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tv   Hearing on the Threat of Natural Disasters  CSPAN  October 11, 2021 10:45pm-12:15am EDT

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>> experts testify on the threat of natural disasters and the country's preparedness of such threats. witnesses talked about the strain on emergency response agencies and ways fema can better serve affected communities. this runs one hour and a half.
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>> the committee will come to order. every september, we observe national preparedness month a critical reminder that, planning ahead for natural disasters can help save lives. preparedness is becoming more and more important as we continue to see increasingly severe storms and weather events that create life-threatening situations and cause serious damage in our communities. driven by climate change these , extreme storms, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods are becoming more frequent and more destructive each and every year. at the same time, our federal,
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state, and local emergency responders are working to address the ongoing public health crisis caused by the covid-19 pandemic. as a result of these compounding circumstances, our disaster response resources, personnel, and volunteers are stretched thin. making emergency response and recovery more challenging and more expensive. severe storms, extreme flooding, and devastating wildfires cost our nation billions of dollars every year. but we can strengthen our disaster response efforts and save taxpayer dollars by making smart, forward-looking investments in mitigation before a disaster strikes. in fact, studies have shown every dollar invested in hazard mitigation and prevention services saves an average of six dollars and recovery cost per taxpayer.
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as we continue to see worsening natural disasters and the dire consequences they have on our communities, we must take swift action to upgrade our infrastructure and ensure our roads, bridges, homes, and businesses are resilient enough to withstand increasingly severe weather events. that is why i worked to pass the storm act which was signed into law earlier this year to help provide states and local communities with access to the resources they need to make these critical investments. i was pleased to secure $500 million in initial funding for the program, as part of the senate passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, and look forward to the house considering that bill soon. the storm act is the initial funding which will help kickstart loan programs in every state to help communities begin to reduce their natural disaster risk. in addition to creating these new opportunities to help communities prevent widespread damage, we must also ensure that our disaster recovery efforts are working effectively. most importantly, we must have
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enough personnel and volunteers to assist in disaster recovery efforts. ranking member portman and i introduced legislation this year that would help the federal emergency management agency to ensure that we are able to recruit and retain enough reservists to respond to emergencies by providing important employment protections. i look forward to continuing to advance this bill so we can help reduce the burden that makes it difficult for fema to recruit and train emergency personnel. we have also seen firsthand how our disaster recovery resources do not always reach the communities that are most in need. whether they are recovering from a hurricane or other severe weather events, or seeking resources related to covid-19 pandemic response, too many of our most vulnerable communities do not have equal access to this vital assistance. communities of color and other underserved communities often
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disproportionately face the consequences of disasters, and our disaster response efforts typically provide slow or inadequate relief to those communities. last congress i worked on legislation that would begin to strengthen our disaster response for all americans by creating an office of fema that would be focused on ensuring equitable access to disaster assistance, and i look forward to continuing that effort to ensure that no matter when or where a disaster strikes, help will be readily available. i appreciate our witnesses for joining us here today and i look forward to discussing these issues and other efforts that will help strengthen our disaster preparedness and response efforts all across our country. ranking member, you are recognized for your opening comments. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i thank the witnesses for being here today. we are pleased to have a witness from ohio with us who has done a great job in ensuring that we
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have preparedness in our own state, but also as we work with the national emergency management association. thank you for being here. this is an important hearing. we have the opportunity to talk about preparedness to deal with these natural disasters. there are more and more of them. we have seen over the past couple of years the most damaging wildfires, droughts, and hurricanes in our recent history. so we need to be better prepared. we need to ensure that fema is there to respond effectively. fema is the principal agency that coordinates the federal response of these natural disasters. just to remind people, we have a decentralized system in this country. fema does not provide the boots on the ground for the most part. it is local responders who are first on the scene when disaster strikes. this is reflected in the fema's emergency management strategy,
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it is federally supported, state managed, and locally executed. i've seen firsthand the importance of this local preparedness and response in ohio on a lot of occasions over the past couple of decades, representing southern ohio and now the whole state. we have had flooding, tornadoes, and other emergencies. in 2019, we had a series of tornadoes that touched down on western ohio, damaging or destroying hundreds of homes and businesses in the miami valley and displacing a lot of my fellow ohioans. the most extreme damage occurred in the dayton, ohio area and the surrounding areas. incredibly, and thanks in large part to the alert systems and training of our local responders, while 166 people were injured, we did not have a single loss of life in the dayton area that night. if you had seen the disruption as i did, you would be amazed people were not killed. it is amazing how quickly people got out of their homes, and were
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able to avoid even worse situations. we did have one casualty from the tornado that touched down further north. in the immediate aftermath, my wife, jane and i, drove from our home to dayton, ohio early in the morning, right after the tornado had hit. we went to thank people to show our support for the first responders, not to get in the way, but to ensure they knew that we were there to support them. and to talk to constituents who had been displaced. we saw amazing devastation, downed trees, property damage, but we saw the impressive work being done by our local first responders, as well as immediate response from our state partners, and federal partners who are already on the ground, or on their way. three montgomery county sheriff rob streck took the lead in the dayton area for much of the damage.
