This week marks the 8th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Although a number of years have passed since that devastating storm hit the Gulf Coast, none of us will ever forget the tragic events that unfolded in its aftermath and the incredible pain inflicted on the region.
That is why President Obama has made improving the way the federal government prepares for, responds to, and recovers from natural disasters a priority for his Administration.
Shortly after he took office, the President tasked the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and me with rethinking the federal approach to disaster recovery. This work resulted in the creation of the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), which was first fully deployed following Hurricane Sandy.
The NDRF allowed us to quickly organize a massive and coordinated federal, state and local response to Hurricane Sandy – we had over 17,000 federal responders on the ground within seven days of the storm making landfall.
However, the President recognized that the response to Sandy also required an additional level of cabinet-level coordination so he created the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, which I’ve had the honor to chair. Last week, the Task Force released a Rebuilding Strategy that marks the next step in improving how we approach natural disasters – this time with a focus on building stronger communities in an era of climate change.
Hurricane Sandy again showed families how our changing climate is already impacting lives and putting communities at risk. But it’s not just families affected by Sandy and Katrina who have felt these changes.
The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. During my time as Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, I have walked the streets of too many devastated communities and looked in the eyes of families whose lives have come crashing down around them under nature’s wrath.
The President’s Climate Action Plan outlines responsible steps to address carbon pollution but also focuses on preparing communities for the impacts of climate change, which are already being felt – whether it’s more intense storms like Sandy or floods and heat waves that are driving up food prices.
Our Rebuilding Strategy will help communities adapt to these emerging threats by investing to strengthen our roads, bridges, and shorelines so we can better protect people’s homes, businesses, and way of life from severe weather.
Not only will this Rebuilding Strategy put people to work building stronger infrastructure, but recent studies have also shown that for every dollar we invest in protecting our communities, we’ll save $4 down the road by preventing future damage.
We know that success will not be defined by building things back the way they were. Success means rebuilding in a way that makes our communities more economically sustainable and better able to withstand future storms.
We cannot prevent all future storms but we have a moral obligation to our kids and grandkids to act now to help address the effects of climate change and protect our communities.