Disaster Resilience: Opportunities to Improve National Preparedness

What the GAO found

The GAO assessed federal efforts to strengthen national preparedness and resilience and identified opportunities for improvement in several key areas:

FEMA Efforts to Strengthen National Preparedness. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — the lead agency for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery — assesses the nation’s emergency management capabilities and provides grants to help state governments , local, tribal and territorial to address capacity gaps. In May 2020, GAO found that FEMA and jurisdictions had identified gaps in emergency management capacity in key areas such as recovery and mitigation. The GAO recommended that FEMA determine the steps needed to address these capability gaps. FEMA has agreed and plans to develop an investment strategy that aligns resources with capacity gaps.

FEMA Risk Mitigation Grant Programs. In February 2021, GAO found that state and local authorities were facing challenges with FEMA’s risk mitigation grant programs. Specifically, GAO officials interviewed in 10 of the 12 selected jurisdictions said grant application processes were complex and time-consuming. This could discourage investment in projects that would build resilience to disasters. FEMA officials said they intended to identify streamlining opportunities, but did not have a plan to do so. The GAO recommended that FEMA develop such a plan. FEMA agreed and is in the process of doing so.

Identify opportunities to improve disaster resilience. In October 2019, the GAO released a framework to guide the analysis of federal actions to promote resilience to natural disasters and climate change. For example, the framework can help identify options for addressing whole-of-government challenges that are of a scale and scope not addressed by existing programs.

Examples of risk mitigation projects

Why GAO Did This Study

Every year, disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires affect hundreds of American communities. The federal government is providing billions of dollars to individuals and communities who have suffered damage. According to the US Global Change Research Program, extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and intense in parts of the United States due to climate change. Investments in disaster resilience can reduce the overall impact of future disasters and their costs.

This testimony discusses GAO reports published from 2015 to 2021 on disaster preparedness and resilience. This includes the FEMA National Preparedness System and associated grants; grant programs for risk mitigation; and the GAO Disaster Resilience Framework to identify opportunities for improving resilience. The statement also outlines actions taken to address past GAO recommendations through March 2022.

For past work, GAO reviewed relevant documents, including agency policies, strategic plans, and other reports. GAO also interviewed federal and state officials, as well as a range of relevant stakeholders. For updates to the recommendations, GAO reviewed agency documentation.

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