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he had a command center set up immediately. i talked to him and his team in the central ohio strike team, which is an urban search-and-rescue team out of columbus, ohio. i'm eager to talk more about the teams around the country. we passed legislation to help our teams but they do an awesome job, and respond not just in ohio, but from ohio and all over the country. most recently with the hurricanes in the south southeast, but also with regard to 9/11, they were there on the spot. and that was ohio task force one. we also went to see the red cross and what they were doing, went to a shelter that had been set up, talked to constituents about the situation they were facing. less than 12 hours after the tornadoes hit, the red cross was already providing nude, water, -- food, water, shelter and a , place for people to stay who had lost their homes. this security and a place to stay was absolutely critical to the people i talked to, as they prepared to rebuild their lives.
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some from scratch. within a few weeks of the event, fema has three active centers open across the miami valley with caseworkers, mental health workers, people who can help with businesses. they also established an area for children to decompress, and helping people with disabilities. this was all set up already quickly. i had a chance to tour these. i can assure you it would have been much worse, but for the preparedness of our region. and the preparedness our state had in place, and the quick response from the first responders. i'm proud of southwest ohio for coming together so quickly. but it is an example i've seen around the state of preparedness done right. again, to some americans, thank you for being here today and the crucial role you play for the national emergency managers association, in addition to your work in ohio. you were leading the ohio emergency management agency in
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2019 when the tornadoes hit. i saw the good work your folks were doing. i look forward to all of our witnesses today. and look forward to discussing the importance of properly preparing for our natural disasters. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator portman. it is the practice of this committee to swear in witnesses. if the witnesses will stand and raise your right hand, including those joining us by video. do you swear that the testimony you will give before this committee will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you god? >> i do. >> thank you. you may be seated. our first witness is sima merick . she serves as the executive director of the ohio emergency management agency and has been an employee of the ohio department of public safety for nearly 35 years. she began her career as a dispatcher for the ohio state highway patrol in 1985, and held
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other positions within that division until 1996 where she began her career preparing the emergency management and mitigation techniques still widely utilized today. she was appointed by governor kasich in 2011 to be assistant director of the ohio emergency management agency, and served in that role until being appointed in june of 2015 as the executive director. welcome, you may proceed with your opening remarks. >> thank you. distinguished members of the committee for inviting me here today. senator kirkman, it is good to see you again. it feels like a few weeks ago that we were together. good to see you, sir. as president of a emergency management association, i'm proud to be representing the state emergency directors.
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-- about 50 states, territories, and the district of columbia. to have success addressing the rest of natural hazards, three fundamental pieces must be examined. these include how states help themselves, how we help one another, and the state federal partnership. first, states help themselves by understanding fema as a natural -- not a first responder and by maintaining a good working relationship with our local emergency managers. according to data from a report with our local counterparts, in fiscal year 2020, state and local emergency management organizations managed 19700 and -- 19,752 events without federal assistance. additionally, 27 states maintain their own state-funded assistance programs to help citizens and businesses when a disaster or emergency does not meet the criteria for federal assistance. second, states help one another through efforts such as the emergency management assistance
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compact. celebrating its 25th year of service emac has deployed 40,000 , personnel in state assistance since 2016 alone. in officers to assist cleveland in managing the significant event. whether it is the declaration process, shaping policy for the performance grant, this partnership is seen from every corner of our profession. the only program that requires a 50-50 match. in many states, the government
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over match this program. we are grateful for the continued support congress has shown by providing the supplementals. in my written statement, i provide examples of how ohio is building safe room programs, a joint exercise with the ohio national guard and providing virtual training opportunities. for today's hearing, i want to be sure to provide some recommendations on the future. we must clarify the role of emergency management. as it relates to results. let fema be the coordinator of federal resources instead of forcing us at the state level. second, we must ensure diversity and inclusion in emergency management. fema wants to work on all
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current emergency management laws including identifying the intended and unintended effect. finally, we must work to -- fema has talked about funding the disaster programs. federal disaster programs are too complex, they are slow, sometimes bureaucratic and does not lead to good outcomes for communities. we reiterated our desire to work with, and we hope we can work with you as well defined common ground in making fema more accessible to those it is intended to serve. thank you for your time today.
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i look forward to any questions you may have. " thank you. our next witness is jerry hancock. he is a stormwater and floodplains coordinator for the city of ann arbor. he is appearing before the committee today on behalf of the state floodplain manager association. he has an established record of specialized experience over 30 years in environmental planning. his previous roles have included serving as the oakland county drain commissioner, land development coordinator, and natural resources and environmental planning coordinator. mr. hancock, welcome to the committee. marks. mr. hancock: good morning. thank you. thank you, chairman peters and ranking member portman, and members of the committee. jerry hancock, stormwater coordinator for the city of ann arbor, michigan.
