If Iowa’s electric cooperatives were stunned before, we are most certainly shocked now having read the comments of FEMA spokesperson Michael Cappannari in “FEMA aid rejection stuns power cooperatives” (9/20/13 The Des Moines Register).
Most notably, “FEMA officials said the policy requiring electrical systems to be tested prior to disasters has been in place since September 2009.” For the record, this prior testing “policy” for utility infrastructure has never been FEMA’s practice. Not in Iowa, and not anywhere in the United States.
Since 2009, Iowa has experienced numerous blizzards, straight wind incidents, tornados, and all manner of ice storms causing hundreds of miles of devastation to the rural power grid maintained by consumer-owned rural electric cooperatives. In each case where a federal disaster was declared, and under prior agreement with FEMA, federal assistance was granted to rebuild that utility infrastructure.
For a FEMA representative to now state this new test has been the policy all along is utterly shocking and flies in the face of reality.
Adding insult to injury, the FEMA spokesperson further stated that, “reports that the entire system must be tested each year for five years are not true.” This comment is decidedly inaccurate as electric cooperative managers who have applications in process have been told as recently as August 2013 that this would be a potential specification for the prior testing requirement.
In none of the awards prior to August of 2013, did FEMA ever require, suggest, promote, or even remotely hint at any sort of a “prior testing requirement.” Nor was an application turned down for “lack of prior testing.”
What is more, in the weeks since FEMA sprang this phantom “prior testing” requirement on the electric cooperatives serving 650,000 Iowans, FEMA has not been able to articulate what the specifications for requirement are, show where these specifications were communicated to the electric cooperatives, or show where FEMA requires this prior testing requirement anywhere else in the entire nation.
Based on our reading of the September 20 article, a FEMA spokesperson, on the record, noted a prior testing requirement has been the “policy” from 2009. So what we now know today, thanks to your reporting, is that Iowa disaster aid is now subject to a policy which no one has ever heard of, that has never been applied, and that FEMA cannot describe in any consistent manner. And the parts that they have been willing to communicate to us “aren’t true.”
Stunned does not begin to describe what we are feeling with regards to FEMA’s behavior on this issue.
In light of this breach of the public’s trust there are broad ramifications to rural Iowa and how we are going to be able to deal with future natural disasters. We are willing to work with any government agency to make sure vital services are restored to the people we serve. But for that to happen we need consistent, accurate information and that is not what we are getting now.
Southern Iowa Electric Cooperative