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USA - FEMA administrator urges Black communities to prepare for natural disasters after Hurricane Ian

Deanne Criswell, the administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said many lessons were learned from the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

After Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under the Bush administration, was heavily criticized for its inadequate response to the deadly natural disaster in the majority-Black city. The Category 5 hurricane killed more than 1,500 people, 51 percent of whom were Black, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The controversy over the federal government’s response to Katrina ultimately led to the resignation of FEMA administrator Michael Brown. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history — FEMA has worked to improve its ranks and apparatus in how it responds to national emergencies.

During a recent interview with theGrio, current FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said many lessons were learned from Hurricane Katrina and other hurricanes in recent years, particularly regarding reaching Black and historically underserved communities.

“One of the things we learned is being able to respond quickly and get into those impacted communities to make sure that we’re getting people out of harm’s way,” said Criswell, who was on the ground with her team during back-to-back natural-disaster recoveries in September — Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Ian in Florida. “There are communities that just have barriers to accessing our assistance.”

In response to the systemic barriers that have historically prevented Black and Latino communities from accessing available assistance from FEMA — and in line with President Joe Biden’s executive order to advance racial equity — the agency last year made some policy changes, which included expanding the type of documentation FEMA accepts as proof of homeownership, a requirement for applicants seeking financial assistance.

Criswell told theGrio that the agency has seen more families become eligible for assistance due to its efforts. “We’re continuing,” she said, “to look at the things that we can do to remove those barriers that we know many of these disadvantaged communities have to access the type of assistance FEMA or federal partners bring in.”

Last week, FEMA announced that federal support for Florida victims to recover from Hurricane Ian topped $1 billion, which included direct financial assistance, paying for hotel and motel costs for eligible survivors and the approval of low-interest disaster loans.

In preparation for Ian’s anticipated landfall, the FEMA administrator said the agency “assembled the largest search and rescue footprint across the federal government than we ever have to be in place and positioned.”

“And they just melded right in with the state and the local teams,” she continued, “to make sure that as soon as it was safe, they were able to go in and start those lifesaving actions.”

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