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i hold the executive director of the michigan stormwater association. i'm honored to be testifying today on behalf of msf eight, and also the association floodplain managers. my written statement identifies over a dozen specific items that you can offer for your consideration. floods are worsening nationwide, in my state of michigan. nationally, annual losses are doubling every day. in the past decade here in michigan, we have experienced numerous major flood events. most notable, are 500 year floods in 2014 and again this year. there was also 500 year flood in another area that caused two dam failures last year. in 2018, there was the 10,000
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year flood. for the balance of my time, i'm going to be highlighting five areas of preparedness and mitigation and where it can be improved. first, hazard mitigation and risk assessment. simply put, you can't prepare or mitigate if we don't know where future hazard areas are located. for plug-and-play -- for floodplain managers, that means we must have a nationwide program of updating a robust set of flood maps that identifies all flood hazards. as was envisioned by congress when they passed that program. today, only one third of the nation's floodplains are mapped. those maps don't include things,
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and future conditions, flood areas, that were required by the flood mapping program. our flood maps shortly after they were adopted, due to -- precipitation data are two of the maps coming out. second, preparedness and mitigation are informed through good planning and local priorities. here in ann arbor, we have developed and maintained a local hazard mitigation plan for the last 15 years, and we recently received resilient infrastructure and community funding for our next update. mitigation plans identify priorities for mitigation strategies. such as the name -- the major project we just completed for
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which we obtained a $4 million hazard mitigation grant. other communities were not so lucky to receive hazard mitigation plan funding that the states set aside for state priorities were too small -- too small. they should ensure that predisaster mitigation programs like brick provide a more balanced funding approach to support state and local mitigation priorities. third, preparedness is enhanced through datasharing, better informing the public. for example, the federal government has been slow to publicly provide those maps and -- which were required by the national flood mapping program. here in michigan, we are cascading dam billiards last year resulted in flooding that went beyond 500 year floodplain,
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having those maps publicly available might have resulted in less damage and injury. another recently evolving issue is the hindrance of flood insurance claims data from fema. they require communities analyze what insurance claims information, complete hazard mitigation plans, and to participate in the community rating system. ann arbor is a class six rating system community. however, another is not providing the flood insurance data necessary to successfully complete analysis or is it is not providing it in a timely manner. fourth, to be a prepared nation, we must have adequate state, territorial, and tribal necessity. ann arbor is unique to have a full-time floodplain manager position like mine, whereas most communities do not.
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states could help still this capacity gap by providing technical assistance to communities. fema does have a successful program, which supports the nfip. this program could be replicated, funded through brick, and be made available to build and maintain capacity of state hazard mitigation programs. finally, preparedness and mitigation must be equitable. reducing the complexity of applying for and administering fema flood mitigation grants as mentioned. it could assist equitably. again, my written statement goes into much more detail, and i will use more recognition thank you. -- recommendations. thank you. chair peters: thank you you, mr. hancock. are next witness is jennifer
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pippa. she served as the vice president of disaster programs at the american red cross. she initially began her career with the red cross in 2004 after volunteering for the disaster action team in raleigh, north carolina. within one year, she became the team's captain and swiftly moved to a role as a caseworker for local families. her tenure includes working as the operation program lead, director of volunteer mobilization, and supported national headquarters in washington, d.c. and ceo of the american red cross of central florida. ms. pipa, you may proceed with your opening remarks, and welcome to the committee. ms. pipa: good morning, chairman peters, ranking men burp portman and other members of the committee. thank you for this privilege to testify and show the impacts we are seeing across the nation as we begin to respond to disasters. disaster preparedness, response, and recovery are the heart of
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our mission. these needs are continuing to grow. especially in vulnerable communities. these communities are disproportionately impacted by climate related disasters. through this lens, we see climate change as a worldwide humanitarian emergency. a defining threat in the 21st century. my full testimony submitted for the record today, i'm going to talk about how the red cross responds to these disasters alongside partners at all levels including the federal government. and to talk about our mission to alleviate human suffering. the increasing rate of climate driven disasters has become an unsustainable burden on the most vulnerable. notably, low income, low income communities of color, elderly, and people with disabilities. with climate change that was nearly very recently episodic in just a few series of acute
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events, it is now -- it has now become a chronic issue with the devastating impacts. this situation is only exacerbated the other struggles that disproportionately impacted families daily. a growing level of income disparity, the challenges with affordable housing, lack of access to health care, and food insecurity. lisa's disparities left many families struggling well before a disaster ever happened. indeed, most often, the folks at the american red cross helps our serving large disasters are those who have little or no resources prior to the disaster. in fact, in the fiscal year 2020, 63% of the clients we help were either at or below the federal poverty level. i want to share a couple statistics that help inform our planning at the american red cross, as we start to forge forward with this climate change initiative. the number of major climate related disasters has increased sixfold in the past 40 years. by 2030, we anticipate
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responding to a significant climate emergency every 10 to 12 days, a near constant state of response, leaving our communities in a chronic state of recovery. i want to share one anecdote that is not in my written testimony. i had the opportunity to visit louisiana this past weekend, and i spent some time at a red cross outreach where we talked with clients who have been impacted and connecting them with resources. it was a mom and her 12-year-old daughter. they talked to her caseworker, they talked about how the roof of their home was totally torn off, and that their home was no longer livable. the natural question to them was, where are you staying now? and this mom and dad, and 12-year-old daughter, who said sometimes she is a good big sister and sometimes she is not to her two younger brothers, simply said we are staying in our car.
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they had to protect what little things they could salvage from the disaster, from hurricane. so they had to stay there to make sure they were protected. that is just one story of thousands that we see every year when we respond to disasters. at the red cross is starting to do now, what we have begun is using data to inform how we manage our response activities. we look at social vulnerability index. this allows us to see communities that were already struggling prior to a disaster. we then take the forecasted track, and we can apply that, so we know where we need to be first, where we are most likely going to be longest. and where do people need the most help to begin their recovery journey. this is not an only red cross organization. we can't do this without partners, both at the federal level and other nonprofits. in louisiana alone, we got to work with the naacp, and islamic relief. these partnerships are critical.
