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By Stephen H. Hagerty, Mayor of Evanston, Illinois
Our nation is facing a heightened risk from natural and man-made disasters. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, active shooters. We see it practically every time we turn on the television, pick up a newspaper, or glance at social media. Due to a changing climate, so-called 100-year flooding events are occurring seemingly every year, and catastrophic disasters of all kinds are more frequent and more devastating than ever before.
Faced with the threat of stronger and more frequent disasters, we need the federal government to accelerate its efforts to help communities respond quickly and effectively and rebuild faster, stronger, and greener. Mayor Pete’s plan to reform disaster recovery is not only the first full disaster preparedness plan put forth by any of the Democratic presidential candidates, but remarkable in its focus on improving coordination between communities and government agencies, creating a culture of resilience and speeding up relief efforts.
My perspective on disaster preparedness and recovery is informed by my 25 years of experience helping communities recover from some of the nation’s worst disasters including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Superstorm Sandy. I have seen first hand the humanity extended from one neighbor to another, demonstrating that all is not lost in this post-civil age.
I have also seen as a mayor the federal government place more focus on compliance and caution than on swift and effective assistance to communities in need. Fortunately, Congress has recognized this as well and recently passed the Disaster Recovery Reform Act on a 93-6 Senate vote, laying a path for the right leader to strategically help our nation become more disaster
To speed up aid and rebuilding in communities like North Carolina, Florida, and Puerto Rico, we need a leader like Pete to interpret and implement these changes in a way that puts local governments first; that say speed, resiliency, and heightened federal, state, local, and volunteer coordination is essential to helping our residents and their families.
Pete’s disaster plan promises to tackle three persistent weaknesses in response, recovery, and resilience:
First, Pete’s plan will strengthen our disaster response by improving coordination between communities and government agencies. Today, red tape and program complexity make it hard for local communities to give their residents the timely help they need. To change that, Pete is proposing a Disaster Commission that will streamline and strengthen the country’s disaster
preparedness and response efforts. It will bring together state, local, and tribal leaders to speed up funding, simplify arduous reviews, and encourage the sharing of data and best practices. To establish that this Commission is a priority for his administration, Pete would appoint a senior White House official to lead it.
Second, Pete’s plan will create a culture of resilience. Pete’s goal is to build resilience by encouraging everyone to be part of the effort. That means funding volunteer programs that teach community members how to be first responders and investing in expanding education programs to historically underserved communities. And it means mechanisms to facilitate public-private
partnerships and spur investment in resilience projects to combat the effects of climate change.
Third, the plan focuses on improving assistance in the critical days and months immediately following a disaster. After disasters, communities need help fast so lives can be saved and power can be restored. The reality is that it takes too long for supplies and workers to reach those in need. Pete’s plan calls for a government-wide solution to augment surge capacity across agencies
and better support private sector and volunteer efforts. For example, as part of his call to national service, he’s proposed expanding the FEMA Corps, an AmeriCorps program that helps young people lend a hand in disaster recovery. And he’s going to grow the “Surge Capacity Force,” a group of non-FEMA government workers who spring into action when catastrophe strikes. These efforts will build response capacity so needed resources are brought to bear quickly and effectively to save lives, preserve health, and protect property.
Mayors understand how large-scale events, like natural disasters, affect local communities. And they understand how to bring people together to help those in need. Pete has produced a national disaster plan that shows leadership, insight, and heart. On this, and other, issues, we need a mayor’s vision to show the way.
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