Because of this administration, no one is running the NOAA or FEMA. What will happen to Floridians and others hit by disasters when there are no warnings or recovery aid?
UPDATE: On Tuesday, Congress overwhelmingly approved President Trump’s appointment for head of FEMA, Brock Long, which means we now have a leader for one of the two departments for weather and natural disasters. Long’s appointment comes three weeks after the start of hurricane season, and is accompanied by over $1 billion of budget cuts to the organization. $550 million of those cuts will come from disaster mitigation. So it looks like a leader isn’t really the help we needed, anyway.
I never knew wind actually sounded like that. The high-pitched groaning wail sounded almost human, but far too loud—like a paranormal being out of a horror movie. Only the speakers were my bedroom windows.
In the six years we’ve lived in Florida, we hadn’t seen a hurricane until last year.
It’s been eight months since Hurricane Matthew ripped apart our coastal towns and beaches, and we still have local leaders scrambling to rebuild. And five months after the inauguration of our new president, our most important federal disaster organizations remain leaderless.
And now it’s hurricane season again—predicted to be a highly active season with up to 17 storms potentially brewing. Will America, particularly coastal states like Florida, be left in the lurch? Without a way to get to federal aid quickly, what would we do should a category-5 hurricane blow through? How would we pick up the pieces of our lives, of our towns?
— NWS (@NWS) June 18, 2017
We rely on the National Oceanic Atmosphere Organization (NOAA) to help us predict storm paths and strength. We need the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) to deploy when our homes are demolished and lives are in tatters, torn from us by 100-mile-an-hour winds. With Florida’s already meager disaster preparedness, our people will be more vulnerable than ever. And we deserve more.
My family and I live in a small complex, made of what can only be described as DIY homes. You know, the kind where cheap drywall serves as our only protection from the elements, and we’re just gingerly placed upon the ground with some plywood. Homes that take about two days to build, but keep us safe enough in our usually sunny environment. My kids go to school in a mobile home up on cement blocks. Welcome to Florida. The elementary school population outgrew the original brick building, and so the third graders are the lucky winners of one-school-room learning, in what basically amounts to glorified sheds on small stilts. They practice storm drills where they flee these death traps and get into the building proper then place their heads down on the ground, hands covering them, and lift their little butts in the air. That’s not a joke. That’s our storm prep here. Needless to say, we weren’t feeling great about a category 4 hurricane slashing its way up the coast.
Hurricane Matthew had already decimated Haiti by that point, and we watched as flooded roads and uprooted homes turned into a cholera outbreak, one that is still raging. Weeks after the storm, the sun bakes the earth dry, that is when the rains aren’t pummeling the bare soil mixing it with the drinking water they have left. More than a million people went hungry as they struggled for survival. Haiti has no storm emergency plan in place, no infrastructure or programs in place to help their citizens after a storm. It looks like the U.S. may soon be going down that path. Without FEMA, the people will be on our own on the local, state and national levels.
But what kind of aid does Florida have? It’s old. It’s outdated. But it’s something, at least.
The State has a little spiel on hurricane preparedness—the same stuff we used to get when I lived in Connecticut—have three days’ worth of water, charge your cell phone, etc. And they have information on distribution of FEMA and other disaster funds for after the fact, in mostly legalese and jargon, but at least it’s there. If you really search, you can find updates in the archives with at least some optimistic generalities, such as “there are hotels extending emergency stays if you need storm shelter,” or “those who have lost work due to the storm may apply for Disaster Relief funds,” but there are huge gaps in this information
We don’t even have a plan in place for what people should do right before the storm hits, as was proven when Governor Rick Scott wasted no time scaring everyone to death, declaring a State of Emergency and telling people to evacuate. But he never said to where.
Florida has some emergency shelters, Scott had suspended the tolls on the turnpike, and there were food and water stations set up at certain points, but there was no clear path to evacuation. In fact, the Governor literally said people had better move fast before they got caught in traffic and ran out of gas. In the middle of a hurricane. That doesn’t sound like good planning to me.
Here, residents were told to look out for each other, not as an added courtesy, but because we were all we had. Scott asked those in western areas to open their homes to those in need. And of course we did and of course we would. The issue is that that solution is a bandage on a gunshot wound. That solution is wishy-washy, backward, hope-for-the-best-good-luck-to-you-sir assistance. The government is simply ill-prepared for storms of this magnitude. Simply put, we need our hurricane plans updated with the best scientific backing we can muster: something which Scott has banned here in our state, something Trump is trying to ban nationwide.
When Scott took office in 2011, he made an unofficial announcement to the DEP here, and words like “global warming,” “climate change,” and “sustainability” were banned according to former employees.
“We were dealing with the effects and economic impact of climate change, and yet we can’t reference it,” a former employee told the Miami Herald.
On the national level, our new leader of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, doesn’t believe the evidence-based science stating carbon dioxide is a leading cause of global warming.
Plans are made based on studies of conditions within an area to prepare that area for future likely events. If the cornerstone of those studies is essentially forbidden, then we cannot make a plan. Plans are based on leaders making those plans. If we have no one at the helm of our disaster preparedness nationwide, then we cannot make a plan.
Treating this as a one-off when experts have repeatedly said that climate change affects Florida the most of any region in this country does not keep its residents safe.
And even if we had foolproof plans, we wouldn’t be able to execute them without proper leaders. The Trump administration still has hundreds of posts to fill. 85 percent of those positions remain open, months after his inauguration. Who, exactly, is leading the American people on anything? Who will help us, more specifically, should a hurricane barrel through our backyards in the coming months? No one is home at the White House.
Make no mistake, last year we got off lucky. Farther north, in Goldberg, North Carolina, my friend’s home and her entire neighborhood lost power for days. Many houses and businesses were destroyed. In fact, estimates place the damages at $10 billion. Had we gotten more than the outer limbs of this storm, our houses would have fallen like they were made of cards.
Our local and state governments owe it to the American people to help with storm preparation and cleanup, and to do that we need organizations that are up and running. Should this happen again, I know I cannot count on the actions of President Trump; I know I cannot count on the wisdom of Gov. Scott. I will have to find my own way through the storm.
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