By Lou Barletta and R. David Paulison

USA Today – August 24, 2017

 

The legacy of the storm is in the lessons learned on how we can best prepare communities to withstand the devastating effects of natural disasters.


Twenty-five years ago Thursday, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida, forever altering the landscape and history of the region.

By the time it was over, Andrew was responsible for 65 fatalities, the damage and destruction of more than 100,000 homes, and nearly $25 billion in damages across the Gulf Coast and in the neighboring Bahamas. But the lasting impact of the storm extends beyond the lives lost, homes destroyed, businesses shuttered and communities wiped away — the legacy of the storm is in the lessons learned on how we can best prepare communities to withstand the devastating effects of natural disasters.

The time to act on these lessons and make America resilient again is overdue. Without making significant reforms to our nation’s disaster assistance system and investing in pre-disaster mitigation, we are unnecessarily putting lives at risk and wasting billions in taxpayer money. Consider that $1 spent on pre-disaster mitigation saves $4 in recovery costs.

For years, we have been working together to better understand how to prepare for, respond to, recover from and mitigate against hazards, both natural and man-made, as well as how to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. The endless cycle of rebuilding and repairing is no longer an option. During a hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier this year, Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., emphasized this approach and called on policymakers and the administration to “be bold” when addressing these issues.

With the focus of the Trump administration and Congress on rebuilding our infrastructure, we have an opportunity to ensure that the lessons from Hurricane Andrew are not forgotten, but are used to make our country stronger. By including straightforward and cohesive pre-disaster mitigation reforms in the administration’s infrastructure plan, we can shift our country away from ineffective, reactive post-disaster spending practices to a proactive system that protects our families, our businesses and our communities from disasters.

First, we must reform the federal cost share for disasters. By creating incentives for states to invest in mitigation proactively, we can curb state reliance on federal post-disaster dollars, which cover the bulk of disaster recovery costs, regardless of whether a state has taken steps to prevent against future damages.

Second, we must shift the spending from post-disaster to pre-disaster. From 2011 to 2014, the ratio of pre- to post-disaster funding was 1-to-14.  This imbalance can be corrected — without additional federal spending — by competitively awarding funding to states that invest in forward-thinking building practices.

Third, we must offer assistance to disaster-prone areas to develop, implement and enforce resilient building and rebuilding practices. Too often, structures damaged or destroyed by an event are built back the same way. Helping states implement stronger building standards will prevent damage and lower costs in the long term.

Last, we must consolidate the administration of federal disaster programs. As a former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and as a chairman of the House subcommittee charged with overseeing FEMA, we know that the federal government has an overly fragmented, reactive approach to disasters. The creation of a unified federal disaster assistance effort with strict spending standards would maximize program efficiency and effectiveness, and be more accountable to taxpayers.

These reforms represent a partnership between the rights and responsibilities of states and the duties of the federal government, which can reward prepared states based on their smart resilience and other mitigation efforts. In an exercise similar to the distribution of federal funds for highways based on speed limits, states can act in their own best interest when it comes to mitigation while the federal government maintains its responsibility to taxpayers.

At the time, Hurricane Andrew was the most expensive hurricane in U.S. history. That title has since been overtaken by storms such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and the trend is only continuing. Forecasters are predicting the most active Atlantic hurricane season since 2010.

Now is the time to enhance our nation’s infrastructure through disaster mitigation efforts that will save countless lives and taxpayer dollars before disaster strikes.


Since 2013, Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., has served as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s subcommittee overseeing the Federal Emergency Management Agency. R. David Paulison was the FEMA administrator from 2005 to 2009. He was also the Miami Dade County fire chief when Hurricane Andrew struck Florida and helped spearhead the emergency response and rescue efforts.

Read the op-ed here.