The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

May 24, 2013

Oklahoma gets far more than its share of disasters

(Continued)

Another explanation for Oklahoma's role as Disaster Central is urban sprawl, which puts more people in the path of disasters. Moore, with 56,000 people, boomed by more than one-third between 2000 and 2010. As more such suburbs pop up and grow, the chances of homes being hit increases.

Between 1970 and 1985, Tulsa County was declared a flood disaster about nine times, said Patton, the disaster consultant. Then the city moved more than 1,000 buildings out of harm's way and diverted water. There hasn't been major flooding since, she said.

Oklahoma is the leading state when it comes to safe rooms, which probably saved lives in Moore, according to FEMA. Yet some areas haven't developed wisely to avoid disasters and "don't respect the power of nature," Patton said.

Several disaster experts also say Oklahoma is particularly adept at working the bureaucracy to obtain federal aid.

Having the president declare your community a federal disaster area is a complicated process that needs to be followed precisely. A governor must request a presidential declaration in writing through FEMA, which rates the disaster based on a number of factors. It is up to the president to make the decision, and then it's up to FEMA to get the aid flowing.

The presidential decision involves many factors, including the political clout of the region's congressional delegation and how good a case the governor makes, said University of Delaware political science professor Richard Sylves, who studies disaster declarations. Oklahoma is so experienced at this process that its governors and emergency managers know how to make it run smoothly, he said.

"Some people get disaster declarations simply because they've got an influential political delegation," Lindell said of the process in general.

The irony, said Kathleen Tierney, who heads the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, is that Oklahoma's current two senators have often opposed special disaster relief funding bills for other parts of the country, such as one earlier this year for the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy.

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