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these help extend our reach into communities and make sure that every community that is impacted by disaster has the opportunity to connect with us and other agencies to make sure they are -- make sure their recovery begins. climate change is not about the number of inches that fell in rain in an hour. it is not about the category of the storm. it is not about the acres that burned in a wildfire. it is about a family of five living in their car. it is about people who are struggling before this disaster ever happened and need more help now. we are really privileged to be able to share with the red cross is doing. i want to take the opportunity to thank our donors who through their generosity, we deliver the red cross mission. most importantly, i want to thank our volunteers who give the one thing that is most precious, their time, to the american red cross. we look forward to working with the u.s. congress, other branches of the government, faith-based communities, other nonprofits and for-profits, because together we need to help
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these communities recover. i look forward to your questions. thank you. chair peters: thank you, ms. pipa. our final witness is john butler. chief butler serves as the chief of fire and rescue department in fairfax, virginia. prior to his time as chief, he served 26 years with the howard county department of fire and rescue services, and 21 years as a united states marine. including two combat tours. he brings a wealth of experience having held roles as a firefighter paramedic, battalion chief, emergency medical services chief, and administrative chief before being named howard county's first african-american fire chief in 2014. chief butler, welcome to the committee. you may proceed with your questions. mr. butler: thank you and good morning, chairman peters and ranking member portman. i'm john butler, chief of fire and rescue department fairfax virginia.
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i'm the second vice president of the international association of fire chief. i appreciate the opportunity to discuss how the nation can address the threat of worsening natural disasters. america's emergency services is in all response. there are approximately 1.1 million firefighters in the u.s. serving with more than 30,000 career volunteer and accommodation fire departments. we are usually first on the sand on last to leave. the nation is facing a wider variety of threats today then we have in the past. this includes covid-19 pandemic, a more severe wildfire season, and an increasing frequency of hurricanes and other major storms. even the natural -- the national pandemic affects citizens in their homes, which puts ems on the frontlines against all these threats. the past 18 months have provided a real life test for the nation's preparedness system.
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our staff have performed heroically in the face of these threats. however we have also found areas of improvement and new challenges. these include long-term incidents. it is designed for incidents that lasted two days or weeks. major incidents can take weeks, months, especially when recovery operations are included. the national management system must command resources, supplies, and personnel for long-term events. second, new partners must be included in planning and training. the covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the need to include public health officials, utilities, public works, communications, transportation, and other critical infrastructure disciplines must be included to prepare for hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildland fires. they should be trained in
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incident command systems. there is a need to review mutual aid agreements. the expectations of the party of these agreements, because like covid-19, fire departments found our neighbors were suffering from similar staffing shortages. there are concerns about sending resources across state or the nation for fear of exposure to covid-19. the mutual aid systems needs to be strengthened. come mentoring tools to emac like national mutual aid systems can be used to move fire and ems sources. also the reimbursement system needs to be re-streamlined. fire and ems departments can wait years before they are reimbursed. ems departments have shortages and personnel. covid-19 has created ems shortages due to burnout, better job opportunities.
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volunteer fire departments also face workforce challenges. volunteers are concerned about taking covid home to their families, or being forced to take a time off from their full-time salaried jobs when they are affected. they also have to -- there have been continuing equipment shortages, for basic equipment. the semiconductor shortage has created problems. other programs provide important funding to address these equipment and personnel issues, they provide grants to local fire departments using a peer-reviewed process. to address the threat of disasters. the ifc urges congress to support programs that have the mitigation grants. in addition, we urge fema to support state adoption of standards. we know the model building will
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save lives and prevent property loss. committees should engage in planning preparedness and training for potential disasters. the ift's ready set go program amenities. i also would like to highlight the need to fund fema's urban search and rescue. you saw teams support state and local partnerships. all three entities are facing funding challenges. finally, we ask that congress appoint experienced leaders for fema. for example, we asked president biden to appoint an experienced leader as the fire administrator. . over the last 18 months, the nation has faced a wide variety of threats. they ifc looks forward to working with you to address these challenges. thank you for having me. chair peters: thank you, chief butler. as i mentioned in my opening statement, earlier this year,
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the storm act was passed and signed into law. the fema, the authority to work with states and tribal governments to establish a revolving fund that can be used by local governments to carry on mitigation projects and reduce the natural disaster risk they face, and that includes funding -- flooding, shoreline erosion, high water levels. mr. hancock, as you mentioned in your opening comments, our home state of michigan has faced record levels of flooding this year as well as we have seen some extreme shoreline erosion along the great lakes. i would like you to comment as to how important accessing funds like will be contained in the storm act, is to local governments. and also how important it is for local governments to have discretion as to which mitigation projects they would like to conduct? mr. hancock: thank you. that is a good question.
