News - Capital University Law School

Students Learn Lawyers’ Role in Disaster Relief

9/8/2017  -  As Texans were dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida, Capital University Law School students heard from experts in disaster response during a “Flash Forum” on September 7 regarding the law’s role in emergency management and natural disaster abatement.

Frank Reed, L'91, brought experience as Ohio’s Assistant Attorney General, representing Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Natural Resources, and Department of Transportation. He’s currently a partner at Frost Brown Todd in the firm’s government services and environmental practice group.

Darrel Koerber has been with Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security since Sept. 15, 2008 – the day that Hurricane Isaac’s force reached the state of Ohio, causing more than $560 million in damage. He came to disaster response after service in the United States Marine Corps.

Reed brought his environmental experience to the topic, outlining some of the regulatory responses to Harvey, and noting that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has suspended some environmental regulations to help speed up disaster response. “Hurricane Harvey adversely affected 300 public water systems and over 100 wastewater systems, and that’s something that you need the background to figure out how to get those systems back in place,” Reed said. “You need to know, as a lawyer, how to keep that particular client out of harm’s way” during the storm’s aftermath.

In relief terms, he noted that most of the lawyers helping with recovery in Texas are being asked to help people fill out applications related to flood damage relief, and appeals when those claim are denied. In those cases, Reed noted, “You need somebody who knows the rules.”

Koerber spoke approvingly of the performance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “I think you’re seeing a much more up-front, a much more open, and a much more communicative FEMA, and I think people are actually seeing what FEMA does,” he said.

“What you don’t really see a lot in the media is the next phase, the recovery phase,” Koerber explained. “That’s the devastating part.”

Koerber also outlined the resources and responsibilities of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), a mutual aid agreement among states and territories in the United States that allows them to share resources during natural and man-made disasters. “EMAC gives us a system to provide support in that area,” he explained. “It delineates that the requesting state is responsible to pay assisting states for their costs, and that the state providing that assistance is responsible for giving them a reasonable quote for much it would cost.”

The panelists also fielded questions about chemical spills, the implications of mandatory evacuations, and some of the legal ramifications of wildfires raging in the American West.

Terri Botsko, L’91, Director of Alumni Relations for the Law School, recommended that students explore the American Bar Associations disaster response site to learn how lawyers can assist in relief efforts.