Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) to make permanent the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Risk Index (NRI), an online tool that utilizes data to identify communities that are most vulnerable to natural disasters, has advanced in the Senate. The bill would require FEMA to use data from the NRI, or a similar tool, to establish community disaster resilience zones (CDRZs) to designate the communities across the nation that are most in need of mitigation projects – and help them access federal funding and support to plan for mitigation and resilience projects. As damage from extreme weather events continues to cause billions of dollars in damages that taxpayers must cover, the senators’ legislation will help at-risk communities make important investments that will limit the damage caused by natural disasters. The bill was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Peters serves as Chair and Portman serves as Ranking Member.
“Mitigation projects are the key to helping communities that are most vulnerable to natural disasters protect residents from these extreme weather events. Unfortunately, these communities often lack the necessary resources to fund efforts like flood walls, better storm water management facilities, and more,” said Senator Peters. “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation – which has now advanced in the Senate – will help the public and private sectors identify what areas require the most assistance to build resilient infrastructure. These investments will not only help ensure at-risk populations are safe from extreme weather events, but also save taxpayer dollars in the long run.”
“I’m pleased this legislation has advanced from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee because in states like Ohio, not every community has the same vulnerabilities or experiences the same level of catastrophic outcomes for the same type of disaster,” said Senator Portman. “While natural disasters can be highly unpredictable, FEMA has risk index tools to help us know where we should prioritize our disaster mitigation funding. Research has found that for every $1 invested into mitigation, communities are saved $6 due to reduced future losses. This bill will help states and communities prioritize and focus these mitigation programs to ensure we maximize the safety and well-being of future disaster victims and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass it soon.”
Vulnerable communities continue to face severe consequences from natural disasters – including loss of life and significant financial damage. Studies have shown that resilience and mitigation spending saves taxpayers an average of $6 for every $1 invested. By making permanent and utilizing data from the NRI – which factors in expected annual losses, social vulnerability and community resilience – the senators’ legislation would help better allocate resources so at-risk communities can develop FEMA-approved hazard mitigation projects.
The Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act would amend the Stafford Act to make permanent the National Risk Index, or a similar tool, and utilize its data to identify and designate community disaster resilience zone communities that are the most at risk to natural hazards. This will allow FEMA to identify what communities are most in need of assistance for mitigation projects. Community disaster resilience zone designations will be made public so other federal departments and stakeholders interested in protecting communities from natural disasters can understand what areas are most in need of investments. The bill requires FEMA to create an optional review process for potential mitigation projects within a community disaster resilience zone to help direct private investors to approved, meaningful mitigation projects. The legislation would also allow the President to provide community disaster resilience zones with increased federal resources to upgrade their infrastructure to withstand natural disasters. The legislation is supported a variety of stakeholder groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Reinsurance Association of America (RAA), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the National Association of Counties (NACo), the BuildStrong Coalition, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.