Energy & Environment

Experts warn US needs to better prepare for hurricane season

As hurricane season approaches, experts say the country is still not adequately prepared.

They warn 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.

“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.

This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 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.

On Monday, the White House announced it would double the funding to $1 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s program that helps communities take on hazard mitigation projects.

President Biden’s infrastructure plan also calls for $50 billion in resilience funding.

The plan aims for this funding to include boosts to resilience for services such as the electric grid, food systems, hospitals and transportation.

It also proposes “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.”

Experts have praised the $50 billion as a decent step but say more will be needed going forward.

“[$50 billion] is a good start,” said Chris Uejio, a co-author of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Building Resilience Against Climate Effects Framework. “I think the distributional aspect of it is just as important as the headline number.”

But the government will have a lot more to do going forward, he said, adding that such resilience issues could eventually cost much more to manage.

“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.

In February, a group called the Resilience Action Fund, 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 group’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.

Papadopoulos also said that the focus should be on homes, which he referred 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.

Carol Friedland, a professor at Louisiana State University, similarly said there must be be more standards, such as an existing flood standard for buildings constructed with federal money, but warned that “there’s no clear pathway” for the federal government to impose resilience standards.

“The federal government really doesn’t have the power to dictate building codes to the states, but they can incentivize it,” she said.

Meanwhile, Uejio suggested that another mitigation strategy could be to offer buyouts for homeowners who live in particularly vulnerable areas.

“There are some places that have been flooded multiple years in a row or multiple years in the past five or 10 years and people who are ready to move but don’t have the resources to,” he said.

Even as storms are expected to become stronger, Dillingham, with the Houston Advanced Research Center, said that the U.S. can still adapt but needs to move quickly.

“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,” he said.

“There’s going to be just a higher level of suffering happening across communities, especially in vulnerable communities, unless we start taking some action,” he added.

Tags Disaster preparedness Federal Emergency Management Agency hurricanes Joe Biden Resilience

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