An Effective Funding Strategy for Washington State Emergency Management Programs

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Amy Gillespie


Emergency management programs in Washington State are vulnerable because they do not have a sustainable and stable funding source. In 2004, the Washington State Emergency Management Council assessed its emergency management system. The resulting report stated, “Reliance on funding sources that are sometimes insufficient, inaccessible, or restricted is increasing the administrative requirements for grants management and limiting local programs’ ability to effectively maintain adequate disaster preparedness.”[1] As of 2020, programs rely on federal grants and general funds to budget for emergency management programs. However, due to changes in grant requirements, allocation methods, and reduction in grant funds, local programs cannot adequately plan for funding during their annual or biennial budgeting process. Such unreliable funding is compromising the profession’s ability to help the state prevent, respond to, and recover from disasters.

A 2014 landslide in Snohomish County highlighted the need for the state to change the funding structure of emergency management. This disaster destroyed 40 buildings and killed 43 people; 15 more people had to be rescued from mud and debris.[2] The emergency management community across the entire state of Washington worked for 38 days to support Snohomish County. This one mass fatality disaster located in one county demonstrated the significant need for increased and stable funding to support personnel, resources, and equipment throughout the state to support local programs further. The disaster led to multiple after-action reports from various responding agencies; so many that in July 2014, Governor Jay Inslee and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick, jointly authorized the State Route (SR) 530 Commission to review the response and recovery operations to identify successes and challenges and make recommendations for improvement.[3] The commission made 17 recommendations.[4] One of its most significant recommendations was, according to the governor’s office, “to build a more robust and innovative system of response and to secure an adequate, sustainably funded emergency management system across the state.”[5] Although the commission’s final report reached the governor on December 15, 2014, no proposed solutions have been developed, let alone adopted to address how emergency management programs in Washington State should build an emergency response system through and with sustainable funding.

Washington State has a current limitation in funding emergency management programs at all levels of government. The reliance on federal grants creates uncertainty to local program officials that the funding in unstable, based on population, and is decreasing. This uncertainty results in programs not being able to rely on the federal grants as a funding source during budgeting processes due to the timing of the release of funding amount data, regional funding, such as the Washington State homeland security regions, and changes in populations.

Additional challenges include the increasing costs of disasters, increasing size and duration of disasters, and a mindset that a catastrophic or major disaster simply will not happen in this generation.[6] Thus, programs struggle to find funding to support the requirements of an emergency management program, which creates increased vulnerabilities in the community during a disaster.

This thesis asks the following question: what are the potential state and local funding and allocation methods that can stabilize and sustain current budgets of Washington State’s emergency management programs? To answer this question, funding sources, allocation methods, and policy strategies of programs in the states of Florida, California, and Washington are evaluated. The analysis evaluates how the approaches are equitable to the community, if they can be applied to Washington State, and how they attain the goal of providing essential services to support communities. The goal is to identify a funding strategy that will improve and stabilize emergency management funding in the state of Washington.

Fees, taxes, and legislative allocations are the specific funding strategies evaluated in this thesis. After analyzing the components of emergency management funding, allocation methods, and policy strategies, a recommendation was made for how Washington State could identify, develop, and implement a sustainable and stable funding strategy. The analysis found that all three funding methods could be applied to the emergency management profession in Washington State.

The bond and fee allocation method can potentially increase inequities across the state. The direct legislative allocation method may address economic inequities, depending on how the funds are allocated and applied to emergency management programs. Lessons learned can show how to engage the community in an inclusive process to develop emergency management service requirements, funding needs, and an implementation strategy. The key finding from the analysis of the states of Florida and Washington funding strategies is the implementation of the policy strategy. The implementation of the policy strategy focuses on the development of a partnership of key stakeholders, data collection, and research on required services and the funding necessary to provide these services.

This research seeks to recommend a funding source, but the study concludes that determining how to implement a funding strategy is the key to success. An inclusive process developed to address pros and cons from all stakeholders utilizes professional standards to identify critical services, and data to determine funding requirements, is the road map to success.

[1] Task Force on Local Programs, A Study of Emergency Management, Task Force on Local Programs (Olympia, WA: Washington State Emergency Management Council, 2004), xi.

[2] Kathy Lombardo, The SR 530 Landslide Commission Final Report (Olympia, WA: Washington State Governor’s Office, 2014), 1.

[3] Jaime Smith, “Inslee and Lovick Form Joint 530 Landslide Commission,” Washington State Governor’s Office, 1, July 25, 2014,

[4] Lombardo, The SR 530 Landslide Commission Final Report, 11.

[5] Lombardo, v.

[6] Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2017 Hurricane Season FEMA After-Action Report (Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, 2018), ii.

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