Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gilbert F. White

In light of the current situation on the Mississippi River I thought it might be useful to post the Wikipedia discussion of Dr. Gilbert F. White, the modern father of the discipline of FPM [floodplain management]! Too bad the Obama Administration has not updated the two Carter Executive Orders, EO 11990 and 11988! I have personal knowledge that Dr. White approved of those orders as a significant step in the right direction for federal policy.

Gilbert F. White
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gilbert Fowler White (November 26, 1911 in Chicago – October 5, 2006 in Boulder, Colorado) was a prominent American geographer, sometimes termed the "father of floodplain management" and the "leading environmental geographer of the 20th century" (Wescoat, 2006). White is known predominantly for his work on natural hazards, particularly flooding, and the importance of sound water management in contemporary society.


1 Background
2 Scholarly contributions
3 Recognition
4 Publications
5 References
6 External links
7 Notes


White was raised in Chicago in the Hyde Park neighborhood, and spent summers in the Tongue River Valley of Wyoming, before studying at the University of Chicago, where he earned his B.S. in 1932 and his PhD in 1942. From 1946 to 1955 he was President of Haverford College. He then returned to Chicago as a professor of geography, where he was the central figure in the "Chicago school" of natural hazards research. In 1970, he moved to the University of Colorado, before retiring after ten years there. Having published his first paper in 1935, he was still publishing into his 90s (Wescoat and White, 2003).

White was motivated by his Quaker faith to do research beneficial to humanity. As a conscientious objector to World War II, from 1942 to 1946 he served with the American Friends Service Committee aiding war refugees in France, and was briefly interned by the Nazis at Baden-Baden. He continued to serve as a leader in various Quaker service organizations for much of his life. He was also heavily involved in applying his research to reform flooding and water policy in the United States and the Middle East.

In 1944, White married Anne Underwood, with whom he would have three children (Will, Mary, and Frances). Anne collaborated with Gilbert in his research until her death in 1989. Gilbert remarried in 2003 to Claire Sherridan.

Scholarly contributions

White's main contributions to society and to scholarship have been classified by Kates (2007) as follows:

How to bring safe water to all the world’s people as a human right
How to reduce significantly the global toll of hazard deaths and damages
How to facilitate peace, through joint water development and management
How to make geography (in particular) and science (in general) more useful to the world
How to enable people to coexist with nature and develop sustainably.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

USACOE and FEMA Have not a Clue!

Most have been riveted by the gushing waters of the recently opened Mississippi Main Stem spillways--including one by dynamite. This effort was largely designed before the era of computers and the USACOE and FEMA no longer have the in house skills to predict what will happen exactly from these efforts. Nor do they have the contractor talent to help them that they once did. The Vicksburg Waterways Experiment Station and the Hydraulic Engineering Center in Davis, CA may be working overtime but they cannot make up for the lack of detail, calibrated actual openings, and other data that just have not been collected to understand fully the impacts of these various man made changes in the river flow. The entirety of the system was really designed largely by guesswork long before computers so now almost anything could happen over the next 6 weeks.

THE 2011 MISSISSPPI RIVER EVENT WILL BE STUDIED FOR YEARS AS TO THE CHOICES MADE AND RESULTS AND COULD HAVE BEEN OR MIGHT HAVE BEENS. Hey give boys toys and they will always choose to play with them even when highly dangerous.

Good luck those subject to these GUESSTIMATES!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Disaster Housing--The FEMA Nemesis?

Once again disaster housing looms huge in FEMA's future efforts. The disaster housing strategy has not yet been finalized by HUD and FEMA since being mandated in PKEMRA 2006!

So again a short history of disaster housing just to maintain the record as we enter another "temporary" housing crisis.

OEP (Office of Emergency Preparedness) in the WH was ended by President Nixon's Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1973 that sent disaster response and recovery to HUD. COOP and COG for the federal government went to FPA! Frank Carlucci, a Deputy Director of OMB had been the first true FCO in history and his clout was demonstrated when Nixon fired Secretary of HUD George Romney at Carlucci's request over disaster housing issues. Carlucci said you will and Romney said I can't!

So disaster housing was sent to a HUD that had as its statutory charge "decent, safe, sanitary housing for Americans"! In fact HUD, a largely corrupt bureaucracy that until DHS was created had the highest number of politically vetted positions in the entire Executive Branch was largely run to benefit the middlemen/women of the housing world. Lacking specific regulatory authority in many circumstances some in HUD, like the OIG fought the corruption but were largely unsuccessful. Between July 1, 1974 when I arrived and September 10, 1979 when I left over 2000 HUD officials and program participants were indicted and/or convicted.

