This month marks the start of hurricane season, which runs through November. Unfortunately, Mississippians are no stranger to these natural disasters. The memory of Katrina is still fresh, and the many other storms our state has experienced since then have left their own marks.
As we plan for family vacations and other summer plans, it is also important to plan for this hurricane season. In Congress, I continue working to make our readiness and response efforts stronger.
Preparing for Hurricane Season
One of the most enduring impacts of Hurricane Katrina is our nation’s commitment to natural disaster preparedness. After brushing past the southern tip of Florida, the monster storm intensified quickly over warm Gulf waters, catching residents off guard. It maintained hurricane strength until it reached central Mississippi, driving wind, dumping rain, spawning tornadoes, and causing damage as far north as the Tennessee line. Even for veterans of past storms, the widespread destruction and loss of life was staggering.
As recovery efforts began, it became clear that significant investments in infrastructure would be necessary. The new drainage systems, flood walls, levees, pumping stations, and backup power systems we constructed have made a major difference. Along the Gulf Coast, we built emergency command centers to track storms and coordinate relief efforts.
In the years since, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has become a world-class disaster relief team. They have compiled their expertise into a storm preparedness guide that encourages residents to prepare supply kits, fortify residences, and plan an evacuation route. Their complete hurricane readiness manual is available on MEMA’s website at msema.org.
Legislation Improves Forecasts and Relief Efforts
In Congress, I have used the resources of the federal government to improve weather forecasting and damage recovery efforts.
During the Trump administration, I worked with the president to pass legislation that improved the use of ocean data. Our law helped federal officials, the U.S. Navy, private businesses, and research universities share nautical information. I was also successful in passing legislation to promote the use of unmanned undersea drones that can map our oceans and track storms. The data collected from these drones is housed in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Data Buoy Center at the Stennis Space Center. Both of these laws make our forecasts and disaster response plans more accurate and will increase storm warning times.
There is more work for Congress to do in helping Mississippians access federal support in the wake of hurricanes and tornadoes. We rely on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deliver much-needed aid in the wake of storms, and we welcome their help. However, as anyone who has worked with that agency knows, bureaucracy can increase wait times and bog down the reimbursement process.
The U.S. Senate will soon vote to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and this year it will include several much-needed reforms. In particular, it will save customers money by capping premium increases at 9 percent, down from the current 25 percent increase cap. Alongside that legislation, Congress must deal with FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which has been drained after multiple recent disasters.
NOAA predicts that 2023 will have a “near-normal” hurricane season. I am praying for a peaceful year and will continue advocating for the policies that make Mississippi safer during this time of heightened concern.