we underestimating Hurricane Sandy? Are we doing so because of a total lack of knowledge of the extent of the damage, because we're just plain wrong about how much rebuilding will need to be done? Just this morning, the always-on-his-game Bill Dudley -- the president of the New York Federal Reserve -- relayed a possible recognition that Sandy might be the big one, and that we still haven't been able to grasp the enormity of its effects.

Let’s assume that the total economic impact of Sandy is $100,000,000,000, which I believe is the right order of magnitude. Assume that the NDRB is able to reduce the effects of Sandy (alone) by 1% which I believe is conservative. That would mean a savings to the U.S. economy of a billion dollars, far larger than the annual budget of the agency. Plus, better disaster planning and response would save lives and alleviate considerable human suffering.

By creating a National Disaster Review Board, the U.S. will, at last, have comprehensive answers as to the effectiveness of the alphabet soup of agencies the plan, forecast, and respond to disasters. We’ll know whether our tax dollars and charitable contributions are spent well or whether major changes need to be made.

A National Disaster Review Board as I see it could do a great deal of good to our society at very small cost. I recommend that Congress and the Obama Administration begin consideration of this recommendation at the earliest possible time. 



Note: If you would like to see the full range of authority and details about the NTSB, they are here

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