FEMA chief urges early preparation for hurricane season

Published: Apr. 3, 2023 at 7:24 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - FEMA chief Deanne Criswell urged the public to plan now for hurricane season, during an appearance at the annual National Hurricane Conference.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts June 1 and life along the Gulf Coast comes with the threat of storms that could rapidly gain strength.

“With this increase in the types of severe weather events that we are seeing, we as an emergency management community have to adapt and we have to learn from this. And, most importantly, we must grow,” Criswell said.

Jamie Rhome, acting director of the National Hurricane Center, said, “We really have to challenge people and ourselves to be ready to react with as little as two days’ notice. Some of these storms are intensifying very close to land.”

Casey Tingle, director of Louisiana’s Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in Baton Rouge, said it is critical that individuals and families have plans in place before there is a hurricane threat.

“Those that require electricity for medical devices and things like that, those vulnerable communities and pockets of our state are where we want to spend the majority of our time focusing, and those families that can evacuate themselves,” Tingle said. “Those families that can take care of themselves with food and water and those sorts of things, that relieves the pressure off the system, so that those who are the most vulnerable can best be served by the plans and partnerships that we have.”

Criswell recently toured tornado-damaged areas in Mississippi and Arkansas.

She said FEMA is ready to pre-position resources ahead of hurricane threats and that discussions with energy providers is part of the planning.

“Those conversations happen with our state directors as they are working through their own emergency preparedness plans,” Criswell said. “We engage in conversations as well. as far as what their needs may be.”

The 2023 hurricane season approaches as Louisiana is in the midst of an insurance crisis.

“I do have concerns,” Criswell said. “If there is an increase in the number of uninsured people, for whatever disaster, it might mean that they are going to have greater needs after that event passes. And so we do want to encourage everybody to do that check, see what your insurance policy covers.”

Property owners also are voicing frustration with rising flood insurance premiums that fall under FEMA’s purview.

“What we have seen over the last decade is a decline in insurance policies,” Criswell said. “And part of the reason we did our study and had implemented Risk Rating 2.0. is to make sure people’s insurance policies and their insurance premiums reflected their actual risk. And I think Risk Rating 2.0. is moving forward in the direction.”

However, she acknowledges that flood insurance is costlier for many residents and business owners.

“We have seen already to date 20 percent of our policies that have actually had a reduction in their premiums,” Criswell said. “And what that means is those are people who have been overpaying for years what their actual risk should be and what their premiums should be. But we are also seeing people that are having increases. I get that. But that also tells me that they did not -- potentially -- fully understand what their risk is.”

Criswell said one of her biggest worries is the number of people living under the heightened threat of severe weather.

“What concerns me the most is the fact that we actually have a large amount of our population that has moved into different areas over the last several years, and we have a number of individuals that live in communities that experience severe weather threats that maybe they have never experienced before,” she said. “We have a number of people that live in the Gulf Coast region that have never gone through a hurricane.”

She said FEMA is working to make sure people know how to prepare themselves for major storms.

“I want to know that they understand what the risks are with these weather events and that they know the actions that they need to take to protect their families,” she said. “I believe that we have so many more people that are vulnerable because of this movement around the country over the last several years.”

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