FEMA to push preparedness, catastrophic readiness, reducing complexity in future years

After a hectic 2017 disaster season the Federal Emergency Management Agency is embarking on a three-pronged efforts to implement the lessons it learned, Deputy Administrator Daniel Kaniewski told almost 200 alumni at this year’s NPS-CHDS Alumni Professional Exchange and Continuing Education Workshop (APEX).

FEMA’s priorities during the coming year will emphasize a culture of preparedness, readiness for catastrophic disasters and reducing the complexity of its programs.

Daniel Kaniewski, FEMA Deputy Administrator for Protection and National Preparedness (PNP)

Fostering a culture of preparedness will require individual initiative along with government action. Kaniewski called for basic steps like learning how to shut off water and gas at home, checking on neighbors or even learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Financial preparedness is another priority. Insurance isn’t just for people living in flood zones, he noted, adding that property insurance alone doesn’t cover flood loss. Texans living outside 100-year flood zones were especially affected. While FEMA was established to offer temporary assistance, its mission isn’t to make homeowners whole.

“Insurance plays a critical role in preparedness, creating resilience and helping citizens recover from disasters,” he said. “If there is one lesson on the insurance side it’s that any house can flood.

Building a prepared society also means investing more in mitigation. Kaniewski pointed to a recently updated National Institute of Building Sciences study showing for every $1 invested in mitigation another $6 is saved on recovery costs later. He said Executive Leaders Program alumnus Roy Wright, who oversees FEMA’s flood insurance program, wants to double the number of policies in the National Flood Insurance Program by 2022 and quadruple investment in mitigation by the same year.

“We hope you will be our partners on that,” Kaniewski told the audience.

The agency wants to shift its focus to readiness for catastrophic disasters as well. According to a GAO study, more than 75 percent of presidentially declared disasters amount to less than $41 million. FEMA would like states to assume greater roles in responding to those smaller-scale disasters, a concept he called “Federally supported, state managed, locally executed.”

Kaniewski sat down with CHDS Viewpoints and provided an in depth interview on these strategic priorities, as well as some lessons learned from the 2017 disasters.