Disaster Resilience: Opportunities to Improve National Preparedness
Disasters like hurricanes and wildfires affect hundreds of American communities. Investments in disaster resilience can reduce the overall impact and costs of future disasters.
We testified about federal opportunities to improve national preparedness and resilience.
- Addressing FEMA's emergency management capability gaps could help improve capacity in key areas (like recovery and mitigation)
- Streamlining FEMA's lengthy and complex grant application process could help states and local communities access federal funds
- Our Disaster Resilience Framework can help identify ways for federal entities to improve disaster resilience
Canal debris in the Florida Keys following Hurricane Irma
What GAO Found
GAO has evaluated federal efforts to strengthen national preparedness and resilience and identified opportunities for improvement in several key areas:
FEMA Efforts to Strengthen National Preparedness. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—the lead agency for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery—assesses the nation's emergency management capabilities and provides grants to help state, local, tribal, and territorial governments address capability gaps. In May 2020, GAO found that FEMA and jurisdictions have identified emergency management capability gaps in key areas such and recovery and mitigation. GAO recommended that FEMA determine steps needed to address these capability gaps. FEMA agreed and plans to develop an investment strategy that aligns resources with capability gaps.
FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs. In February 2021, GAO found that state and local officials faced challenges with FEMA's hazard mitigation grant programs. Specifically, officials GAO interviewed from 10 of 12 selected jurisdictions said grant application processes were complex and lengthy. This could discourage investment in projects that would enhance disaster resilience. FEMA officials said they intended to identify opportunities to streamline, but did not have a plan for doing so. GAO recommended that FEMA develop such a plan. FEMA agreed and is in the process of doing so.
Identifying Opportunities to Enhance Disaster Resilience. In October 2019, GAO issued a framework to guide analysis of federal actions to promote resilience to natural disasters and changes in the climate. For example, the framework can help identify options to address government-wide challenges that are of a scale and scope not addressed by existing programs.
Examples of Hazard Mitigation Projects
Why GAO Did This Study
Each year, disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires affect hundreds of American communities. The federal government provides billions of dollars to individuals and communities that have suffered damages. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, extreme weather events are projected to become more frequent and intense in parts of the U.S. as a result of changes in the climate. Investments in disaster resilience can reduce the overall impact of future disasters and costs.
This testimony discusses GAO reports issued from 2015 through 2021 on disaster preparedness and resilience. This includes FEMA's National Preparedness System and associated grants; hazard mitigation grant programs; and GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework for identifying opportunities to enhance resilience. The statement also describes actions taken to address GAO's prior recommendations through March 2022.
For the prior work, GAO reviewed relevant documents, including agency policies, strategic plans, and other reports. GAO also interviewed federal and state officials, and a range of relevant stakeholders. For recommendation updates, GAO reviewed agency documentation.
GAO has made recommendations in prior reports to address issues discussed in this statement. FEMA has taken steps to address some of these recommendations, and GAO continues to monitor agency progress in implementing them.