Select Committee Holds Bipartisan Briefing On Extreme Weather Threats Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
WASHINGTON (May 21, 2020) - On Thursday, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis held a bipartisan, virtual member briefing on the risks posed by extreme weather during the coronavirus pandemic.
The briefing was focused on ways to help state and local governments protect their communities from climate-fueled threats — including wildfires, severe storms, hot summer conditions, and a hurricane season that is predicted to be more active than usual — as they continue to respond to the public health crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“State and local leaders across the nation are working to adjust emergency and disaster response plans — particularly around potential evacuations — to consider options to maintain public health practices, like physical distancing and ensuring adequate supplies of personal protective equipment,” said Chair Kathy Castor (D-FL). “This may mean needing to trigger evacuations earlier to help evacuees get to hotels and other shelters that can support social distancing. It means planning ahead for hospitals and nursing homes. This all strains public capacities when staff and budgets are already significantly constrained.”
Members were joined by Sharon Weston Broome, the current mayor-president of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish, and Craig Fugate, former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
In her remarks, Mayor Broome described the collaborative and unified approach that Mississippi River cities have been taking to address ongoing flooding and to prepare for the future storms while responding to the pandemic.
She outlined the compounded challenges faced by state and local leaders: “We’re currently facing a threat on three fronts. On one front, we have the ongoing coronavirus pandemic; on another, the spring 2020 flood and hurricane season; and finally, the terrible impact on our city revenues,” she told the lawmakers.
Mayor Broome also highlighted the importance of proactively preparing for evacuating residents in the case of an extreme weather event: “Providing emergency shelters for disaster victims becomes very challenging when we must also separate people to meet physical distancing guidelines,” she stressed.
Fugate echoed the importance of preparing for extreme weather events, including wildfires. He emphasized the importance of smart staffing and distancing in the camps, as well as potentially funding and supplying for personal protective equipment (PPE) and N-95 masks for evacuees. Most importantly, Fugate said, it will be vital for Americans to follow evacuation orders before a wildfire or a storm hits a community.
“We’ve got to be clear: if people live in an evacuation zone, we need them to evacuate. And I think this is something we’re going to need a lot of leadership to be clear on. Everybody’s hearing, ‘Shelter in place – covid, covid, covid.’ Yet when we tell people to evacuate, we need them to move to higher ground,” said Fugate.
Fugate gave other suggestions to the lawmakers, including arranging shelter for evacuees that allows social distancing, and emphasizing early planning and coordination before disasters strike.
“Hiring people to help take care of folks in disasters, hiring restaurants to feed people, putting people up in hotels and motels are all eligible activities in the FEMA declarations, but they tend to come after the storm has made landfall. We should be looking at these in the pre-landfall declarations,” he said.
Mayor Sharon Weston Broome is the Mayor-President of the City of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish, Co-Chair of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, and member of the Advisory Committee for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Mayor Broome is the first woman to be elected as the leader of the capital city of Louisiana, and has focused the City and Parish on improving infrastructure, flood resilience, public safety, economic development, and revitalizing neighborhoods. She previously served as a Baton Rouge Metro City Council Member, a Louisiana State Representative and a Louisiana State Senator.
Craig Fugate was the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for nearly eight years in the Obama administration, helping to lead the federal response to large-scale disasters and public health emergencies, including Superstorm Sandy, Ebola, and H1N1. He also served as the Florida Emergency Management Director under Governor Jeb Bush. He currently provides senior-level advice and consulting in the area of disaster management and resiliency policy.