"September is National Preparedness Month," says Alec Grandon, who will talk at AMERIND Risk's annual conference and trade fair September 24-26 about how to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change on American Indian communities. "Climate change is already having a disproportionate impact in Indian country where many communities are built on rivers and floodplains. For example, 86 percent of Alaska Native villages are susceptible to flooding," explains Grandon, a safety services specialist at AMERIND Risk who has spent 25 years in the insurance business.
Innumerable climate-related catastrophes have occurred in Indian country, including flooding last spring on the Yukon River, where an ice jam during spring melt flooded out Galena, a village of 300 people. Today, wildfires in Oklahoma and flooding in New Mexico attest to the challenges climate change brings, Grandon says.
He will discuss the current status of emergency management in Indian country, and how tribes and villages can better prepare for disaster using federal and other assistance. A few of the many resources Grandon plans to discuss are FEMA's National Response Framework and its National Incident Management System (NIMS), which offers guidance on how multiple communities and jurisdictions can work together on emergency preparedness, planning and response. FEMA's Emergency Management Institute, says Grandon, offers an online independent study program, and the agency also offers several emergency management courses designed specifically for tribal representatives.
One of the most significant developments for emergency response in Indian country, Grandon says, occurred in January, when Congress passed an amendment to the Stafford Act that eliminates the requirement that tribes work through states to get federal disaster aid. "The chief executive of any federally recognized tribe can now go directly to President Obama to ask for disaster relief. Since the bill was signed, half a dozen tribes at least have gotten federal assistance using this new procedure."
Protecting assets from disaster is critical; so is building them. David Sanborn, Penobscot Indian Nation, executive director of the National American Indian Housing Council, will talk about the reauthorization of NAHASDA, the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act. Sanborn says the council, which offers training and technical assistance to tribes so they have the capacity to administer their programs and does advocacy work on behalf of the 466 tribes that receive Indian Housing Block Grants, polled its members to find out how they thought NAHASDA could be improved this time around.
Two major points emerged, both having to do with tribal self-determination. First, tribes want to streamline the process for getting projects approved by having just one, instead of several, environmental reviews. As things stand now, tribal housing directors must perform a separate time-consuming and costly environmental review for each federal agency involved. Second, tribes want to reduce the amount of time it takes to get approvals for projects, preferably by implementing a standard similar to that in the HEARTH Act, where the Burea of Indian Affairs (BIA) has 45 days to approve a tribal petition for approval. If the BIA does not respond within that time frame, the approval is granted by default.
Sanborn points out that the housing block grants made available though NAHASDA are extremely important for tribes, and one of the things he will talk about is how tribes can petition their Congressional delegations to move forward on the reauthorization of NAHASDA. Housing, at $650 million annually, is the third-largest American Indian item in President Obama's proposed budget, after the BIA and the Indian Health Service. NAIHC, says Sanborn, is looking forward to working with both houses of Congress on getting NAHASDA reauthorized. "It's not just about building homes but it's about building communities," he says.
Building houses can be a risky business, and Thane Crozier, a certified risk manager and AMERIND Risk safety specialist, has been studying work place safety, particularly workplace accidents and claims, in Indian country. He has developed employee safety plans to reduce injuries, the most common of which he found to be caused by slip, trip and lifting accidents. He has separate plans for housing authorities and tribal organizations, which could include businesses or entire tribal organizations.
"Injuries at work lead to many costs that are hard to pinpoint," says Crozier, "including lost business, lower morale and reduced production. Businesses can reduce their costs by improving employee safety." His plans describe policies and procedures, training and return-to-work strategies to prevent and deal with injuries at work. The plans, he says, are designed to be implemented from the top down, by CEOs, tribal boards or other governing authorities who make tribal safety a priority in their organizations.
Crozier will be handing out free resources, including the safety templates and plans at his presentation. AMERIND Risk's safety team offers both on-site training and distance support. "We're there for the long haul," he says.
The 27th Annual AMERIND Risk Conference & Trade Fair is scheduled for September 24-26 at the Hilton Hilton Anchorage hotel in Alaska. The theme this year is "Coming Together: Community, Connection, and Collaboration." Exhibitors at the Trade Fair include emergency management & repair services, financial institutions, consultants, suppliers, and other business services. Other topics to be covered at the conference include Construction Risks, Claims and Settlements, Replacement Valuation, NAHASDA Basics, Direct Repair Program, Business Liability, Moore Oklahoma Tornado, Flood Restoration, AMERIND Risk's Workman's Compensation Program and Interviewing Skills. Gary "Litefoot" Davis, president and CEO the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, is scheduled to give the keynote address.
AMERIND Risk Management Corporation offers property, liability and workers’ compensation insurance in Indian country for tribes, tribal governments, businesses and individual property coverage. The company is the only 100 percent Native American-owned and -operated insurance company in the country, founded more than 25 years ago, by 400-plus tribes, including numerous individual Alaska Tribes who are independent AMERIND Risk members, and those 151 tribes represented through the Association of Alaska Housing Authorities.