FEMA’s Response To The Storm With No Name

2016-09-12T14:09:16+00:00 September 12, 2016|
Coast Guardsmen use a flat-bottom boat to assist residents during severe flooding around Baton Rouge, LA on Aug. 14, 2016. (Credit: Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Giles/Coast Guard)

(Click to enlarge) Coast Guardsmen use a flat-bottom boat to assist residents during severe flooding around Baton Rouge, LA on Aug. 14, 2016. (Credit: Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Giles/Coast Guard)

The storm with no name that hit south Louisiana from 8 to 14 August was a 1,000-year-storm event (one that has a 0.1 percent chance of happening in any given year).

The tropical weather system dumped over seven trillion gallons of rain, which is more than the Mississippi River discharges into the Gulf of Mexico in 18 days and is more than the rainfall associated with Hurricane Katrina’s Louisiana landfall. Over the course of the week, 13 individuals perished, 20,000 people were rescued, and emergency declarations were made for 12 parishes, making the flooding one of the worst disasters the nation has seen. A month after the catastrophic storm, the Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee heard from Louisiana’s governor, John Edwards, and several Louisiana mayors during a hearing to assess the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response to the disaster.

FEMA is the agency tasked with coordinating the federal government’s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating, responding to, and recovering from disasters. Chairman John Mica (FL-07) expressed his disappointment with FEMA’s slow response to this most recent catastrophic event, highlighting the 19 days it took for a disaster recovery center to be set up in Denham Springs. Representative Tammy Duckworth (IL-8) defended the agency, noting that FEMA’s response time has improved since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and even more so since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. FEMA Regional Administrator Tony Robinson maintained that the agency is “moving aggressively to make sure it is properly positioned to provide federal assistance when states request it.” Governor Edwards expressed his gratitude for FEMA’s response while also stressing the need for more manufactured housing units.

Some of the witnesses expressed concern with regulations required to participate in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides flood insurance to property owners in participating communities (standard homeowner’s policies do not include this insurance). The program also improves floodplain management and develops maps of flood hazard zones, so there are strict criteria for participating communities to reduce future flood damage. For homeowners to receive assistance from FEMA, homes must be rebuilt at least two feet higher than the 100-year floodplain. For many communities in Louisiana, this means that citizens must elevate their homes in accordance with the regulation or pay a higher flood insurance rate, which Walker Mayor Rick Ramsey claims will bankrupt his city. Mayor Gerard Landry of Denham Springs also called for the suspension of these FEMA regulations, agreeing with Mayor Ramsey that people should not have to elevate their homes for a 1,000 year flood event.

However, in 2014, the National Climate Assessment  predicted an increase in extreme rainfall event occurrences. Following the Louisiana flooding, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) did a rapid-response study that found the intense rainfall, characterized by the maximum amount of rainfall from 12 to 14 August, was 40 percent more likely to occur today than in 1900. As the number of strong storm events increase, more science is needed to understand if there has been a change to the  100-year floodplain (and 1,000-year-storm events), which could impact the NFIP.