On September 25, USACE tribal liaison members visited FEMA's National Response Coordination Center in Washington, D.C. Georgeie Reynolds, senior tribal liaison, USACE HQ, Paul Cloutier, NWD Tribal Liaison, Rebecca Klein, Army National Guard assigned to the USACE Tribal program, and Ron Kneebone, Albuquerque district tribal liaison, met with FEMA personnel in order to lay out a path forward for better collaboration efforts between the two agencies in order to better assist tribal nations during emergencies.
“Since both of our agencies work to assist tribes in an emergency, if we understood each other’s mission better, we would be able to respond more quickly and efficiently in order to provide a more cohesive response to the tribes’ needs,” said Kneebone.
Some of the topics the two agencies hope to address are: What operations does FEMA do versus USACE? What are the directives of each agency? Where do the agencies intersect and where are the missions different?
One opportunity is to hold joint training for Tribal Nations with both FEMA and USACE at future National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) meetings, as well as at smaller regional meetings, such as United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) and Associated Tribes of Northern Indians (ATNI). Other possibilities include Corps’ tribal liaisons staffing the FEMA tribal desk at the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) at FEMA headquarters during emergencies, and possible cross-training for both agency representatives.
“This partnership has come about as a direct result of requests from various tribes nationwide,” said Kneebone. The life-changing fires, and resulting floods throughout the country within the last few years, have had devastating and long-term effects on a number of tribes,” he said. “The more efficiently and timely we can assist the tribes, the more helpful our assistance will be.”
The Albuquerque District is also working on the FEMA/Corps partnership locally. The district sponsored the FEMA Region 6 Sandy Recovery Act 2013 Overview and Training on September 11, 2013. This training was held because of recent changes pertaining to the Stafford Act, which outlines the procedures for declaring an emergency. An amendment to the Stafford Act was included in the Sandy Recovery Act. Prior to the amendment, tribal nations needed to go through the governor of the state in order to request a presidential disaster declaration, or to receive emergency assistance. This important amendment now recognizes tribes as individual, sovereign nations, which allows them a choice of either going through the governor (the state), or directly to the President on their own to request an emergency declaration or disaster assistance.
The following agencies participated in the conference: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department Administration Department of Food and Nutrition, Department of Energy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Small Business Administration, and the Department of the Interior. Several representatives from a number of New Mexico tribal nations were present to learn the new ropes of applying for disaster relief. “It is important to continue to work with FEMA and other agencies on both a national and local level,” said Kneebone.