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the idea of providing funds through the state revolving fund has been around for a while, but initially it was eliminated to the sanitary system. about 15 years ago, it opened up for stormwater. in ann arbor, we use that excessively. in the past 10 years or so, we have done probably $30 million worth of stormwater, mainly stormwater quality projects. that type of funding is definitely a tool as needed for communities. maybe we use it so much so that it has tapped out our resources in that area. but, that is a tool to expand for mitigation, and some of the other disasters and things you
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mentioned, like rising high waters, shoreline erosion. there are plenty of activities that would benefit from this type of funding. it is always good to have another tool in the toolbox. this is another tool for communities. i would say it is not going to replace the idea of grants, since there is a payback associated with the loan. so, some communities may be limited. here in ann arbor, we have a stormwater utility, so we actually have a budget to do this. some communities don't necessarily have that. still, they have one particular project that they could otherwise do. and it is a great tool. so it is definitely something
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that i'm grateful congress is doing. chair peters: thank you, mr. hancock. ms. pipa, and your opening statement, you offered a compelling story of the impact on families that these natural disasters can have. unfortunately, a wide range of research has shown fema assistance, despite the best of intentions from our folks at fema, often fema assistance can have economic and racial inequalities after a disaster. marginalized communities are often exposed to damage and have less access to resources in order to recover, and a trend that is only going to continue as climate change continues to create more frequent and destructive disasters. my question is straightforward. what more can fema do to promote equity within its programs and ensure those who are hit hardest by these disasters, and are
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generally folks who are economically disadvantaged and in communities of color, they need to have the opportunity to recover, what more should fema do? ms. pipa: as i said in our opening statement, it is not one agency, it is a collaboration of agencies altogether. when you look at a footprint like louisiana, you look at the multiple parishes that were impacted, and you look at the neighborhoods that are geographically isolated in some cases, look at like a porthole for all the way down in clackum ins parish, you will see homes maybe 15 homes and another 10 homes. finding all of those locations and making sure we are connected is a job of all of the recovery agencies that show up there. on of the ways we can do that is through sharing information and collaboration so that when we talk to clients, one of the things we make sure we do is make sure they are connected
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with fema and registered. it is one of the first conversations we have with our red cross clients as well. taking sure we are showing each one of our community members what they need to do and how they can connect with all of the resources, including fema, is a critical part of this. these disasters are large in scope and scale, and very complex. in different communities will choose to present or not present for a wide variety of reasons. that is why it is important to have a variety of partners on the ground so those communities feel trusted and welcome to come forward and apply for assistance. chair peters: thank you. fema is the lead agency for federal emergency response. but as you mentioned, we need other agencies and nonprofits to come together. my question though is to chief butler, specifically when it comes to first responders. what more would you like to see congress do to support first responders who need to be there first on the scene to help
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communities when confronted with a disaster? mr. butler: thank you, sir. that is a really good question. we appreciate -- of what we are already afforded in grant. and continuing those grant opportunities, the other grants, particularly funding and continuing to fund the use of our system. it is very important to us, because those are the front liners who are responding to these disasters at times. to some extent, i will say the continuation of the support and the funding and an increase in those dollar amounts will go a long way. chair peters: thank you, chief butler. ranking member portman, you are
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recognized for your questions. sen. portman: thank you, mr. chairman. i think the witnesses for your testimony today. more importantly, for what you do everyday. chief butler, we talked about urban search and rescue. back in 2016, you may recall that we passed legislation that was worked on in this committee called the national urban search-and-rescue response systems act. in enhanced compensate -- compensation for search-and-rescue teams and required fema to replace certain equipment used by those teams. how has that worked? can you give us a sense of whether the legislation was helpful or not? and what more could be done to use that legislation? can you give us a sense of where we are with regard to implementation of that and what else could be done? mr. butler: yes, thank you. we ask that congress can
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appropriate $50 million for the use of our system in fy 2022. this funding would allow our teams to replace current transportation assets, like you mentioned, which are nearing the end of their lives. and increased funding would allow fema to conduct three or four full-scale sizes of gear, provide training, along with operational readiness. i will stop there and answer the genesis of your question. how has it worked so far? it worked well, has worked well up until this point. as we've talked about this morning, the increase in demand and the increase in weather extremes requires that we keep up with the pace and the funding and the infrastructure. our teams will be able to
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improve their capabilities for responding subterranean incidents like tunnel collapses, as somewhat of an emerging threat. also our teams would be able to validate the use of new technology, like unmanned aerial systems or robots. the ifc recommends increasing the funds to adequately catalog state and tribal territorial, local search teams. sen. portman: thank you. i appreciate it. we just celebrated our team locally for the -- for the good work they did and done at the hurricanes, but we also had a sober commemoration of the 20 year anniversary of 9/11, where task force one took off immediately. my wife actually saw them on the highway heading toward new york. she was coming from d.c., and she saw them in pennsylvania, lights flashing that morning. it is a great system. i am a huge supporter. it is a classic example of state
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and local. there is so much training and expertise that fema gets essentially for free because you have these firefighters and others, doctors, people with trained dogs and so on, and they do a lot of this just as volunteers and provide so much help and resources on a national level. the search and rescue teams and everyone one of our states respond with more -- with mutual aid. i am a huge supporter and frankly, it is an investment that pays off. i thank you for your service and what you said today. we will follow-up with you on your comments. ms. merick, thank you for what you do in ohio again. one thing you talked about in your testimony is the safe room rebate program to help prevent ohioans from needing assistance from an urban search and rescue team, as an example. can you talk about that and what other ways individuals and families can better prepare in order to avoid situations that would require rescue?
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ms. merick: thank you, senator. our safe room rebate program in ohio has been phenomenal. we have over 450 safe room's that have been put into residential platforms. one of things we do with that is ensure that when people build a safe room where they have an inground safe room, that they are coordinating with their first responders to let them know the codes, the geocoding of where it is at, in the event that debris would fall on top of that storm shelter so that they would know to clear that place first. otherwise, that is pretty much the response they would have to do. some of the other ways that i think families could better prepare to avoid the situations is make a plan which includes severe weather.
