The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
December 15, 2017

As we face a growing threat of natural disasters, why is the administration chipping away at resilience efforts?

December 15, 2017

This year has seen a wave of natural disasters. Six fires are collectively burning 230,000 acres in Southern California, and residents throughout the United States continue to recover from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Despite this growing problem, efforts to ensure that our country is prepared for extreme weather events and climate threats are on the chopping block.

Termination of the NIST Resilience Panel

Earlier this month, the administration terminated the Community Resilience Panel for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems. The panel aimed to help local governments make buildings, communications, energy systems, and transportation more resilient to extreme weather events and climate threats.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) officials have said they will instead convene a national workshop by fall 2018 to more effectively inform resilience standards and best practices. But the workshop format is unlikely to be extensive enough to sufficiently address resilience needs in a substantive manner.

It is unclear which officials, government agencies, and subject-matter experts will be involved in the panel and how it will operate more effectively than the Community Resilience Panel. It is also unclear why the panel will not convene until next fall, particularly given growing and pressing resilience issues.

The Community Resilience Panel is not the only advisory board on the chopping block, as other groups intended to uphold scientific review and rigor have been threatened. The administration terminated the National Climate Assessment’s advisory committee, which supported government and local entities in understanding and implementing recommendations from the assessment. The administration also choose not to renew the terms of several members of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Board of Scientific Counselors.

Other troubling cuts that threaten resilience

Other legislation and budgetary changes could negatively affect our ability to mitigate and prepare for extreme weather events and climate threats.

President Trump eliminated the Obama-era Flood Risk Management Standard, Executive Order 11988, just days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the US. These standards imposed requirements to take into account flood and sea-level risk for building new federally funded infrastructure or rebuilding after disasters. The administration also revoked the National Environmental Policy Act climate guidance in March—legislation that instructed agencies to review climate impacts when constructing infrastructure projects.

The administration’s proposed budget recommends cuts to critical Federal Emergency Management Agency programs that support disaster resilience, such as the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program that helps communities reduce risks to residents and infrastructure. There is a threat of major funding cuts for the National Flood Insurance Program, including efforts to update flood maps that identify areas that face the highest risk of flooding.

Proposed budget cuts would also affect federal agencies that play an integral role in forming resilience research and practice, including the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Science Foundation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could see one of the most severe funding decreases, with a proposed 30 percent cut.

Why this matters for resilience efforts

Our country’s focus on resilience has not been robust enough, given the rise in climate threats and extreme weather events. Instead of chipping away at current resilience efforts, we need policy and budgetary supports that can mitigate costs and damages of future disasters.

A firefighter radios that the Blue Cut Fire is burning on both sides of Highway 138 on August 16, 2016 in Phelan, California. Photo by Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

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