Are We Ready? Recovering from 2017 Disasters and Preparing for the 2018 Hurricane Season
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.
Summary of Subject Matter
Chairman Lou Barletta (R-PA)
Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management
(Remarks as Prepared)
From hurricanes to floods and wildfires, no region of our country was completely immune from the impacts of disaster in 2017.
Last year, we saw 10 hurricanes in the Atlantic region alone, including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria which devastated parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We also had one of the worst wildfire seasons with over 66,000 wildfires that burned nearly 10 million acres of land. The 2017 disasters caused an estimated $370 billion in damages.
The purpose of today’s hearing is to determine where we are in recovering from these devastating disasters, what challenges there are to recovery, and suggestions on how we can overcome those challenges. We also want to understand state, local, and federal efforts to prepare for the 2018 hurricane season which began on June 1. We also want to examine the reforms that are needed to incentivize and encourage mitigation and the reduction of disaster costs and losses across the country.
The 2017 disaster season not only devastated many communities, but highlighted challenges in how we respond to and recover from disasters. We have a ways to go in rebuilding, especially in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it is critical we do what we can to help communities rebuild smarter and better.
In November, we introduced bipartisan legislation, the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA), which would ensure communities could rebuild in a way that would minimize future disaster costs and save lives.
This legislation includes reforms that will change FEMA’s disaster recovery programs to make them more effective and efficient and encourage and facilitate mitigation projects that reduce disaster risk and increase resiliency against disasters.
This legislation has now overwhelmingly passed the House twice, including on H.R. 4, the FAA Reauthorization Act, which has yet to be taken up by the Senate.
There are communities impacted by the 2017 disasters, and preparing for future disasters, that would benefit today by the reforms in DRRA. Some reforms were enacted as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018; those reforms allow FEMA to create incentives for state and local governments to implement mitigation. But we need the other critical reforms, including key wildfire mitigation provisions and additional resources to state and local governments for cost effective mitigation projects.
Various studies – by federal agencies, academia and the private sector – have shown that for every one dollar of federal investment in mitigation, there is a four to eight dollar return in avoided disaster damages. Mitigation projects, particularly pre-disaster, are a wise investment of federal dollars and the only way we, as a nation, will be able to change the direction of rising disaster costs and losses. It makes no sense for us to continue to rebuild the same way disaster after disaster.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on where we are in the recovery from the 2017 disaster season, where we are in preparing for the 2018 hurricane season, and the recommendations for changes that need to be made to make our communities stronger and better able to recover from disasters of any kind.