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including a communication planner. how will you let people know that you are ok? i know during, recently, during ida, they had gotten a phone call -- i had gotten a phone call from a friend of mine who has family in louisiana, they said that they didn't know if they were ok, if they got out, if they had power. it is very important that you have a communication plan and how you will reconnect, or where you will meet after an event. know how you will receive information. have alerts active on your phone. enable them for the wireless emergency alert. obtain a weather radio to keep in your house, work, places of worship, and other locations that may have your phone off silent. the last thing i want to make sure is if you have a safe room, communicate that to your first person. this is so important in the community.
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while responders include search-and-rescue and ohio task force funds are trained to look for survivors. if you can facilitate their efforts by letting them know that you have one, they have a chance to save more people because they will just do a drive by your place to make sure that that is not covered by debris, and they will be able to move on. sen. portman: all good advice thank you. i hope people are listening and will listen to you. research has shown one dollar of mitigation saves on average six dollars on future disaster cost. we mentioned that the storm act is in the bipartisan infrastructure bill before the house of representatives. have something in there called the building resilient infrastructure and communities program, or the brick program. there is a -- there is $1 billion for that. how important is mitigation for preparedness? and how has bric impacted ohio? ms. merick: the first year of
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bric program, ohio only received the set amount. we, like most of the country, did not receive competitive funding due to the technical aspects of the program. assuming passage of a bipartisan if a structure built, -- bill, we will have projects based on a competitive package that we put together for the first year of funding. only to see how those projects fit within the future notice of funding opportunities that come out from fema. but of course we do appreciate having this additional pot of money to be able to tap into, to have to figure out over the years the best way to be able to do that, >> we will follow-up with you on
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some specifics on how to improve bric going forward. hopefully this will pass the house of representatives this week and have the ability to allow states apply for this competitive grant. how to reduce some of the costs and inefficiencies in the -- and the delays you have experienced. thank you. >> thank you. we recognize senator hassan for your questions. i have to run over and vote i will pass the gavel to you. >> thank you. a special thank you to all of our witnesses for the important work that you do to prepare our communities for national -- natural disasters. i will add my own appreciation to that you have heard from the wrecking member and the chair for all of the volunteers and first responders in our states and communities.
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you do lifesaving, life stabilizing, work and you help archimedes be resilient in these -- to help our communities be resilient in these difficulties. i am chair of the subcommittee on emerging threats and spending oversight. i am focused on ensuring that the federal government spends taxpayer dollars efficiently and that we reduce waste, fraud, and abuse. in 2018, a fema sponsored report indicated that every dollar spent on mitigation was six dollars in savings. how can we improve the ability of states and localities to invest in mitigation before a disaster strikes? >> i think the best way to do that is with the federal government.
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partnering with the states to respond. states are -- it is easy for them to communities -- reach communities. with fema providing help to the states to increase their particular management capacity, in other words, stopping. they can -- staffing. they can work with communities. an example fema mentioned in ohio, and they did not get any of the competitive bric fund needed in michigan. but an area -- that is the area
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where there could be a program within bric that funds state assistance to increase capacity of state governments to assist the local communities. >> to miss merrick, for a long time i have heard from emergency management bushels in my state about the need to reduce the complexity of many fema programs and sissies. -- processes. to locate a staffers with state and local partners to improve communication and coordination between federal, state, and local partners. these teams known as fema integration teams were created to help state or local partners more easily navigate fema's bureaucracy. new hampshire has responded positivity -- positively to the creation of it in new hampshire.
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have you found that fits have been helpful in bridging the gap between state and federal partners? >> we do not have a fit team. in ohio, we do not have a team member or integrated team. reviews from other state directors who do have been positive. i was in region five in chicago, my partner states, the majority of them have fema integrated teams, and they have been helpful in the area have been hired. i do not have a tremendous amount on this.
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i do know as my colleagues and i have talked about it they have been pleased with the fits they have on their team from fema. >> i look forward to learning more from reactions from other states. this might be an area we might want to expand on. federal disaster recovery funds administered by fema allow a small percentage of each grin to be used to cover management costs like grant processing or oversight. management costs awarded for disaster can only be used for that particular disaster. what are the benefits of changing fema's policies so it allows state and localities use dollars provided for management costs across all open and declared disasters? >> thank you for asking that question.
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there is a certain portion of disaster costs that cover some of the imitative costs of the event. those are limited to a specific disaster as you indicated. this creates a does incentive -- this creates a disincentive to utilize funding. management costs for disaster, states would be able to focus more on the recovery process than the administrative and tracking of disaster. if we are allowed to rollover those management costs, and only closes out disasters much faster, but it also utilizes funds to build capacity in the long term anything that we may face. fema was grateful to your staff for working with us last year in getting legislation drafted and hope we can get something introduced. >> i thank you for that.
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i do have one more question. i think it would take us over time. i will submit it for the record. i will recognize senator rosen who should be with us virtually. >> thank you. i want to thank you for holding this hearing. it is important. natural disasters have been occurring more frequently all around the world. i want to talk about wildfires. particularly in the west, wildfires continue to worsen every year. it is dangerous to our health, and our public land. wildfires burned more than 3 million acres and destroyed more than 70,000 structures.
