RICKS AND DAS FEMA

Parish President Layton Ricks has said

The parish is going to take another shot at a disaster response protocol, which also includes management of substantial damage inspections in a post-disaster scenario.

FEMA is currently focused on 4,000 properties, which the parish has narrowed down to roughly 3,000, which were not inspected after the flood and given the green light to rebuild.

In January, the council was presented with a packet that contained a series of protocols, that would be adopted by ordinance, for use in a post-disaster scenario. The packet outlined how parish government would work through the response to a flood, hurricane, or other natural disaster that could potentially affect property.

According to Livingston Parish Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Mark Harrell, the packet had been designed alongside FEMA, with their help. Harrell told the council that night that he had been in 'constant contact' with FEMA, 'roughly 22 times.'

FEMA, however, said the parish had been in contact every 30 days. The Emergency Management Administration added that was all the contact they required from the local government, and applauded Livingston Parish's effort to develop their own response protocols.

Harrell also went to FEMA Region 6 headquarters, located in Denton, Texas, in August to get a jump start on the plan.

Some members of the parish council had questions and concerns for Harrell and the response, which led to the item being tabled in January. Councilman Garry 'Frog' Talbert produced a list of discussion items for Harrell, who did not respond to the questions directly, simply stating that FEMA had be involved in the development process and the processes outlined in the packet would pass their judgement.

The questions and concerns were:

  1. LOHSEP controls the process and removes it from the Parish Permit Officials & Floodplain Administrators Completely, which is against FEMA guidelines
  2. There are no inspectors nor any certified building officials in LOHSEP to justify this move
  3. FEMA says that Chief Building Inspector and Substantial Damage Estimate Manager should be from the same field of expertise and housed within the Permit Office; this policy specifically excludes that. Why?
  4. Defines a Structural Elevation Project using incorrect elevation heights per FEMA and HUD guidelines setting up for confusion with the ordinance and requirements
  5. Rewords FEMA’s definitions for Substantial Damage & Substantial Improvement; packet should just use FEMA’s definitions to avoid issues
  6. Intends to put together standby contracts for inspectors when FEMA provides Substantial Damage Inspections for free, meaning no reason to sign unnecessary contracts
  7. Intends to use the Office of State Fire Marshal for inspections, but per Butch Browning his office has never been trained on substantial damage, nor are inspection teams available
  8. Inspections should occur in teams of 2, per FEMA guidelines, for safety and accuracy
  9. Through the packet, the chief building inspector has total authority to revise, deny, or reverse determinations but is not required to provide any reasoning, counter to FEMA requirements.
  10. Through the packet, the parish is not required to retain any records about inspections that are revised, denied, or reversed.

After the questions were read, Harrell said at the time he would meet with Talbert and insisted that the packet he produced was approved by FEMA, and that he had actually looked for more ‘lee-way’ but that the final product was their iteration, with no intention of providing any room to change.

Harrell, in a meeting with the News two weeks after the parish council meeting, discussed his responses to the questions. According to the LOHSEP director, items 1-3 are covered by the fact that the protocol packet outlines the response would be done as a group through an Emergency Operations Center and Instant Command System.

However, the substantial packet says in the overview - "As a community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, Livingston Parish is required to conduct substantial damage assessments and determinations. During federally declared disaster related events, this task will be taken over by the Livingston Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LOHSEP)."

 The packet, produced by Harrell, does not mention himself as a 'director' or 'manager,' although the parish establishes, per ordinance, an EOC in the wake of a disaster.

Harrell went on to say that the definitions established for individual responders to a disaster are all within FEMA guidelines and will operate through his office, but are still employees of the parish. Local flood plain managers suggested that these responders, especially their supervisors, should be established within protocols before the disaster, not after it occurs.

Two of Talbert's questions were answered, however, as FEMA no longer offers help free of charge to parishes. The fire marshal's office will provide assistance, as well.

Despite the responses, Talbert says he still has issues with parts of the plan where questions were not fully answered or went unanswered, and still desires the ordinance committee to take a look at the packet.

"We don't just want to throw something out there," Talbert said, "(the parish) wants to do it right.

"That's why we're in this position to begin with, we did it wrong the first time."

The parish was bumped from a 9 to a 10 in the Community Rating System, removing the 5% discount on flood insurance parish wide (outside of Denham Springs and Walker city limits). The cost of that removal was roughly $350,000, per year.

However, the parish escaped being removed from the National Flood Insurance Program all together, thanks to East Baton Rouge having problems of their own in the post-disaster response arena. FEMA elected to work with both parishes, as opposed to punishing so many homeowners, per Sen. Bill Cassidy's office.

According to both Harrell and Parish President Layton Ricks, at a meeting of the Livingston Economic Development Council, the parish made decisions in the wake of the disaster to get citizens back into their homes. Both said that, given the choice, they would do it again.

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