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Obama Announces New Disaster Planning Guidance That Will Make States and Communities Better Prepared for Climate Change

Becky Hammer

Posted July 16, 2014 in Solving Global Warming

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Today President Obama announced that states will soon be required to consider the projected effects of climate change when planning and preparing for natural disasters.  The requirement will be implemented in a revision to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidance for “state hazard mitigation plans.”

This update to FEMA’s disaster planning policy is just one of a series of actions that the president announced in response to preliminary recommendations from the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which was tasked with giving him advice on how the federal government can help communities deal with the impacts of climate change.

According to the White House announcement:

Accounting for Climate Change in Hazard Mitigation Planning.  To ensure that States are preparing for the impacts of climate change, FEMA will release new guidance for State Hazard Mitigation Plans that calls upon States to consider climate variability as part of their requirement to address the probability of future events in state planning efforts. Last issued in 2008, FEMA’s guidance for these plans helps States prepare in advance of a disaster to identify and drive actions for more resilient and sustainable recovery, such as elevating or relocating homes and businesses to reduce flood risks associated with sea-level rise and more intense storms or rebuilding to higher standards.”

NRDC could not be more pleased to hear this news.  We’ve been advocating for this requirement for several years, ever since we filed a petition with FEMA asking the agency to include it in state hazard mitigation guidance back in 2012.  We also recommended it to the president’s Task Force last year.  Several months ago, we secured a commitment from FEMA to move forward.  It’s very exciting to hear the official announcement from the president today.

As the White House announcement mentioned, states prepare hazard mitigation plans in order to assess their risk of natural disasters and to identify and implement actions they can take to reduce those risks. Once FEMA has approved a state’s plan, the state is eligible to receive federal funding to carry out pre-disaster mitigation projects that are designed to build resilience and reduce vulnerability.

While federal regulations require the plans to consider the risk of “future events,” up until now FEMA has not required state plans to take account of the projected impacts of climate change. As a result, most states have been developing insufficient plans that leave them unprepared for the more frequent and severe disasters that climate change is projected to bring about, including flooding, drought, and other extreme weather events. 

The new guidance will make sure that states begin to account for climate change’s effects, making them better prepared for the future.  This kind of smart planning will save both money and lives.

Resilience efforts such as the new FEMA guidance are a complement to the greenhouse gas reduction efforts being led by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Many changes to our weather and disaster patterns will occur no matter how much we slash carbon emissions going forward, and in fact many impacts are already being felt.  We must act now to make our communities stronger and safer at the same time that we work to reduce our emissions.

Needless to say, we’re looking forward to seeing the new guidance, and we urge FEMA to finalize it as quickly as possible.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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