U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), a member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, today attended a subcommittee hearing on disaster preparedness and the lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina. Senator Shelby’s submitted an opening statement for the record, which highlights the need for planned responses to future disasters to ensure our efforts are both efficient and effective.
Below is Senator Shelby’s opening statement, as submitted for the record:
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing today. Admiral Allen, Under Secretary Foresman and Under Secretary Paulison your presence is essential because the Senate needs to hear directly from each of you about your agency’s needs and the challenges you anticipate facing in the future.
Hurricane Katrina was one of the most destructive natural disasters to ever hit our nation. People’s lives were shattered, families were broken apart, and homes were destroyed. In my own state, whole communities were devastated by this terrible tragedy.
But that devastation pales in comparison to our neighboring Gulf States where they suffered immensely and are still trying to recover today.
Alabamians and the entire Gulf community have an amazing resolve and they are working to restore the strong economic engines that existed in the region prior to Katrina. They could not have made it where they are today without the assistance of our Chairman.
On behalf of the people of Alabama, I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your support of the recovery of the Gulf Coast.
In addition to the panel before us now, we will also hear from Bruce Baughman and Stanley Ellis. These gentlemen represent the interests of state and local emergency managers. As Alabama’s Director of Emergency Management, Mr. Baughman was intricately involved in Hurricane Katrina preparation and recovery. His leadership helped Alabama move quickly down the road to recovery. His decades of experience at both the federal and local level will provide the committee some valuable insights into disaster management and preparedness.
As we move forward we must look carefully at the progress that has been made since Hurricane Katrina but we must also carefully examine the failures – both in terms of response and recovery. It is critical that we, as a nation, are better prepared to respond to all disasters whether they are acts of God or acts of man. While the risk of another terrorist attack is just as real today as it was five years ago, we must also recognize the impact that loss of life, property, and employment from natural disasters can have on our communities.
I hope to hear more today about how the Department is balancing the risks, needs, requirements, tasks and jurisdictions of its roughly 20 agencies to prepare for the next event – whatever it may be.
The Senate has a responsibility to make sure the Department is adequately funded so that it may carry out the planned response to future disasters, but it would be imprudent for us to go about this blindly. We want to make sure that you are better organized and that you have learned from the mistakes of the past. The government’s response to Katrina could have been better and I look forward to learning about the steps that have been taken to eliminate the response shortfalls and what steps remain.
A plan without proper execution is merely words on paper. Proper execution can only occur with well-trained, properly equipped first-responders. Whether it is a FEMA recovery team, a state emergency management group, or a volunteer search and rescue squad, we must do everything in our power to ensure that those responsible for executing the plan are well equipped, fully trained, and prepared to execute the plan appropriately to save lives and property from further destruction.
Mr. Chairman, I am hopeful that the individuals appearing before us today will provide the Committee with a better understanding of the remaining needs in all facets of preparedness, response and recovery.
I am particularly interested in hearing about the Department’s efforts to effectively train the men and women that are willing to put themselves in harm’s way when duty calls.
Again this is a critical hearing and I applaud the Chairman for holding it today. It is always important to look back and learn if we are to move forward.