Addressing Extreme Weather Requires a National Approach: The PREPARE Act Offers a Solution

Credit: Photo Credit: FEMA/Dave Saville

The bipartisan PREPARE (Preparedness and Risk management for Extreme weather Patterns Assuring Resilience and Effectiveness) Act is smart legislation that would reduce the federal government's fiscal exposure from extreme weather. Co-sponsored by Congressmen Matt Cartwright and Tom Cole, the act will enhance the federal government's capability to plan and prepare for the risks associated with extreme weather events--an imperative task given the costs such events present to the United States each year.

Since 1980 the U.S. has suffered 178 weather-related disasters in which overall costs were a minimum of $1 billion each, with total costs exceeding $1 trillion. In 2012 alone, the federal government spent over $100 billion because of droughts, storms, floods, and forest fires. That year the costs of extreme weather in the U.S. totaled almost 1% of the GDP. From the flooding that ravaged Texas and Oklahoma to the forest fires burning in the West, 2015 is shaping up to be another costly year for the federal government. Unfortunately, the costs and impacts of weather disasters are expected to increase "as previously 'rare' events become more common and intense." According to the U.S. Global Research Program, future weather impacts could cost the U.S. $1.2 trillion by 2050.

As illustrated above, extreme weather is a serious financial risk for the federal government. So much so, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has placed extreme weather threats in its 2015 High Risk List. The GAO report listed five areas where government-wide improvement is needed to reduce the government's fiscal exposure. This included improving the federal government's role coordinating federal and state resiliency efforts and the manner in which it insures property vulnerable to climate impacts through the National Flood Insurance Program. The report found that enhancing resilience, such as building higher bridges and bigger capacity stormwater systems, will reduce the potential impacts of extreme weather. Hence, implementing adaptation policies like the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard have the potential to reduce future disaster costs.

The PREPARE Act builds upon the GAO report and seeks to increase the nation's resilience to these extreme weather events. The PREPARE Act would require the establishment of a federal interagency council that would provide recommendations on best means of planning and preparing for extreme weather incidents. The Council would work with state and local actors to identify regional issues and adopt adaptation and resilience best practices. Also, each agency must develop Extreme Weather Resilience Preparedness and Risk Management Plans that integrates consideration of extreme weather into agency operations and includes actions that each agency will take to manage extreme weather risks and build resilience. Further, the act "institutionalizes" executive orders, such as Executive Order 13653 and Executive Order 13690, which seek to address agency planning and preparedness.

The PREPARE Act has the potential to make the federal government climate-smart. The costs associated with responding to extreme weather places a heavy burden on the taxpayer and will only continue to increase in the future. Measures that improve our nation's resilience to these events are imperative. It's better to build higher today than to rebuild tomorrow.

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