Congress Hosts Series of Disaster Recovery Hearings

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This week Congress held multiple hearings offering status updates on post-disaster recovery efforts and lessons learned after 2017’s deadly hurricane season.

It started off with a field hearing held by the House Committee on Homeland Security entitled “Houston Strong: Hurricane Harvey Lessons Learned and the Path Forward.” Witnesses included officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE); the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD); the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); the U.S. Coast Guard; Harris County and the City of Houston, among others. One of the strongest messages that emerged from the hearing was from local officials urging Congress to allow the USACE to speed up the study and review process in order to begin work on a third flood control reservoir; during Hurricane Harvey, the USACE had to release water from the existing Barker and Addicks reservoirs, which resulted in the flooding of downstream communities.  According to local officials, the USACE have been discussing building an additional reservoir in the area for more than 100 years. The USACE testified that they are following protocol in studying the feasibility of a third reservoir and other flood control projects but must first compile a study to report to Congress.

The House Committee on Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations began by reviewing the restoration of Puerto Rico’s electric grid. An official from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) testified that although the recently rebuilt electric grid is not as resilient as it should be, it’s in better condition than before Hurricane Maria. An official from the U.S. Department of Energy noted that the agency is working to build its first-ever digital model of Puerto Rico’s grid to give energy managers more options in the event of an emergency, and the agency is also in the process of developing a larger, more resilient plan for the energy grid there, including more renewable generation and microgrids.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation held a hearing entitled “Are We Ready for the Next Hurricane Season? Status of Preparation and Response Capabilities for 2018.” Witnesses were split into one panel for federal agency officials and one panel for state and non-profit representatives working on-the-ground in states and territories that were affected by the 2017 hurricanes. Chairman Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) opening remarks contained sharp criticisms of the federal government’s response to last year’s natural disasters and urged federal agency officials to take measures to cut down bureaucratic red tape to ensure that post-disaster funding gets out to the door and to affected communities as quickly as possible.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs concluded the week with a hearing entitled “FEMA: Prioritizing a Culture of Preparedness” to discuss the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) recently released strategic plan for the agency from 2018 through 2022.

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