Kilili questions FEMA on Yutu response

Dec 3, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan joined the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at a hearing on Thursday to question FEMA Administrator Brock Long on the recurring problems that keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency from responding quickly to disasters such as Super Typhoon Yutu.

     At the hearing, Sablan took Long to task on a list of complaints the Congressman received from Marianas residents after Typhoon Yutu – from the delayed opening of Disaster Recovery Centers, to the long wait for damage inspections, to the mailing confusion that rendered many FEMA inspection notices and payments undeliverable.

     “I want to acknowledge the work that the 1,345 federal employees assigned to the Marianas are doing,” Sablan told the Oversight Committee. “But I am not satisfied with their work.

     “How can I be, when so many of the people I represent remain without power and water, living in shelters and tents, their children not in school, without jobs and income, struggling day by day?”

     “Reading the Committee’s report on the federal response in other parts of our country, I see that I am not alone in my dissatisfactions,” Sablan added.

     He was referring to a report titled “Recurring Problems Hinder Federal Disaster Response and Recovery Efforts,” by the House Oversight Committee staff. A copy of the full report is available at https://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Federal-Disaster-Response-and-Recovery-Report-1.pdf.

Response delays

     Super Typhoon Yutu struck the Marianas on October 24.

     FEMA took a week to open an intake center for initial registrations for disaster assistance, and another week to establish a full-scale Disaster Recovery Center. A DRC is a centralized location where people can register with FEMA, follow up on their applications, and obtain information from other agencies and organizations involved in the relief and recovery efforts.

     At the hearing, Sablan also noted that FEMA inspections are taking longer than the seven- to 10-day turnaround time that the agency had communicated to the public.

     And he questioned why FEMA sent notices and checks to the physical location of damaged homes, instead of to post office boxes, causing mail to be returned to FEMA.

Disaster-proof infrastructure

     In response, Long proposed that Congress work with the private sector, particularly telecommunications companies, to build disaster-resilient infrastructure.

     “It’s hard for us when the communication system is totally knocked out,” Long said at the hearing. “Being able to mobilize several thousand miles away disaster support teams to manually register people door to door is a painstaking process.”

     The FEMA Administrator also emphasized the responsibility of local governments to build the capacity to withstand and recover from natural disasters by insuring public infrastructure with private insurers, by enforcing building and zoning codes, and by establishing rainy day funds that local jurisdictions can draw down after a storm.

     “I have long stressed that FEMA cannot be solely responsible for disasters.” Long said.

     Watch a clip of the Congressman Sablan’s exchange with FEMA Administrator Brock Long at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYSAztOJgcg.

 

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