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Oct 17, 2019

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Marketplace

FEMA officials in the hot seat over disaster preparedness

Andy Uhler Jun 12, 2019
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Activists rally in support of Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane Maria, on the steps of City Hall, April 19, 2018 in New York City.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Top-ranking Federal Emergency Management Agency officials will appear before a Senate panel Wednesday to testify about disaster preparedness, among them the acting administrator and President Trump’s nominee to lead the agency.

Lawmakers had hoped to have a new FEMA chief in place before hurricane season started on the first of this month.

But almost two weeks into this year’s season, FEMA is still trying to help communities in the U.S. recover from past disasters: flooding in the Midwest, wildfires in California and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, almost two years ago.

That doesn’t surprise Samantha Montano, an emergency management professor at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, who’s doing field work in New Orleans.

“We’re coming up on the 14th anniversary of Katrina and there are so many people and so many properties that look like the storm happened a month ago,” Montano said.

After Katrina, policies were put into place to make recovery faster and more efficient. But Gavin Smith at North Carolina State University says FEMA is still reacting to disasters instead of planning up front.

“They need more personnel to assist state and local governments before the storm ever happens,” he said. “And there is not sufficient staff or resources dedicated to that.”

Last week, after months of delay, President Trump signed a $19 billion package to help towns and cities still recovering from disasters over the past two years.

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