Tennessee has experienced two years of unprecedented natural disasters. Despite an institutional memory reaching back more than 40 years, the state’s emergency management agencies have never faced the series of emergencies as large as those that transpired between May of 2010 and May of 2011.
In 2011, the state was struck by a series of tornadoes, storms and record flooding that resulted in five Presidential Declarations, DR-1965, DR-1974, DR-1978, DR-1979 and DR-4005. These disasters followed on the heels of last year’s May flood, known as DR-1909, and the much smaller but no less devastating August flood (DR-1937). A total of 62 Tennesseans lost their lives in these disasters.
The five declared major disasters affect 66 counties of the 95 counties in Tennessee and illustrates the wide-spread geographic impact of these disasters. DR-1909 was one of the largest disasters in modern U.S. history and it affected just 49 counties. As you can tell, many of the state’s counties have been repeatedly impacted by disaster, often this year by back-to-back disasters.
A perspective on these events is difficult to gain, considering that a real price tag for damage and costs in many cases is hardly possible to know for sure. The measures most reliably available are from the tallies of the two federal assistance programs that comprise disaster relief in the United States. Individual assistance is a direct aid to citizens and so-called Public Assistance reimburses local governments after their repairs are accomplished.
At present, the DR-1909 disaster is estimated to provide more than $700 million in public assistance, more than $100 million in individual assistance. There will also be more than $100 million available in hazard mitigation grant funds. For the 2011 disasters, the total for individual assistance is nearly $30 million and comprehensive public assistance figures won’t be finalized until late 2012.
TEMA, the state’s administrative agent for federal disaster relief programs, manages the Public Assistance reimbursement program for local governments. The funds from DR-1909 represent an 8,390 percent increase above the normal funding managed by this agency. The only other state to experience a similar type of percentage increase is New York State following the 9/11 terrorist event in 2001.
In communities the state over, response to these adversities has been both generous and gratifying to see first-hand. Governor Haslam and I share tremendous admiration for the work done by the many volunteers and first responders.
If we could learn only one lesson from the last two years, I would hope it would be that emergencies and disasters can happen anywhere and anytime, so our best efforts are required to be prepared for those situations.
I want to urge each citizen in Tennessee to take an active role in the preparedness of your family, your community and your local government. You can make a difference in the lives of the people around you. If you only take the time to make yourself a little less vulnerable to disaster, you can both help your neighbors and ensure that limited emergency resources are available to help those most in need.