My first day on the job at FEMA was the day Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Since then I’ve seen firsthand the tireless efforts of FEMA’s dedicated workforce in supporting disaster survivors from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, the catastrophic California wildfires, and dozens of other disasters around the nation.
As we moved from immediate response and recovery to long term recovery, we reflected on the lessons from the 2017 disasters. In doing so, we contemplated not only how to increase our readiness for catastrophic disasters, but also how best to reduce impacts from future disasters. We soon realized that we needed to shift the way we as a nation think about disasters, so that together, we can be better prepared in the future.
As a result of our months-long after action review, we recently released our 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. Goal 1 is to Build a Culture of Preparedness.
As the lead for this goal, I am proud to announce a new Resilience organization at FEMA to implement the vision set forth in the Strategic Plan. FEMA Resilience includes our programs focused on preparing for disasters and making our nation more resilient. By formalizing how we have been informally working together under Goal 1 as a unified organization, we believe we can drive risk reduction and enhance the nation’s resilience to disasters by leveraging several FEMA missions including mitigation, insurance, preparedness, grants, and continuity.
But to truly foster a culture of preparedness we must go beyond FEMA programs. We are engaging stakeholders—including federal, State, local, tribal, and territorial governments, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and citizens—to join with us as partners in this effort.
So how do we join together to meet this goal? We will begin with four areas where we believe we can drive change at FEMA and beyond.
First, we need to acknowledge that during a disaster, individuals in the impacted communities are the first responders. We need to empower and prepare individuals with lifesaving skills to help speed response and recovery efforts. We also need to encourage citizens to be financially prepared for disasters.
Second, we need to reduce the financial burden of disasters to individuals, businesses, and governments by closing the insurance gap. There is no more important or valuable disaster recovery tool than insurance. This of course includes the National Flood Insurance Program. But it’s not just flood insurance. All types of insurance have a role to play in reducing financial risk.
Third, we need to build more resilient communities to reduce risks to people, property, and taxpayer dollars. This includes investing in mitigation. The National Institute of Building Sciences recently released a study that found, on average, $1 spent on federally funded mitigation grants saves the nation $6 in future disaster costs.
Fourth, we need to assist communities with their continuity planning to ensure that essential government services function following a disaster. This also includes issuing emergency alerts and notifications to ensure citizens are informed, and taking protective actions, during disasters.
FEMA has embraced the lessons from 2017 and has enhanced its readiness for catastrophic disasters. But only by working together, as a nation, can we reduce the impacts of future disasters. Our new Resilience organization will best enable FEMA to do its part to address this challenge, but we alone cannot achieve success. We are asking for you to join us in building a culture of preparedness—an ambitious, yet achievable goal.