Today the Committee will be hearing from two panels to discuss debris removal in New Orleans post hurricane Katrina; progress made in disaster mitigation and preparedness nationwide per the provisions of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000; and adequacy of the Stafford Act authorities for future major disasters.
I want to thank our witnesses for coming today, and we look forward to hearing from each of you.
During the 106th Congress, our committee reported out S. 1691, the Disaster Mitigation Act, a bill initially introduced by myself and Senators Baucus, DeWine, Grassley, Voinovich, Bond, Graham (FL) and Smith (NH). As signed into law, the act sought to authorize programs for pre-disaster mitigation, and to streamline the administration of disaster relief. This hearing is a follow-up to that act to see exactly where we are six years later.
In fiscal years 1999 and 2000, the VA-HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriation bills allocated $25 million for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct pre-disaster mitigation activities. FEMA designed the “Project Impact” program to focus its resources on creating disaster-resistant communities, setting a goal of reducing the risk of loss of life by 10% and reducing the risk of property loss by 15% by 2007.
Of course, since that time, the nation has experienced two major disasters; first the 9/11 terrorists attacks which resulted in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which now has jurisdiction over FEMA; and second, hurricane Katrina. I understand that DHS and not FEMA handles preparedness, but hope that the worthwhile goals established by FEMA for preparedness have been adopted by DHS. I will be curious to learn more about the National Preparedness Plan and how close we are to achieving the goal of reducing risk of loss of life by 10% and reducing the risk of property loss by 15% in 2007.
We are now two months into the hurricane season, and fortunately we have not had a major storm. Nonetheless, we cannot let down our guard with respect to being ready for that next major storm. Although my State of Oklahoma does not have the threat of hurricane season hanging over our heads, we do have frequent and often very destructive tornados. In fact, it was the tornados in 1995 which destroyed several communities in the Oklahoma City area that prompted me to draft S. 1691. While we cannot prevent natural disasters, we can certainly be better prepared for them. After touring the aftermath of the ‘95 tornadoes in my state, I became a believer in encouraging communities to take steps prior to a natural disaster to lessen the impacts. In Oklahoma, that means that families are encouraged to have in their homes “safe rooms” that are designed to withstand tornado force winds and resist penetration by windborne objects and falling debris.
Whatever the natural disaster be it tornado, hurricane, earthquake, fire or flood, communities and individual homeowners can take steps to lessen the impact of such events. We will be hearing today from several witnesses on the success stories and, I suspect, some things we could be doing better.
Finally, following Katrina in the Gulf States there has been much concern about the clean up of debris, especially in New Orleans. I have been contacted by several that are unhappy with the pace of debris removal and the disposal of that debris once it has been picked up. Given the potential long term health and liability issues of improperly disposed debris the Committee will be following this issue very closely. Today’s hearing will be our first attempt to get on the record what is happening on this issue, but we will be doing additional follow-up.
Again, thank you to our witnesses and I look forward to hearing your testimony.