WASHINGTON – In the wake of recent severe storms, including tornadoes and flooding in the South and Midwest, United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., Chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, held a hearing to examine Department of Homeland Security emergency response capabilities, particularly the importance of communications during a disaster.
During the hearing, the subcommittee heard from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate; Rand Beers, the Under Secretary of the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD); and several state and local officials, including Mark Riley, Chief of Staff for the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
“I appreciate the important improvements FEMA has made in ensuring the needs of children are taken into account during disasters – from disaster plans at juvenile justice centers to pre-staging infant formula, baby food and diapers – important change has taken place,” Sen. Landrieu said during the hearing. “Despite progress, we still have a lot to do. FEMA has not fully institutionalized the changes mandated by the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006. The National Disaster Recovery Framework has not been completed; an effective risk and preparedness assessment system is not in place; and FEMA information systems remain woefully inadequate. NPPD is also still working to ensure State and local governments and the federal government stay ahead of evolving technologies and infrastructures.”
During the hearing, Sen. Landrieu also pressed Administrator Fugate for emergency funding for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF).
If Congress approves the President’s FY 2012 budget request of $1.8 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), the Fund will be between $2 billion and $4.8 billion short. Of the $2 billion to $4.8 billion shortfall, approximately $800 million to $1 billion is from the recent disasters; and $1.2 billion to $3.8 billion is from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, the Midwest floods of 2008, the Tennessee floods of 2010, and other major disasters.
“Without additional funding, it is likely that the Fund will be exhausted as early as January of 2012,” Sen. Landrieu said during the hearing. “Recovery efforts in 50 States, including those hard hit by recent flooding and tornadoes, will cease. The House bill has attempted to make up for a portion of this shortfall, however it came at a great cost to homeland security and first responder grants, which were cut by $2.1 billion, or 52 percent, compared to FY 2010 and by $1.4 billion, or 40 percent, compared to FY 2011. The House also cuts the Coast Guard and FEMA. It makes no sense to cut funding for the agencies that must prepare for and respond to future disasters, to pay for the cost of past disasters.”