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FEMA Disaster Preparedness Report Ignores Climate Change

While the report mentions disasters, extreme weather events, and wildfires it does not mention the role of climate change.
Lauren MuskettJanuary 8, 2020

The Trump administration’s National Preparedness Report, which describes the greatest risks and hazards to the country, did not mention climate change, sea-level rise, or drought. It was the first such report — prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — to not acknowledge climate change as posing a threat to critical infrastructure and public health.

Flood waters surround homes after heavy rains from Hurricane Florence on September 20, 2018, in Lumberton, North Carolina.

“That seems to be a really grave, missed opportunity,” said Divya Chandrasekhar, a professor at the University of Utah who has studied national disaster recovery policies. “The unpredictability of weather events is something we need to contend with.”

The reports started under the Obama administration and typically cited the risk of disease, political instability, and damage to facilities posed by increased drought and sea-level rise.

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“We are convinced that enforced strong building codes, smart land use planning, and community and private sector mitigation investments, will change the risk profile of communities and reduce the cost of disasters,” a spokesperson for FEMA said in an email to a media organization. “Regardless of why the climate is changing, emergency managers have to be poised to respond to disasters and support preparedness efforts nationwide.”

The 60-page 2019 report cites lessons learned from the 2018 hurricane and wildfire seasons but omits the role of climate change. The report uses the word climate only once to recommend educators conduct “school climate and site assessments” to prevent mass shootings.

“You can strip the words out of a report, but you can’t change the reality. Climate change is already affecting things like worsening wildfires, increased flooding, a whole range of events,” Rachel Cleetus, a climate expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told E&E News. “We can’t prepare the country — we can’t prepare communities — if we take this deliberately politicized route of excluding any mention of climate change.”

The Obama administration’s 2016 report mentioned climate more than 90 times, and said sea-level rises and global warming were a growing risk to the country’s critical infrastructure.

“It is inexplicable to me that climate change would be left out of this report,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York.

Clarke is sponsoring a bill that would require FEMA to address climate change.

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