5 Reasons Why Congress Should Immediately Greenlight the Nation’s Natural Disaster Responder-in-Chief

June 16, 2017 | 2:44 pm
Senate confirmation hearing for Brock Long to head FEMA on June 7, 2017.
Shana Udvardy
Senior Climate Resilience Policy Analyst

One thing this Congress seems to agree on is who the new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator will be.  The Senate is expected to take an evening confirmation vote on the nomination of Brock Long to be FEMA’s Administrator this coming Monday.

If Congress confirms Mr. Brock Long as the FEMA Administrator, he will serve as the principal advisor on emergency management under President Trump and John F. Kelly, the newly appointed Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Congress should move swiftly to confirm Mr. Long so he can be at the helm of FEMA as soon as possible. Here are five reasons why. 

#1: It’s Hurricane Season!

June 1 was the official start of hurricane season and NOAA’s National Hurricane Center forecast says that we’re likely to have a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, with a 70% likelihood of 11 to 17 named storms, 2-4 of which could become major hurricanes.  And the data show that hurricanes in the North Atlantic region have been intensifying over the past 40 years.  Currently eyes are on the Gulf of Mexico because of the potential threat of a serious storm brewing.

#2:  Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and pushing us into “Truly Uncharted Territory.

In her blog, Astrid Caldas highlighted some of the sobering facts that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published in their State of The Global Climate for 2016 report. Most striking of all is the fact that we are truly in uncharted territory because of the unknown possible consequences of the combined record breaking temperatures, new highs in carbon dioxide emissions, and new records for global sea level rise (to name a few).

But we do know that losses from natural disasters (hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, earthquakes, etc.) are on the rise due to growing populations and urban development in high hazard areas, and to climate change which is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.  In fact, data show that we’ll see:

During the first quarter of 2017 NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) found that the U.S. has had 5 weather and climate disasters with over $1 billion in damages including 1 flooding event, 1 freeze event, and 3 severe storm events, which combined caused 37 deaths. This follows on the back of 2016 which had 15 “billion-dollar” natural disaster events (each event either reached or exceeded $1 billion in losses), and was a record year for inland flooding disasters with 4 inland flood events (since 1980 no more than 2 inland flood events had occurred in a year).  Just in the month of June (to date) there have already been 3 national disaster declarations in New Hampshire, Missouri, and Arkansas.

#3:  We’re over a month past the 100-day mark of the Administration and yet, a large number of key executive branch positions are still unfilled.

The Washington Post, in collaboration with the Partnership for Public Service, is tracking positions that need Senate confirmation. According to their tally, of the 558 key positions that require Senate confirmation, only 42 have been confirmed. While it is a relief to have Brock Long in line to take over as FEMA Administrator, he will be lacking the support team he needs as positions remain unfilled, including two key FEMA staff — the Deputy administrator and the Deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness –and colleagues in sister agencies including NOAA or NASA administrators.

#4: Unlike President Trump’s nominations for other key posts, Mr. Brock Long actually has years of relevant experience and leadership. 

In his words, Mr. Long has two decades of service “helping communities and organizations prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.” He comes most recently from the private sector working for Hagerty Consulting and was previously the Director of Alabama Emergency Management for four years under Governor Bob Riley. During Mr. Long’s stint in Alabama, he responded to 14 disasters (8 of which were presidential declarations). He also has served as the FEMA Region IV (AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, and TN) Hurricane Program manager, as Georgia’s statewide Hurricane Program Manager, and as School Safety Coordinator with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

#5:  Mr. Long understands the need for investing in pre-disaster mitigation to safeguard communities now, reducing the costs of future disasters and lessening the burden of federal taxpayers.

Highlands, N.J., Feb 7, 2013- This home was elevated prior to Sandy and received only minor damage, but the homeowner has opted to utilize FEMA’s new Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) guidelines to mitigate potential future damage. Photo by Rosanna Arias/FEMA.

During the June 7 Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Senator Hassan (D-NH) spoke to the importance of rethinking how the federal government provides funding to mitigate against disasters, and of the need for increased pre-disaster mitigation (PDM) funding (noting that the Trump Administration cut the PDM grant program in half in the President’s proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Budget).

Mr. Long agreed with Senator Hassan on the importance of pre-disaster mitigation and responded to say that mitigation is the “cornerstone of emergency management. If we ultimately want to reduce costs in the future for disasters, we have to do more mitigation.” He followed up to say “If confirmed, I would like to work with the committee to evaluate all of the mitigation funding, not just pre-disaster mitigation, but how do we possibly budgetize all of it up front to do more work to reduce disaster costs, rather than basically having to get hit to be accessing the mitigation funding that’s there.”

Given Brock Long’s experience with responding to disasters, it is not surprising that he values the benefits of putting resources toward mitigating disaster risk on the front end.

Time is of the essence for Congress to vote “Yea” on our next FEMA chief

When things in Washington, DC are so divisive and partisan – let’s have Congress take pleasure in doing a light, but important lift and confirm Mr. Brock Long as our next FEMA chief. I know that if I were in congress, I wouldn’t want to have to explain to my constituents why, with these odds of a volatile hurricane season, I didn’t do all I could to get a new and qualified FEMA Administrator at the helm of our nation’s disaster readiness.

Posted in: Climate Change

About the author

More from Shana

Shana Udvardy is a senior climate resilience policy analyst with the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She conducts research and policy analysis to help inform and build support to increase resilience to climate change impacts.