Under President Carter, Secretary HUD Patricia Roberts Harris, an honest but patrician DC lawyer, the new disaster housing program was completely unwelcome and remained a stepchild in HUD! When ordered by Carter to W.VA during a disaster and trying to sort out housing problems Pat Harris decided to do all that she could to get rid of that mission. She told Carter she would lead the fight against the FEMA creation if he did not include disaster housing in the FEMA mission when created. The result was the stepchild was booted out of HUD's door and therein lies the tale!

An argument could be mounted successfully IMO that the recovery mission in disasters is largely housing. But few FEMA appointees have had a clue about disaster housing and have mostly worried over buying and selling "trailers" which only in Katrina were RV's with their formaldehyde problems and largely have been mobile homes/manufactured housing.

Always remember that FEMA is largely a grant making administrative agency with little real knowledge of the private sector and in particular the FIRE sector. The result continues that disaster housing is still a disaster. Both FEMA and HUD need to really do some hard thinking and work to come up with solutions. I believe the planning basis for disaster housing [to be surged in an event even higher] should be 500,000 homeless needing permanent housing. I have advocated that number for 30 years and always was shouted down by FEMA management.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How Flowage Easements may end the NFIP?

Flowage easements allow the USACOE to periodically innundate not just agricultural land but also improved real estate and are designed to allow preservation of levees and other flood control structures during high water. The issue of prohibiting the issuance of NFIP insurance on flowage easements was addressed by me during my time in FEMA--1979-1999 and even before in HUD from 1974-1979! Not only was I opposed by those adminstering the NFIP but even the USACOE opposed such a prohibiton. As with areas behind levees, the NFIP maps never showed flowage easements. Now like Hurricane Katrina and its collapsed floodwalls in NOLA many claims may well be paid on insured real estate and further undermine the NFIP solvency.

Those who have followed my blogs and suggestions for NFIP reform know that I have continuously suggested that areas containing unmapped hazards have NO AVAILABILTY of NFIP insurance.

Since the NFIP by law is prohibited from subsidizing structural protection works means that the NFIP should send the bill for any payments to the USACOE as part of the costs of the USACOE opening the Bird's Point Floodway Levees and the Morganza Spillway.

Clear documentation of my efforts exist in NFIP rulemaking files because the exclusion for flowage easements actually made it into proposed rulemaking even though not finally adopted.

Another case where I would argue that program administrators had no real understanding of the NFIP or the fact that it is a LANDUSE program not an INSURANCE program.

And sympathy to those impacted by the opening of the various spillways and levee systems.

I also understand the Old River Control Structure has been partially opened to protect that structure. Time will tell but all should know that in the last 5000 years the actual outlet of the Mississippi river has wandered/meandered from the TEXAS border to the Mississippi STATE border.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

FEMA February 2011 Org chart posted on Baseline Docs

New org charts seem to arrive at least annually from FEMA or at least semi-annually. The FEMA counsel's office has taken the legal position that no necessity exists under any applicable federal law to publish FEMA's official delegations in the Federal Register. It should be of interest that NO other counsel office in the entirety of the federal executive branch takes this legal positon not even other components of DHS. The result is that we have to guess what authority and what programs, functions, and activities are delegated to the various FEMA components. Some basics might be in order.

First, just because legal authority is delegated it does NOT mean that the person vested with legal authority to delegate cannot in fact operate under the delegated authority. Thus, in any specific disaster the President could in fact operate all provisions of the STAFFORD ACT without consultation or even cooperation of FEMA. This actually has been done a number of times by the President sometimes without FEMA knowing about it until the bill showed up in the DRF to be paid.

Second, cross-delegations are always authorized thus the Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Labor in my time were delegated certain STAFFORD ACT activities although the delegation to HHS was de facto revoked by Director James Lee Witt when he started building hospitals.

Third, the President's power to delegate, once challenged in various cases, now rests primarily on the provisions of 3 US Code Section 301. Unless his/her delegation prohibits redelegation then any delegee of the President may redelegate to any other appropriate organizational head.

When a specific person by name is given authority that is usually referred to as a "designation" not a delegation.

Finally without published delegations the FEMA is in violation of the provisions of Constitutional law set forth by C.J. Marshall in Little v. Bareme. That case held that anyone who was impacted by FEDERAL actions was entitled to know the authority of the person taking the official action. Of course FEMA has always thrived on lack of accountability in its actions and often acts in an arbitrary and capricious manner with no construction of an administrative record. This is because FEMA is largely insulated from judical review because Sovereign Immunity has not been waived in the STAFFORD ACT. This should be remedied.