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there are been over 45,001 fires burning nearly six point acres including several recently affecting nevada, it is why i have been fighting for preventing further catastrophes. a group of senators have been urging committee chairs to include these resources in our reconciliation package. climate change has increases the natural disasters. we no longer have a -- fires happen year-round. we have to address that. can you talk about the challenges in emergency -- that emergency managers face when they deal with worsening natural disasters year after year without any intervening period of relief? >> thank you. as we move forward and we have
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learned a lot, with covid, our other tasks of preparedness are response and mitigation to national -- natural disasters. we continue to have to be prepared to work on multiple events. activate or have separate missions simultaneously to make sure that we are preparing and coordinating and communicating only with our locals who are locally starting work and ending at the local level. when the accident capacity, we also have the ability. we also have to work with our federal partners to ensure that we know exactly when we execute
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those programs and what is on the table those days as we respond and move forward. >> my internet skipped a beat there. i did not mean to interrupt you. i want to move on, the current ability between federal and nonfederal firefighters, we are facing a shortage of firefighting personnel. it is hindering our ability to respond to these natural disasters. how can congress help with the recruitment and retention of firefighters? >> that is a good question.
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i have been in structural fires and as such, my brothers in the wildland community are losing out in the competition when it comes to pay and salary. there are a lot of choices out there and a lot of opportunities for responders. >> go ahead. >> keeping up with the salary for firefighters is important. we know it on the structural side that the housing community is behind in pay and salary. >> we will pass legislation that great a permanent year-round positions for wildlife firefighters by adding at least 1000 more to the -- to help the
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cause in this and pay them what they deserve. we pursued everything that they do out there to protect us. you cannot fight a lot by of do not have water. i want to talk about drought. 90% of the west is currently experiencing drought. a majority of areas are subject to significantly below average precipitation, extended drought period is another reason why we are having these what fires appeared there has been a water shortage for lake mead which provides water and generate electricity for more than 20 million people. if that is going to lose some percent of his allocation of water -- nevada is going to lose 7% of its allocation of water.
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wildfire, drought, unfortunately they go hand and hand you discussed the benefits of fema assistance. how to prepare for some of the extreme drought as climate change begins to exacerbate conditions. >> as we were -- respond to any event, i think it is important that we focus on our basics of response. we go back and look at our preparedness actions. we continue to communicate with our locals, we refer to our action plan. we need to ensure the effort is being coordinated with the appropriate levels of the agency
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. whether that is federal or locally. we talk about the medication that has already been designed to move forward or the predisaster mitigation measures folks are starting to undertake. so that people understand that they are happening and they can tap into those. how do they tap into those? those programs in which they can receive some guidance or action. >> thank you, i appreciate all of you for being here. in the west, extreme heat, drought, wildfires, they will continue to plague us as well as other disasters around our nation. thank you. >> senator johnston, you are not available? ok. i have another question for mr. hancock.
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climate change is increasing the cost of disaster response and recovery. the national oceanic and atmospheric demonstration tells us that 2020 set numerous records. 32 extreme weather and climate events which each caused $1 billion or more in losses. recent disasters like the flooding that impacted him for communities this summer underscored the need for action to safeguard the nation's infrastructure, protect communities, and save taxpayer dollars. the reports and infrastructure package includes funding that i push for to help communities invest in coastal resiliency measures. could you discussed the importance of investments to help prepare for and mitigate damage for more frequent flooding events and other disasters? >> yes.
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the amount of disasters are increasing so much so that communities are -- a few other people have said it is a one after another. the capacity issue comes back to this question. states and communities do not have the capacity to respond to one after another. we could use a system from the federal government to help us increase our capacity during times we are not having disasters. this was talked about a little bit earlier. a lot of the funding for disaster response and recovery comes from disasters.
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if it was not tied to individual disasters, it would increase capacity. unrelated to events. >> wanted to follow up on that. -- i wanted to follow-up on that. we have considered historic flood patterns when we look at planning and investment in mitigation. how important is it for sit and local governments to consider -- state and local governments to consider climate change in their plans? >> just like you said, most flood maps we do is based on what happened in the past. one example, at work at a local community and respond to proposals. when buildings are built,
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they're bill for decades. to plan for a safe building based on what happened in the past may not necessarily make that building safe in the future. you can apply that logic to any infrastructure. whether it be a dam, a stormwater pipe. when we are building infrastructure we are building those for the future. communities' abilities to plan properly for their infrastructure of the future. >> is the center available? -- the senator available? yes. next up is senator padilla. >> in california where our most
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recent wildfire season was the worst on record. more than 10,000 fire incidents, more than 422 million acres burned and surfers were damaged or destroyed. we rely on a local and regional fire departments to provide expedient mobilization and response to fire season. as mentioned, the national fire association found that a third of the department station do not have access to additional power. they are also suited -- restricted on ventilation assistance and other environmental problems. many do not have the proper gear
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for female fire and ems personnel. the question for the chief is, is it conscionable to ask firefighters to fight fires but do not have and what facilities to work in? what does infosys remain for the morale of cap -- of personnel and the given ability of -- what does this do for the morale and capability of personnel? >> taking care of the health, safety, and willingness of the responders is and should be paramount. there are many fire stations that would be condemned in many other communities. the irony is that those working in some of the structures are going out to do do inspections
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and look at the liability of some buildings and coming back to stations -- new [no audio] there is a lot of spotlight -- [no audio] reduction. exposure reduction. firefighters, there is a whole body of knowledge that shows that we are getting better and we are keeping up to date and being funded appropriately with proper ppe and apparatus
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ear. -- wear. >> i appreciate you mentioning the mental health of the firefighters. for the members and the communities that everybody serves. fiber sheet that. -- i appreciate that. we need to hire emergency services. i want to raise the issue of the government of the fema disaster efforts. facing wall -- for communities facing what fires, due to the unique nature of wildfires, they have experience difficulties in the wake of recent catastrophic wildfires regarding reimbursement, debris removal,
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eligibility, individual assistance, home insurance, and relocation assistance. you have any specific thoughts on how fema meal -- could be more inclusive of the wildfire response team? >> leadership and selection. -- it starts with leadership and selection. we need a confident administrator who is familiar [no audio]
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i got frozen therefore a second. -- there for a second. i will stop there. >> we will follow up. on the same topic, in the time remaining, as a leader in fema and disaster response. you have an idea on how fema regulations can be updated to respond to a new reality and better purport response to wildfires? >> there is a couple of ways we can work together. i think making sure that folks are connected into the system
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and not just our agency but other nonprofits and for-profits and religious-based entities are extending reach into communities. as we have seen with the wildfire season over the past couple of years, it has begun much earlier. it has gone longer. we have seen more ongoing destruction. one of the things we look at is refreshing our workforce and making sure that we have additional volunteers to come out and support. making sure that we are connecting with fema, both at the state and national level to make sure that we are aligned. that we know that we are both covering the communities who need those impacted and those who need help in the recovery process. >> thank you. >> thank you. senator, you are recognized. >> thank you.
