Federal funding for ‘Big One’ prep is ‘conceivably’ in jeopardy

Mar 29, 2017, 10:08 AM | Updated: 1:30 pm

In case you’ve missed it, there’s been a bit of back-and-forth between the White House and Washington state leaders.

RELATED: 16 years after Nisqually quake, are we ready?

Though local leaders seem to be dismissive of the threat of funding cuts, millions could be at stake in King County and Seattle alone if the federal government finds a way to keep its promise.

The potential loss in funding has been focused on government programs. But what if there was a real catastrophe? You know, one that might require actual cooperation between the two parties? For example, the looming earthquake that the commander of the entire Washington National Guard says will be a “catastrophe we have never seen” — the magnitude-8.0-plus earthquake that some say could happen in less than 100 years.

Is there any risk that Washington state could be ignored when the quake hits? We went to Eric Holdeman, director of the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience, for an answer.

In short, Holdeman’s answer: No.

“I don’t think in an actual disaster, where you have the Stafford Act and Emergency Management Agency coming in, those types of funds should not be impacted,” Holdeman said.

The Stafford Act was signed into law Nov. 23, 1988. It declares that in a case of disaster, federal and local governments are required to provide “orderly and continuing means of assistance.”

“There is no way I think he could withhold a presidential declaration for a really major disaster,” Holdeman said. “That would be playing politics with people’s lives. And I know some would say we see that happening all the time, I think a disaster is different.”

‘Big One’ prep could be shaky

That doesn’t mean the Trump Administration’s cuts couldn’t have an impact on the “Big One.”

Trump has campaigned on his ability to hold grudges and Washington leaders have gone out of their way to ensure the president’s first few months on the job easy.

Following Trump’s proposed travel ban, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson led a successful lawsuit that stopped the ban in its tracks. Trump followed with some angry Tweets. Meanwhile, Governor Jay Inslee said he was “disturbed” by the president’s intentions as our nation’s leader.

This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the administration would be keeping its promise of cutting funding to jurisdictions that consider themselves to be a “sanctuary” for immigrants. Seattle is one of those cities.  Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes is confident that the city is following all of the rules and won’t be “bullied.”

Holdeman said funds that could be at risk are the ones provided via the Emergency Management Agency for pre-disaster preparedness, mitigation, and homeland security projects.

“Whether it’s buying equipment, doing training, doing disaster exercises like the ‘Cascadia Rising’ that was held last June — those are the funds that conceivably could be in jeopardy depending on what the administration chooses to do,” Holdeman said.

“Cascadia Rising” brought local and national agencies together to participate in earthquake drills. It was the largest exercise ever to be held in relation to a Cascadia quake. Federal officials estimated that over a four-day period, about 20,000 people were involved.

Along with preparing for a large-scale event, “Cascadia Rising” revealed the state was largely unprepared for such a natural disaster. An analysis of the state-wide drill found that the state’s disaster plans for such a catastrophe are “inadequate” in many areas.

Though Holdeman says Trump probably wouldn’t hold funding back in the case of emergency, he expects more friction between the state and the federal government.

“Depending on what happens on climate change – there could be a lot more points of friction between Washington state — our values — and that of the new administration,” Holdeman said.

Still, if the “Big One” rumbles in, Holdeman said Washington residents should feel confident that help will be on its way — no matter how bad it gets between the two sides.

“To withhold that would be a political disaster for the federal administration,” Holdeman said.

Of course, when it comes to national emergencies, it is often up to the president to determine whether or not federal assistance is needed.

Kipp Robertson contributed to this story.

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Federal funding for ‘Big One’ prep is ‘conceivably’ in jeopardy