Just for fun review the FEMA org chart and try and figure out who exactly is accountable for the statutory function of prevention of terrorism assigned by PKEMA 2006 to the FEMA Administrator. Or ask who in FEMA is responsible for gathering, collection, analysis, and dessemination of domestic INTEL? Does FEMA have any law enforcement authority? Can FEMA personnel carry weapons? Does FEMA have any authority to support STATES and their local governments in controlling riots and civil disorders?

Another interesting question! Do other agencies in conducting mission assignments get held harmless by FEMA?

Is FEMA or other water resource agencies required to comply with the Principles and Standards for Water Resource Projects when funded under the DRF?

Has anything of importance not been given a categorical exclusion from preparation of an EIS when conducting its activities?

Many questions and different answers in many of the FEMA regions.

Friday, May 6, 2011


From a recent news article:

"Compared to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 this flood is going to be a lot nastier," said Marty Pope, senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Jackson, Miss.

The river is predicted to crest at 64.5 feet on May 17 in the Vicksburg, Miss. area. Vicksburg has a flood stage of 48 feet, which means the river will crest more than 16 feet above normal, according to flood experts at the National Weather Service.

The flood waters will reach more than a foot above the Yazoo Backwater Levee near Yazoo City, Miss. and this will flood thousands of acres of farmland, said Pope.

There were major floods on the Mississippi in 1927, 1937, 1973, 1993 and 2008. The 1927 flood caused up to 1,000 deaths and left 600,000 homeless. Floodways were adopted as a response.

Camillo said it was too early to estimate expected damage from the 2011 flooding. He noted that much has changed since the 1927 flood, including the structure of the levees and the addition of dozens of reservoirs throughout the Mississippi River basin and floodways.

The Mississippi has four floodways: Birds Point and three spillways in Louisiana.

"There is a very good possibility that we would operate three floodways ... and we have never done that before," Camillo said."

Camillo is the Chief Historian of the Mississippi River Commission.

What do I mean when I indicate that flood-ways are political decisions not hydrologic decisions. Fluid dynamics underpin hydrology and are complex but nothing could be as labyrithian as the politics of flood-ways their designation and enforcement. Witness recent court decisions on the USACOE decision to blow the Bird's Point Levee in several places.

Why? WELL to grossly over simplify designation of a floodway is where the high velocity waters during flood stage will go. By increasing channel efficiency in several ways the water will seek the path of least resistance. Thus, if on one side of the river a flood wall is constructed the river will flow over the town on the other side without the flood wall. Or perhaps a community chooses to improve hydraulic efficiency by mowing down forest and paving over the main channel thus improving channel efficiency and speeding the water downstream. The problem of course is that the Mississippi and its levee system is not a system at all an various political decisions over time have left USACOE holding the bag. Well this time they really will be holding it. Perhaps opening the MORGANZA spillway and opening the Old River Control Structure sending waters to where the Mississippi river would like to head naturally. And save NOLA of course but goodbye Morgan City and others.

Well the die are cast and now only the passage of the next few weeks will see how this plays out.

Whatever the situation Old Man River will keep on rolling along!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

WELL the LUCKY STATES are? Those with floods and tornadoes?

Well there is no statutorily mandated Disaster Housing Strategy in place nor a Long-Term Recovery Strategy but hey FEMA is on the move. In two wide scale geographic events, an historic level of tornado activity in the month of April and what appears to be large-scale main stem Mississippi River flooding of historic proportions we are about to find out if it is the NEW FEMA or not. Good luck to all involved. Please also cancel NLE 2011 because Craig you need any and all talent for the real deal.

But the subject of discussion is how lucky some STATES and their local governments are to be experiencing natural disasters since at least potential federal stimulus dollars will be arriving through FEMA as long as they are smart enough not to wast them on restoring existing mistakes.

We only have to look at Japan as a sophisticated nation-state seven weeks into its major crisis to see that efforts there have been stymied and blown by bureaucratic stove piping, failure to deal with reality, dependency on the private sector to fix what is has broken (with help from Mother Nature of course) to make us understand that EM is the real deal and not pretend. Real events whether labeled Black Swan or otherwise do occur and they must be responded to by any of those in governance positions. These events will test President Obama and FEMA over the next few months and may possibly overshadow foreign policy during those months in particular if the President and his advisers now think they can rest on their laurels after expending over two trillion dollars on the hunt for one man who until the very end outsmarted the USA big time.

Well we now know levees not only are proved valueless when over topped by events exceeding design intervals, or poorly maintained, but also by USACOE dynamite.

And keep your eyes on the Old River Control Structure and the Morganza Spillway. If you don't know what these are please get a copy of John McPhee's wonderful book from early 80's "The Control of Nature"! Goodbye Morgan City?