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Subcommittee Chairman D’Esposito: Federal Coordination with Local Governments Who “Know Their Communities Best” is Crucial for Disaster Mitigation

November 28, 2023

New Orleans, LA — Today, Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology Chairman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) delivered the following opening statement in a field hearing to examine disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery in coastal communities, emphasizing the current coordination between local, state, and federal governments.

Watch the full hearing here.

Watch Subcommittee Chairman D’Esposito’s full opening statement in a hearing entitled, “Emergency Preparedness: Examining Federal, State, and Local Coordination in Coastal Communities.”

As prepared for delivery:

I first want to begin by thanking our witnesses for participating in this hearing today. I look forward to hearing more about your work to help communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters and other events that impact coastal communities. Thank you for your decision to work in this field.

As a retired NYPD Detective and former Chief of the Island Park Fire Department, I know that working in emergency management isn’t glamorous, and it’s often a thankless job, but I want to tell you that your work matters. Thank you for serving, and for being on the frontlines in peoples’ greatest time of need.

While we work hard to protect our communities from environmental hazards, many of us have seen firsthand how powerful hurricanes may leave unspeakable destruction in their wake. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, I was serving as Chief of the Island Park Fire Department, and will never forget the sense of dire need that followed. An estimated 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed on Long Island alone, but we worked hand-in-hand with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to rebuild our community.

As Members of the Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology, it is important that we examine how state and local governments coordinate with federal agencies, such as FEMA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help coastal communities mitigate the unique challenges they face and prepare for potential emergencies. When the scale of an emergency is beyond what a state can handle, the Federal government must coordinate effectively with state officials and local first responders who are already on the ground, and who know their communities best.

I look forward to evaluating not only the Federal response to natural disasters and FEMA’s long-term recovery programs, but also how local partners are collaborating to build resiliency and mitigate the impacts of natural disasters. Historic storms have become too common in recent years, and coastal communities must consider how to harden their defenses and become more resilient in anticipation of future storms. We can’t only focus on disaster recovery; we have to ensure that our infrastructure is able to withstand the next storm. Doing so will prevent continued destruction from happening.

It is estimated that for every $1 invested in hazard mitigation, $6 are saved in disaster recovery Billions of federal dollars have been appropriated for hazard mitigation projects under the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. I am pleased that there have been many efforts to improve vulnerable communities’ access to federal grant funding, and I look forward to learning more about how Louisiana is utilizing these funds.

In fact, the enacted Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 authorized FEMA to incentivize states to take responsibility for their own emergency preparedness through allowing states that proactively funded hazard mitigation efforts before the disaster to qualify for increased federal funding after a disaster.Considering how critical disaster preparedness and resiliency are for coastal communities across the nation, I hope to learn more about resiliency projects in Louisiana and how communities here are taking advantage of the opportunities available to them.

FEMA also hosts a multitude of Preparedness Grants, as well as Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grants, to support first responders and protect people and property from future disasters in highly at-risk communities. These grants play an important role in helping police and fire departments improve public safety and strengthen communities’ defenses against extreme weather events. 

Since state governments and local non-profits are the first to respond, states should maintain and strengthen their state of preparedness to avoid becoming dependent on FEMA in the aftermath of a storm. However, we must also ensure that federal assistance is available to those who truly need it most.

Should a catastrophic event occur in the future, effective federal, state, and local coordination is essential for our national preparedness and response. As such, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) of 2006 was enacted specifically to address failures during Hurricane Katrina and to improve FEMA’s role in our national emergency management and training.

Earlier this year, this subcommittee heard from emergency management professionals and practitioners about some of the difficulties that survivors face in applying for Individual Assistance. I look forward to hearing about how we can simplify and improve vulnerable communities’ access to state-wide resources, as well as FEMA’s Individual Assistance (IA) Program and SBA’s Disaster Loan Program in the aftermath of a severe storm.

I would like to know – how can we make the process easier for disadvantaged communities so that they can get the help they need? How can non-profits, the private sector, and state and local governments better serve their communities so that FEMA isn’t left to pick up the tab? How are they using the federal funds already available to them?

I hope to hear your input on these questions. I know that coastal communities take care of one another; and while living by the coast can come at a cost, millions of Americans call these communities their home. It is our duty to serve them well and to ensure that they are prepared for whatever could come their way. Thank you, again, to our witnesses for your public service and for participating in this hearing. And with that, I yield back.