FEMA avoids ‘climate change’ when introducing future storm resiliency plans

FEMA avoids ‘climate change’ when introducing future storm resiliency plans
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is taking blame for its response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated communities across Puerto Rico last summer, but the agency and its leaders are largely avoiding all mention of climate change preparedness.

Speaking at an event Tuesday, FEMA Deputy Administrator for Resilience Daniel Kaniewski remarked on the agency’s new plan to reduce community risk and enhance its “culture of preparedness” by focusing on resiliency. 

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“In the aftermath of these disasters we cannot simply ignore that it will happen again,” Kaniewski said of the back-to-back storm systems that hit the U.S. last year. 

But Kaniewski stopped short of identifying why FEMA lead with the belief that natural disasters would continue.

“With regards to climate I think we all can acknowledge that the climate shifts, it changes over time and we at FEMA are an all-hazard agency. We have to be prepared to respond to any type of event, can be a natural disaster like we just responded to, it can be a man-made event — an industrial accident or a terrorist attack,” Kaniewski said.

He continued: “From my perspective I’m agnostic as to what the threat is. I just care that there is a risk. If you tell me that there is a risk, and that risk is greater than this risk, than we should make an investment in that risk.”

FEMA released an After-Action Report on Friday that concluded it inadequately provided support to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, a majority of whom were left without power and clean water for months.

Absent from the 65-page document however, is any mention of climate or climate change.

A number of scientific studies have shown that rising temperatures can contribute to the intensity and frequency of storm systems. Some studies have also cited climate change as increasing the chances of wildfires due to high temperatures and drought in Western states.

Resiliency is a term largely adopted by the Trump administration across multiple agencies meaning preparing for future — typically weather related — events. The term has often been used to swap-out the Obama-era preferred phrase “climate change.”

Kaniewski is scheduled to testify before Congress next week on ways FEMA can better innovate to address future disasters.