As disasters of various forms, both familiar and novel, become more frequent and intense throughout the United States, it has become evident that many of our existing community systems are ill-prepared to cope with these escalating challenges.
In response to this pressing concern, the U.S. Chamber Foundation's 12th Annual Building Resilience Conference is a crucial platform for forging partnerships and devising proactive solutions in advance.
This year's conference featured an opening keynote address by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who provided insights regarding the path toward enhancing resilience and preparedness amid increasing natural disasters.
Climate Change Has Had an Impact on Communities and Businesses Nationwide
With climate change introducing more catastrophic natural disasters, the repeated impact has been felt worldwide — and calls to protect our nation have grown stronger. Criswell highlighted this need to improve U.S. resilience by both strengthening existing infrastructure and putting new systems in place.
“Over the past three years, in the United States, we have experienced 60 weather- or climate-related events with losses that exceed $1 billion each,” Criswell explained. “According to the Federal Reserve, one in 10 U.S. employer firms have reported revenue losses related to a natural disaster in 2021, [and] 38% of those have experienced a similar disaster before.”
While businesses of all sizes have endured challenges due to the changing climate, studies have shown that minority-owned small businesses have been disproportionately affected, compounding inequities that impact entire communities well after the natural disaster has occurred.
“The Federal Reserve Bank of New York … found that small firms owned by people of color sustain losses from natural disasters at a disproportionately higher rate than other small businesses,” Criswell said. “Their losses … comprise a large portion of their total revenues, making their return to normal operations even more challenging.”
FEMA Has Changed to Keep up with the ‘New Norm’
According to Criswell, FEMA no longer has a wildfire or tornado season — the defined timelines that the emergency management agency followed no longer exist, as the changing landscape has redefined “normal” weather events.
"These conditions that we're experiencing, they're forcing the entire emergency management community to endure an operational tempo that, right now, never slows down,” Criswell said. “Working with our business community ahead of major disasters… [and] weather events can mean the difference between a recovery that takes months and one that takes years.”
Citing the mitigation efforts taken before Hurricane Ian, such as hardening power poles, burying power lines, and clearing vegetation, Criswell sees this “partnership in action” as a starting point for building a resiliency standard in the nation.
“A day after landfall, there were 2.6 million customers that were without power — that's approximately 25% of all of the customers across Florida,” Criswell said. “Nine days after landfall, ... that was down to just about 1%.”
Federal Funding and Private Sector Investments Play a Major Role in Preparedness
The response from local businesses and major brands after Hurricane Ian — including small businesses providing free ice and hot showers to impacted residents and major funding and resource commitments by larger organizations — demonstrated the impact of partnerships in both building resilience and streamlining recovery. However, Criswell noted that federal funding and private-sector investments are equally important to mitigation efforts.
“FEMA has received a … significant amount of bipartisan support from Congress to help fund unprecedented investments in our programs to help reduce the impact through mitigation across the nation,” Criswell said.
Receiving roughly $7 billion in the last two years, FEMA has more federal funding now to invest than ever before.
As for the private sector, Criswell believes a partnership with one of FEMA’s newest programs, the Community Disaster Resilience Zones (CDRZ), could provide a tremendous opportunity for future developments.
“The CDRZ program is going to designate high-risk geographic zones to help us advance resilience across our nation's most vulnerable communities through targeted financial and technical assistance support,” Criswell explained. “These zones have the potential to be [a] vital tool to help us … prioritize and focus our resilience and our mitigation efforts — not just in FEMA, but for all of our federal partners, private sector investments, philanthropy, and our non-governmental organizations.”