Subcommittee Presses FEMA on Natural Disaster Preparedness, Puerto Rico Recovery During the Coronavirus Crisis
Washington, D.C. (July 24, 2020)—Today, Rep. Harley Rouda, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, held a hybrid hearing featuring testimony from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter T. Gaynor on FEMA’s preparedness to simultaneously respond to anticipated natural disasters, such as hurricanes, flooding, and wildfires, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Members’ questioning painted an alarming picture of FEMA’s readiness to respond to above-average natural disaster seasons while simultaneously leading the nationwide effort to contain the spread of coronavirus:
FEMA is still falling short in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) remains a serious ongoing problem.
- Administrator Gaynor stated that he has the authority to exercise the Defense Protection Act (DPA). Although FEMA has already used the DPA at least 14 times, Administrator Gaynor claimed that, going forward, he wants to make sure FEMA is doing “no harm” to the existing landscape before invoking the DPA again.
- Administrator Gaynor acknowledged the fact that 90% of medical supplies being made outside the U.S. is a national security issue and claimed that FEMA is working to increase domestic production. Chairwoman Maloney asked Administrator Gaynor to provide suggestions on her bill that would require that 35% of the strategic national stockpile be manufactured in the United States.
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still experiencing inexcusable lags from FEMA in their efforts to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which struck the islands almost three years ago.
- Congresswoman Velázquez pressed Administrator Gaynor on why Americans in Puerto Rico are still without homes during hurricane season. Congresswoman Velázquez also pushed the Administrator to explain why, seven months after $39.5 million in funds were approved for FEMA to build a hospital in Vieques, they have yet to break ground on the hospital—a critical need during the coronavirus pandemic. Administrator Gaynor claimed without substantial evidence that the process of building the hospital is underway.
- Congresswoman Plaskett questioned Administrative Gaynor on whether FEMA is still on track to resolve outstanding issues regarding the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) Program in the U.S. Virgin Islands by August. Administrator Gaynor did not have a concrete answer.
FEMA Administrator Gaynor admits that climate change should be a factor in natural disaster planning.
- Administrator Gaynor stated that, over the last 75 years, natural disasters have become more frequent, deadly, and costly and, as a result, FEMA should fully consider all factors, including climate, that impact the agency’s readiness to respond to natural disasters.
FEMA provided no concrete plan for preparing and responding to what is expected to be an above-average wildfire season.
- When pressed, Administrator Gaynor refused to provide Subcommittee Chairman Rouda with specific details regarding how many wildfires FEMA will be able to respond to in a predicted higher than average wildfire season.