Hurricane season is just around the corner, and experts say the country is still not adequately prepared. They are warning that as climate change continues to intensify extreme weather, the U.S. will need to adopt stronger resilience policies.
“There’s some definite room for improvement on resilience for hurricanes,” said Gavin Dillingham, director of clean energy policy at the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC).
“Living along the Gulf Coast, there has not been a significant amount of preparation for major storm surge related to hurricanes, not a lot of preparation beyond just some standard infrastructure work for reliability of our power systems,” Dillingham said.
Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that hurricane season, which starts Tuesday, will be above average, with between six and 10 hurricanes, following last year’s active season, which had 13 hurricanes.
“Now is the time for communities along the coastline as well as inland to get prepared for the dangers that hurricanes can bring,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said as part of NOAA releasing its hurricane season outlook. “The experts at NOAA are poised to deliver life-saving early warnings and forecasts to communities, which will also help minimize the economic impacts of storms.”
And on Monday, the White House announced it would double the funding to $1 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA program that helps communities take on hazard mitigation projects.
But even doubling FEMA’s funding may not be enough to make a real difference to people’s lives impacted by a hurricane or other extreme weather event. In 2020, alone, the United States experienced 22 extreme disaster events nationally, primarily wildfires, hurricanes, and snowstorms, that in total, exceeded $95 billion in damages.
Several Gulf Coast states stand in the way of tropical cyclones, including Texas, along with Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. In Texas, according to HARC, Between 2010 and 2020, The state experienced 68 billion-dollar weather and climate events.
We need stronger infrastructure resiliency
President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan also calls for $50 billion in resilience funding. This plan includes boosts to resilience for services such as the electric grid, food systems, hospitals, and transportation, reports The Hill.
The plan also includes “new initiatives at the Department of Transportation, a bipartisan tax credit to provide incentives to low- and middle-income families and to small businesses to invest in disaster resilience, and transition and relocation assistance to support community-led transitions for the most vulnerable tribal communities.”
And while experts are praising this plan as a much needed first step, the country will need more as time goes on. “[$50 billion] is a good start,” said Chris Uejio, a co-author of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Building Resilience Against Climate Effects Framework. “I think the distributional aspect of it is just as important as the headline number.”
“Reflecting both upgrading our existing transportation, wastewater, electrical power generation, storage and transmission lines — those alone are in the hundreds of billions for the next 10, 20, 30 years,” said Uejio, who’s also a professor at Florida State University.
Our lawmakers really need to come together in a bipartisan effort by taking seriously long overdue climate action, and it will require spending some money. The climate crisis has already cost the U.S. billions of dollars’ worth of damage to homes and businesses, farm crops, and critical infrastructure like roads and bridges, however, the climate crisis is also poised to inflict even greater damage to human health across the country and around the world.
In February, a group calling itself the Resilience Action Fund, (RAF) which seeks to promote community resilience, wrote an open letter to the Biden administration calling for additional actions such as requiring minimum resilience standards for federally funded buildings and requiring such standards for buildings that get loans from federally backed mortgage organizations.
Aris Papadopoulos, the RAF’s chairman, argued that it’s important to have such federal standards, saying it’s “unsustainable to continue the current patchwork under which everybody does what they locally want” and then asks the government for help when it fails.
“You can divide the country into a handful of regions and say for these regions, we should have consistency of codes and standards,” he said. And Papadopoulos also says the country should focus on hones, which he refers to as the “weak underbelly of our communities.”
“If you look at a single home, it’s less important than a bridge or a school or hospital, but if you multiply one home times hundreds of thousands or millions, that’s a big problem,” he said.
Mr. Dillingham sums it up very nicely. He says, “We can continue to adapt, we can continue to work on improving the resilience of our infrastructure, but it just becomes harder and harder the longer we wait.”