President Obama should immediately appoint a senior official to work with disaster relief organizations in the Gulf Coast, while oil giant BP should give those organizations an infusion of cash to help them continue providing services, according to a report released today by the Center for National Policy.
Marking the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina ravaging the Gulf Coast, the report warns that gulf communities are facing major uncertainty in how to handle another severe storm while still recovering from the BP oil spill.
"The bottom line here from people we talked to is they don't have confidence in BP, they don't have confidence in the federal government," Stephen Flynn, president of the Center for National Policy, said today while speaking on a panel about the 21-page report, which was compiled by a delegation of nonprofit leaders and former government officials who visited the area Aug. 8-11.
"The leadership of nongovernmental organizations shares the widespread local confusion about how the federal response framework for the oil spill will work with the federal response framework for a hurricane," the report states.
The report makes 10 recommendations that should receive "urgent" attention from Obama and Congress.
A special federal coordinator designated by Obama could help resolve obstacles and mediate conflicts impeding the ability of nonprofits to provide speedy help to Gulf Coast communities, Flynn said in an interview.
"We should get somebody down there with juice," he said.
The report also says the administration should direct BP to immediately provide financial aid to nonprofits that face increased demand for services while struggling to stay afloat in the aftermath of the oil spill and the midst of the down economy.
"These folks are bordering on insolvency," Flynn said. "BP has put them on the brink of insolvency with this spill."
BP should also fund hazardous materials training for Gulf Coast residents so they can help federal and state agencies assess and respond to oil coming on shore, the report adds.
The report does not provide an estimate of how much BP should pay, but Flynn said he would not expect the amount to be huge. He added that he had not yet formally talked to BP about the recommendations.
"Write a check. Now," he said. "Our hope is that they'll say that's a no-brainer."
Gulf Coast residents, nonprofits and businesses do not believe the government has a plan if oil comes ashore and contaminates their homes or buildings, said Warren Edwards, director of the Community and Regional Resilience Institute, during the panel.
"Since there is no plan, there is just a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the Gulf," he said. "And uncertainty breeds fear."
Another problem is that federal, state and local agencies lack emergency response plans to help businesses and residents return to gulf communities, Flynn said. The report recommends that emergency planners ensure that regional points of aid distribution are staffed to handle recovery and re-entry efforts, and that they update their evacuation plans with a greater emphasis on speeding the return of residents and businesses.
The Small Business Administration should also be directed to immediately reach out to small businesses and work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and disaster relief agencies, the report adds.
"Quick reentry of displaced residents is critical to the long-term resilience of any region but especially for the Gulf region which has been severely impacted by several large scale disasters in the last several years and which is already suffering from a significantly depleted population from earlier storms," the report states.