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i would like to discuss with you issues of particular concern of my constituents in coastal georgia. i visited camden county, georgia. it convened a local leaders to discuss the community's readiness for more intense tropical storms. good news is that the bipartisan infrastructure bill which the senate passed includes more than $12 million for coastal resilience programs. improving drainage infrastructure, marshland remediation, the weatherization of public and private buildings, improvements to evacuation routes, like those in georgia's golden isles. while these investments will help mitigate the effects of disasters, we need to prepare the public, local officials, and
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a robust and adaptable system. the first question is can you describe what the american red cross is doing with a focus on the coastal southeast and coastal georgia to adapt your organization and resource allocation for events like those in the -- like those? would you or senior executive red cross agree to join me to make a roundtable to help inform the public about steps they can take to prepare themselves and coordinate a better cross jurisdictional preparedness program for those kinds of events? >> to the first one, historically, we had seen there are certain geographic areas of the country that took preparedness seriously. we talked about the west coast. climate change is now exposing
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areas that would not typically take preparedness actions to take them. the red cross's turn to reach all of this communities -- is trying to reach all of these communities, to go to schools, we have with red nap that is a free app that folks can download. one of the things we hear a lot in feedback is becoming prepared is expensive. it is a cost allocation. for a family that is operating at or below the poverty level, they do not have the luxury of being able to build a kit and be prepared. we focus on nonfinancial components that they can take into account. communications plans, talking about making sure that you are calling someone, copies of your documents, knowing an escape route. there are notebook cost
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preparedness actions that each family along the coast can adopt. a better infrastructure to facilitate evacuations. we own part of that responsibility to know how we need to get out of that area. it is ongoing. educate the parents and the kids in school. that helps. what we see is messaging, time and time again, especially from the ship and elected officials. it is a prime time after a disaster, people are more receptive to preparedness sitting and taking it additional preparedness actions. this are all pieces that the american red cross supports. for someone to commit to come down, absolutely, we can make sure that we have a fantastic original -- original director who would -- regional director
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who would come down. >> mr. hancock, are you still with us? >> yes. >> georgia hosts about 24 million acres of forest and woodlands. approximately 91% of this forest is privately owned. georgia has more privately owned acres of timber land than any other state in the nation. i have heard consistently from private force landowners in georgia who are struggling to adapt and respond to natural disasters. we need to ensure their cultivation of a crop after a major fire. as we anticipate increasingly
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severe natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, we will have to commit greater resources to protecting and cleaning up force lands and remediating damage to forests. i discussed the $12 billion in coastal resilience investments in the bipartisan infrastructure built. we were also able to secure, i want to give a shout out to my colleague for his efforts on this front as well, or than $5 million in the bill for forest management good can you share your perspective -- force management. -- forest management. can you share your perspective on what force tree can better prepare -- the conservation group can do to
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better prepare? >> it starts with defying deserts and -- defining deserts and flood mapping. two thirds of the floodplains are not mapped. the idea of the national flood hazard mapping program is that these maps should be showing all hazards. that would fit in with the force tree -- foristry in georgia would help people be more prepared. to respond to disasters, did they know that these disasters were a potential there? having data that makes maps is critical. one example is precipitation
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frequency estimates. that is something that is typically done by noaa. the program for updating that is disjointed and each part of the country has a different method of getting money from states to help them or from the federal government. showing up -- shoring up the program and making it hold across the nation, some places have rain data that is 30-50 years old. haven't updated every five years, fema might be able to prepare better -- having it updated every five years, fema might be able to prepare better. making preparation more accurate. i think that is the answer. it is having better data to prepare for these types of disasters. >> thank you.
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>> how would like to take this opportunity to thank our witnesses for joining us today for this discussion as we commemorate national preparedness month. we take the time to hear from experts on how we can improve our nation's preparedness at all levels of government. this is increasingly important as climate change increases both the frequency and the severity of extreme weather events in our country. i want to thank our witnesses for their testimony and all emergency responders as they have been working to address a very challenging covid-19 pandemic as well as all of the other disasters we have faced. i want to thank those who held a meeting with me. the record for this meeting will
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remain open until 15 days. for the submission of statements and questions for the record. this hearing is now adjourned. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> thank you. [indiscernible]
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