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Tropical Storm Isaias showcases the need for FEMA BRIC funding

Aug 31, 2020
4 MIN. READ
The storm serves as a reminder that our power grid is vulnerable—and too critical for one entity to manage alone. Here’s how FEMA BRIC funding can inspire public-private partnerships.

Early this month, Tropical Storm Isaias left a destructive path along the eastern seaboard. The power grid took a major hit across multiple states, leaving millions of customers without power for days and threatening critical infrastructure. Because of the devastation and disruption, communities are raising concerns and requesting investigations into the response and recovery of the utility industry. The alarm bells are warranted, as the longer critical infrastructures are compromised, the higher the costs of recovery escalate and the greater the disruption to the economy and lives of utility customers.

While utilities have a major role to play in building resilience in a rapidly changing climate, they cannot do it alone. Providing and distributing power is just part of the equation. Access to disaster sites, ability to manage local conditions, and resiliency of both power grid and local infrastructures all play a role and are not controlled by a single entity. Given the high stakes involved in protecting our critical infrastructure and building community resilience, how can utilities and state and local governments work together on pre-disaster hazard mitigation initiatives?

FEMA has a new funding program that’s tailor-made for communities that want to strengthen their critical infrastructure in advance of the next Isaias-level storm.

FEMA BRIC can help state and local governments address power grid vulnerabilities

As one tool in the funding toolkit to address critical infrastructure vulnerabilities, FEMA’s new Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Program makes federal funding available to states, U.S. territories, Indian tribal governments, and local communities for pre-disaster mitigation activities. For FY 2020, FEMA has prioritized the program to incentivize:

  • public infrastructure projects that mitigate risk to one or more community lifelines.
  • projects that incorporate nature-based solutions.
  • the adoption and enforcement of the latest published editions of building codes.
As a Community Lifeline, the energy system powers homes and businesses and sustains other critical infrastructure such as transportation, water, waste, and the built environment. A project designed to strengthen the power grid would be an ideal candidate for FEMA BRIC funding.
Hurricane Isaias destabilizes the Energy Lifeline, interrupting other Community Lifelines

But the investment required to build a more resilient power grid is considerable. That’s why a public-private partnership is recommended—this way, not all the funding is coming from the government or the utility rate base, but instead is pulled together through a variety of public and private sources to increase the benefits of the solution and provide an even greater return on investment for the public. A major benefit to a public-private partnership that includes FEMA BRIC funding—especially as we reflect on the damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias and prepare for the extreme weather ahead—is that it allows communities to achieve true resilience sooner than they would be able to if they were relying solely on the utility rate base to afford it. Rates that don’t have to rise to address resilience measures but instead are supported by federal funding build resilience and hold down the long-term costs of generation and distribution. Also, projects that are funded through these combined efforts have greater long-term resilience to future disasters—which reduces administrative burdens, economic challenges, and higher taxes to pay for reconstruction. A true win-win with a positive return on investment.

Crafting a FEMA BRIC application that shows co-investment

The rise in extreme weather has shown the need to think big when it comes to infrastructure resilience. FEMA BRIC is designed to support ambitious projects that protect Community Lifelines—but first you need to create a compelling project application and get it accepted.

While privately-owned utilities are not eligible to directly apply for FEMA BRIC funding, they can work with their local governments in partnership to submit applications for this competitive grant program. FEMA provides a scoring points incentive for applications that feature this kind of collaboration and co-investment. With ICF’s expertise in FEMA and other federal programs such as CBDG-Mitigation, we can assist utilities and work with local communities to build partnerships to achieve the objectives set forth by FEMA’s BRIC Program. We can help develop strong mitigation and resilience opportunities for the utility industry that will support the Community Lifelines in future events.

When utility stakeholders work collaboratively with state and local governments to create applications that show co-investment, the result is well worth the effort. What Isaias has shown is that if it’s only left to one entity to solve the problem, it won’t get done. Working together, state and local governments and utilities can take advantage of FEMA BRIC to protect their Community Lifelines and build a more resilient future.

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