FEMA head blasts res­i­dents, lead­ers

Houston Chronicle - - BUSINESS -

Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Brock Long an­grily crit­i­cized the fail­ure of res­i­dents to heed evac­u­a­tion warn­ings and lead­ers to bet­ter pre­pare for nat­u­ral disasters such as Hur­ri­cane Michael.

“It’s frus­trat­ing to us be­cause we re­peat this same cy­cle over and over again,” Long said dur­ing a press brief­ing Fri­day at FEMA head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton. “If you want to live in these ar­eas, you’ve got to do it in a more re­silient fash­ion.”

Hur­ri­cane Michael was just shy of Cat­e­gory 5 when it ripped through a sparsely pop­u­lated area of Florida’s pan­han­dle, track­ing north­east through ru­ral Ge­or­gia and the Caroli­nas. Now a post-trop­i­cal cy­clone, its dam­age spiked af­ter the storm’s dan­ger­ous winds be­gan lash­ing more pop­u­lated ar­eas in Vir­ginia.

The FEMA di­rec­tor chas­tised Amer­i­cans in vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas for fail­ing to heed evac­u­a­tion warn­ings, as well as the fail­ure of many peo­ple to carry in­sur­ance.

“In­sur­ance is the first line of de­fense,” Long said. “We see far too of­ten where peo­ple pay off their mort­gage and then let their in­sur­ance lapse, and then their house burns down.”

Long also di­rected his crit­i­cism at dif­fer­ent lev­els of gov­ern­ment, sug­gest­ing that of­fi­cials have failed to do enough to pro­tect their res­i­dents from ex­treme weather.

“Un­til we get build­ing codes passed at lo­cal and state lev­els that are mean­ing­ful, then we’re go­ing to con­tinue to see a lot of dam­age and de­struc­tion,” Long said.

What would also help, Long said, were fed­eral flood stan­dards gov­ern­ing con­struc­tion rules, which Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­voked last year. He called for changes to the Na­tional Flood In­sur­ance Pro­gram, which Congress has de­clined to over­haul de­spite warn­ings that the pro­gram is out of date.

Long praised Congress for pass­ing leg­is­la­tion last week that gives FEMA more money each year for tough­en­ing com­mu­ni­ties be­fore disasters. But he stressed that his agency couldn’t ad­dress the grow­ing toll of ex­treme weather on its own.

“We’re just one part of the for­mula that’s needed in this whole com­mu­nity to stop this mad­ness,” Long said. “You see this enough in your ca­reer, you get ticked off.”

Justin Sul­li­van / Getty Im­ages

FEMA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Brock had harsh words about “the mad­ness” of com­mu­ni­ties that don’t pre­pare for disasters.

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