Former FEMA Director: The status quo is not acceptable
WASHINGTON, March 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- James Lee Witt, the former Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the current co-chair of ProtectingAmerica.org today urged a subcommittee to the House Financial Services Committee to move quickly to enact legislation that would help American families and communities be better prepared for and protected from the devastation caused by massive natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
"A catastrophic event, whether an earthquake striking one of our great American cities, or a massive hurricane making landfall near any of the metropolitan areas from New York to Houston, would cause such enormous damage that our economy would be stunned, private resources quickly depleted, and an immediate federal bailout of hundreds of billions of dollars could potentially be required," Mr. Witt stated.
"The American public has lost its appetite for bailouts. Clearly the nation, our families and our communities would be better served by a program that uses private insurer dollars to pre-fund coverage for the eventuality of the next massive hurricane or devastating earthquake," Witt said. "There is no place in the country that is immune from catastrophic natural events, and the stakes are higher than ever. Major cities along the coasts, and throughout the West and Midwest, are threatened by devastating earthquakes or hurricanes. The human, physical and economic toll that such events would take would be unfathomable," he said.
"To put it simply, the status quo is not acceptable. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive and integrated program that strengthens America's financial infrastructure, improves mitigation and readiness to prepare and protect our families and communities before and during catastrophe, and creates a privately-funded backstop that assures that resources will be available to rebuild, repair and recover as quickly as possible," Witt said.
Witt testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity and Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises in support of HR 2555, the Homeowners' Defense Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL) and more than 70 cosponsors from across the nation.
The bill would provide more protection at lower cost for consumers and provide additional capacity and stability to the market.
The bill would also mandate and help finance enhanced mitigation and prevention through better land use planning, establishment and enforcement of stronger building codes and better education training and equipment for first responders.
An earlier version of the Homeowners' Defense Act passed the House of Representatives in the last session of Congress by a bipartisan margin of 258-155.
ProtectingAmerica.org is a non-profit organization with over 300 members including the American Red Cross, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and other emergency responders, emergency management officials, police organizations, Allstate and State Farm Insurance, and large and small businesses. The organization has more than 20,000 individual members.
ProtectingAmerica.org is co-chaired by James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Admiral James M. Loy, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.
A Nation Exposed
- Risk experts and modelers suggest that 57 percent of the American public resides in areas that are prone to earthquakes, hurricanes or other disasters.
- Twenty states, including Hawaii and every state that borders the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, face the threat of hurricanes every year.
- The largest earthquake to ever rock the continental U.S. emanated from New Madrid, Missouri in 1811 and affected an area that stretched from Mississippi to Michigan, from Pennsylvania to Nebraska.
- Eight out of the 11 most costly U.S. natural catastrophes have occurred since 2001.
- Since 1900, 11 hurricanes have made direct hits on New England; six of them on the New York coastline. The "Long Island Express," a massive hurricane that in 1938 made landfall in Long Island and raced through Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, killed 700 people and left 63,000 people homeless. If the same storm struck today, damages would exceed $100 billion according to risk modelers.
ProtectingAmerica.org is a non-profit organization consisting of emergency management officials, first responders, disaster relief experts, insurers and others. Its members include the American Red Cross and more than 300 other organizations and businesses.
At the core of ProtectingAmerica.org's mission is the establishment of a comprehensive, integrated national catastrophe management solution that will better prepare and protect American families, communities, consumers and the American economy from catastrophe.
ProtectingAmerica.org is working to increase public awareness and enhance consumer education; advocate for better coordination with local, state and federal mitigation and recovery efforts, and strengthen emergency response and financial mechanisms to rebuild after a major catastrophe.
The organization supports comprehensive federal legislation that would establish a privately financed national catastrophe fund that would serve as a backstop to state catastrophe funds. The funds' private deposits and the majority of its earnings could only be used to cover replacement and rebuilding costs following major catastrophic events. A portion of the funds' earnings would be dedicated to increase public and consumer education, strengthen first responders, and enhance building codes and their enforcement.