NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — FEMA Chief Deanne Criswell urged the public to start planning for the hurricane season now during an appearance at the annual National Hurricane Conference.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and life along the Gulf Coast comes with the threat of storms that could quickly gain strength.
“With this increase in types of severe weather events that we are seeing, we as an emergency management community must adapt and learn from it. And above all, we need to grow,” Criswell said.
Jamie Rhome, acting director of the National Hurricane Center, said: “We really need to challenge people and ourselves to be ready to respond in just two days. Some of these storms intensify very close to land.”
Casey Tingle, director of the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in Baton Rouge, said it’s critical individuals and families have plans before a hurricane threat looms.
“Those who need power for medical equipment and things like that, those vulnerable communities and corners of our state that we want to focus most of our time on, and those families who can evacuate themselves,” Tingle said. “The families that can support themselves with food and water and things like that take pressure off the system so that the most vulnerable can best benefit from the plans and partnerships that we have in place.”
Criswell recently toured areas of Mississippi and Arkansas devastated by tornadoes.
She said FEMA is ready to pre-position resources ahead of hurricane threats and that discussions with utilities are part of the planning.
“These discussions are taking place with our state directors as they work through their own contingency plans,” Criswell said. “We also have talks. whatever their needs may be.”
The 2023 hurricane season is approaching as Louisiana finds itself in the midst of an insurance crisis.
“I have concerns,” Criswell said. “If the number of uninsured people for whatever catastrophe increases, it could mean they will have greater needs after the event. And that’s why we want to encourage everyone to do this check and see what your insurance policy covers.”
Property owners are also expressing frustration at rising flood insurance premiums, which are FEMA’s purview.
“What we’ve seen over the last decade is a decline in insurance policies,” Criswell said. “And one of the reasons why we conducted our study and implemented Risk Rating 2.0. is to ensure that people’s insurance policies and their insurance premiums reflect their actual risk. And I think risk rating 2.0. moves forward in that direction.”
However, she acknowledges that flood insurance is more expensive for many residents and business owners.
“We’ve already seen 20 percent of our policies actually have their premiums reduced,” Criswell said. “And that means that these are people who have been overpaying for years, what their actual risk should be and what their premiums should be. But we also see people gaining weight. I understand that. But it also tells me that they – possibly – have not fully understood what their risk is.”
Criswell said one of her biggest concerns is the number of people living under the increased threat of severe weather.
“What worries me most is the fact that we actually have a large portion of our population that has moved to different areas in recent years and we have a number of people living in communities that are facing severe weather threats that maybe they are I’ve never experienced before,” she says. “We have a number of people who live in the Gulf Coast region who have never experienced a hurricane.”
She said FEMA is working to make sure people know how to prepare for larger storms.
“I want to know that they understand the risks of these weather events and what actions they need to take to protect their families,” she said. “I believe in the past few years we’ve had so many more people who are at risk because of this movement across the country.”
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