FEMA braces for disaster season amid COVID-19 battle

Washington-DC

WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — The summer disaster season is heating up.

The nation’s top response agency, already hip deep in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, predicts above-average hurricane, flooding, wildfire and tornado seasons this year.

“Does FEMA got this? Do you have America’s back?,” Rep. Harley Rouda, D-CA, asked FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor during a House Oversight hearing Friday.

“We’re ready every day,” Gaynor said.

Gaynor told lawmakers his agency has already responded to an earthquake, flooding and tornadoes during the pandemic.

“There’s no doubt that COVID-19 makes this more complicated,” he said.

New challenges for FEMA include keeping social distance between evacuees in shelters and providing staff with enough personal protective equipment.

That’s why Democrats like Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, and Republicans like Rep. James Comer, R-KY, can agree on the importance of bringing the manufacturing of products like masks and gowns back to the U.S.

“It’s life saving,” Maloney said. “Absolutely life saving.”

“Lifesaving equipment for frontline workers,” Comer said.

Gaynor told lawmakers FEMA is committed to increasing domestic production of PPE. Currently, more than 90 percent of medical supplies are made outside of the U.S.

Gaynor also addressed FEMA’s efforts to prevent the virus from spreading in shelters but said states should lead the way on testing. 

“Responses are most effective when locally executed, state managed and federally supported,” he said.

While his agency faces many challenges, Gaynor said money is not one of them. FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund still has about $70 billion, which he said is double the amount it would have any other season.

“You have fully funded us to make sure that we are ready for whatever disaster comes to us,” Gaynor said.

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