Kat Cammack: ‘Our Approach to Mitigation Needs to Shift to a Pre-Disaster mindset’

This week, U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., the lead Republican on the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, delivered the following opening statement in a subcommittee hearing on the climate’s impact on homeland security.

2020 saw one of the worst fire seasons in history – burning millions of acres along the west coast. In February of 2021, ice storms in Texas left millions without power or safe water to drink. In March of this year, a tornado outbreak caused widespread damage to several southern states.

And in my home state of Florida, we are certainly no stranger to intense weather events. Just last year, Hurricane Sally flooded Florida’s Panhandle – dropping four months of rain in just four hours. And in 2018, Hurricane Michael, that devastated Florida’s Gulf Coast, was the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in mainland U.S. since 1992.

As we move through the second week of Atlantic Hurricane Season, it’s important to remember that while we can’t control the weather, we can take steps to prepare. Pre-disaster mitigation efforts by individuals, policy makers, first responders, and emergency preparedness professionals ensure that no geographic region of the country is left unsupported.

Mitigation activities such as strengthening and upgrading existing infrastructure from all-hazards, raising structures in identified flood zones, buying flood insurance to protect personal property, installing hurricane shutters and other protective measures, and clearing dead vegetation to reduce the risk of wildfire all have the potential to limit the negative effects of natural disasters.

FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program helps communities implement hazard mitigation measures following a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration, to reduce the risk of loss of life and property from future disasters.

Florida’s 2018 State Hazard Mitigation Plan highlights four goals with corresponding objectives to include:

      • Implement an effective comprehensive statewide hazard mitigation plan;
      • Support local and regional mitigation strategies;
      • Increase public and private sector awareness and support for hazard mitigation in Florida; and
      • Support mitigation initiatives and policies that protect the state’s cultural, economic, and natural resources.

These goals have been realized through recent mitigation projects. For example, the Hallandale Beach Drainage Project was recently completed using Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds to address drainage issues that caused flooding throughout the city during storms.  A new drainage project was also completed in Oakland Park using HMPG funds. Despite high tidal surges and high canal levels from Hurricane Irma in September 2017, no flood waters entered homes in Oakland Park communities served by the new system.

Not only do mitigation activities aim to reduce injuries, deaths, and property damage, they also have the potential to limit the economic impact of disaster recovery efforts.

A December 2019 report by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that by designing buildings to meet 2018 building code standards, the national mitigation benefit-cost ratio is $11 for every $1 invested.

The report also found that the impacts of 23 years of federal mitigation grants provided by FEMA, the Economic Development Administration, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, result in a national benefit of $6 for every $1 invested.

Our approach to mitigation needs to shift to a pre-disaster mindset, so we are anticipating the need, and not responding after the damage is done

I am encouraged by recent changes to pre-disaster mitigation funding, including the introduction of the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Grant Program (BRIC). BRIC makes additional federal funds available to states, U.S territories, Indian tribal governments, and local communities for pre-disaster mitigation activities. The FY2020 priorities for BRIC were to incentivize public infrastructure projects; projects that mitigate risk to one or more community lifelines; projects that incorporate nature-based solutions; and the adoption and enforcement of the latest published editions of building codes.

As we’ve hardened and continue to harden our defenses against a potential terrorist attack, we must also be prepared for the devastating effects of a severe weather event.

The reality is that natural disasters have always occurred and will continue to occur. We should use every disaster as an opportunity to learn and improve our mitigation capabilities and strategies to decrease loss of life and damage to our homes and infrastructure, and to lessen the economic strain that disasters present.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on how to continue to improve our preparedness and resilience in the face of the unpredictable nature of disasters and all-hazard emergencies.

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