Monday, September 4, 2017

OMB Approves Emergency FEMA Harvey ICR

On Friday, the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) approved an emergency information collection request from the DHS Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a new electronic form to collect information from survivors of a major disaster residing in shelters. The purpose of the new data collection is to aid in the rapid transition of those people from shelters into more appropriate living situations.

The impetus for the emergency submission of the Survivor Sheltering Assessment ICR is the current situation in Texas and Louisiana that resulted from the unprecedented flooding from Harvey. This is clear from the wording of the ‘Emergency Justification’ portion of the ICR approval notice. It is also clear from the Abstract that this is a new tool that FEMA expects to use in any future situation where that agency is going to be expected to provide support to people in emergency shelters.

While this ICR was submitted on Friday, it is clear that the ICR was being prepared a week or two before that as it used some extremely outdated estimates (eg: “An incredible amount of rain, 15 to 30 inches with isolated amounts of up to 40 inches, is predicted…”) of the scope of the potential damage from the storm. This also resulted in an almost certainly low estimate of the number of people (30,000) that will be expected to complete the form.


It seems clear to me that the collection of data of this sort from a large emergency shelter population is necessary to effectively work to move that population out of shelters and into more appropriate housing conditions in the aftermath of a major disaster. It is actually quite surprising to me that such a data collection effort did not already exist.

It is heartening to me to see that the Trump Administration had started work on this effort before the true extent of the Harvey disaster became known. While this still may (and that is not entirely clear at this point) have been a reactive effort to this specific incident, it still shows a welcomed ability to look ahead and plan ahead. This is especially important to see in an anti-government and anti-regulation administration like the one we currently have.

Whether or not this particular tool is effective, or whether or not FEMA (and the remainder of the Federal government) is up to the task of dealing with the aftermath of Harvey (and do not take your eyes off of Irma) remains to be seen. But, this is an important first step in dealing with the Administration’s first major domestic crisis.

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