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Disasters create a power struggle for funding at local level

Kentucky Power Politics and Regional Disasters

Power politics follows the money in Kentucky. And now in 2010, a whole lot of money is being directed toward disaster recovery and disaster planning. During the past four years, there have been seven Presidential Disaster Declarations for Kentucky. The latest being the last week of July:  President declares disaster in Pike Co.flooding  Nasty business! Having a Presidential statement naming your state as ground zero for major disasters is something you, as a state or local leader, would really just as well pass the honor to someone else.

Every major storm in the recent past has reached near or gone over the 1 billion dollar mark in local and regional damages to Kentuckians.  In west Kentucky, we have had a hurricane, two major ice storms, severe flooding, and many wind storms in just the past three years.  

Just to our south, along a path following Interstate 40 through Tennessee and on into the Carolinas, there have been two Storms of the Century: the 2009 Ice Storm and Blizzard plus the 1,000 year Rain Event that flooded the watershed of the Cumberland River and Nashville. Each of these extreme weather disasters will cost over 1 billion dollars.

These kinds of disaster instantly create a new cadre of planners and supporting infrastructure. Every unit of government in the “extreme weather geographical fear box” must now consider how to budget for the next big one that may or may not destroy their tax base of home and business owners.

Government budgets are also defined as special interests platforms or turfs. Policemen, fire fighters, fire and rescue squads, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), communication providers, food services, and medical suppliers are all designing their own individual legislative agenda for the state general assembly and local government. Each interest group is already staking out the legislative battleground.

In the context of power politics, this means whoever can control the county judge will be the first wave winners in securing authority, prestige, and money for coordinating local disaster planning and recovery functions. As of this date, in 2010, the leaders in securing and tying up local judges’ support are the county fire and rescue squads.

Local fire and rescue squads have been the “go-to team” for the past 30 to 40 years in each county to handle the mess of local disasters. During this time period, the nature of local disasters has been tornados, floods, fires, or wrecks.

Each event happens in a normal span of time (usually measured in hours), few people were victims, and recovery was quick and easy. Chain saws, fast trucks with flashing lights, strong young men with a desire to save lives, are the tools and currency of local fire and rescue squads.

However, with the change in weather patterns, as major storms roll through entire regions of the state, Kentucky county leaders must look at a new emerging battlefield of man versus nature. Each extreme weather event now challenges local leaders with potential disasters that last weeks and sometimes months for recovery.

 Chain saw recovery must now go hand in hand with how to feed a population of several thousand or whole cites over a long period. These new mega disasters are forcing Kentucky professional emergency organizations to rethink how they work with each other in a time of no budgets or tight budgets.

We are entering a new age of local budget making where disaster planning line item will set in motion vast local political power plays and fights over who has the right to take charge during a major disaster. This will set cities against counties and fire and rescue squads against faith based churches or other local disaster groups.

As always, local power politics is a contact sport played for all the money. This time around, the boys and girls in Kentucky’s General Assembly will be brought into this kicking and screaming. This is not the type of battlefield they want to be a part of. This will be messy and will require a new kind of thinking and leadership. Only time and the next series of mega disasters will tell if we are up for the battle.        


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