FEMA Chief Slams U.S. Failure to Prepare, Evacuate Before Storms

By Christopher Flavelle | October 17, 2018

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long angrily criticized the failure of citizens 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to the National Flood Insurance Program, which Congress has declined to overhaul despite warnings that the program is out of date.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.”

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