WASHINGTON D.C. — Emergency crews are getting ready to face potential natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires this year all in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill questioned the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about the agency’s plans to respond to major weather events while assisting with the coronavirus crisis.
“Today FEMA is responding to 114 natural disasters,” said FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor.
The major disaster declarations have been declared in every state and in tribes and territories during the pandemic.
As of last month, we are also now in hurricane season.
Lawmakers said weather experts are expecting up to 19 named storms this year including three to six possible hurricanes.
Tropical Storm Hanna is now heading toward Texas.
"Does FEMA got this? Do you have America's back as we go into the challenges over the next few months?" asked Rep. Harley Rouda (D-California).
“We’re ready every day,” Gaynor said. “There’s no doubt that COVID-19 makes it more complicated.”
Natural disasters can also lead to evacuations and during a pandemic, there are new needs to consider.
“Overcrowded shelters from school gyms to convention centers risk becoming infection hot spots,” said Rouda.
Gaynor said COVID-19 testing in evacuation shelters will largely be handled at the state and local level but said FEMA is prepared to assist when there are shortfalls.
“Responses are most effective when locally executed, state-managed and federally supported,” Gaynor said.
Gaynor said the agency has assisted with delivering essential personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic which includes nearly 190 million N-95 respirators.
“The bedrock of our mission remains constant to protect the American people before, during and after disasters,” Gaynor said.
Gaynor was also asked about what the agency is doing to help communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
“Please help Black and brown communities. They’re dying at a higher rate and we need to do more in this country,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).
Gaynor said FEMA has put food programs in place and a civil rights bulletin to help get information out to those communities.
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