Page 2 of 2 Previous

Continued: `The bull's-eye for awful tornadoes': Oklahoma gets an outsized share of natural disasters

  • Article by: SETH BORENSTEIN , Associated Press
  • Last update: May 24, 2013 - 2:51 PM

Between 1970 and 1985, Tulsa County was declared a flood disaster about nine times, said Patton, the disaster consultant. Then the city moved more than 1,000 buildings out of harm's way and diverted water. There hasn't been major flooding since, she said.

Oklahoma is the leading state when it comes to safe rooms, which probably saved lives in Moore, according to FEMA. Yet some areas haven't developed wisely to avoid disasters and "don't respect the power of nature," Patton said.

Several disaster experts also say Oklahoma is particularly adept at working the bureaucracy to obtain federal aid.

Having the president declare your community a federal disaster area is a complicated process that needs to be followed precisely. A governor must request a presidential declaration in writing through FEMA, which rates the disaster based on a number of factors. It is up to the president to make the decision, and then it's up to FEMA to get the aid flowing.

The presidential decision involves many factors, including the political clout of the region's congressional delegation and how good a case the governor makes, said University of Delaware political science professor Richard Sylves, who studies disaster declarations. Oklahoma is so experienced at this process that its governors and emergency managers know how to make it run smoothly, he said.

"Some people get disaster declarations simply because they've got an influential political delegation," Lindell said of the process in general.

The irony, said Kathleen Tierney, who heads the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, is that Oklahoma's current two senators have often opposed special disaster relief funding bills for other parts of the country, such as one earlier this year for the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has criticized the FEMA formula for declaring disasters, saying it rewards smaller states and punishes bigger ones for catastrophes of the same size.

During a hearing last month, Coburn told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: "Oklahoma had 22 FEMA grants last year. I'm thankful that the federal government is helping Oklahoma out, but in a lot of those, we weren't overwhelmed and we could have taken and dealt with it. And some states that may be in much worse budget shape than we are had twice as much but got no help from the federal government on like-minded events. "

Joseph Nimmich, FEMA associate administrator for disaster response, said Thursday that politics has absolutely nothing to do with Oklahoma's many disaster declarations: "It's purely a natural occurrence."

___

Online:

FEMA list of presidential disasters since 1953 by state: http://1.usa.gov/11eQHyU

FEMA explains the process how a community gets declared a federal disaster:

http://1.usa.gov/13LS6ZL

NOAA's billion-dollar disasters: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/summary-stats

Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which State Fair staple do you most want to eat?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close