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Saturday, February 4th, 2023

Legislation to make permanent FEMA’s online National Risk Index tool passes Congress

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President Joe Biden is expected to sign newly advanced legislation from U.S. Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) this week, making the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Risk Index (NRI) permanent and advancing how government invests in disaster mitigation projects for at-risk communities.

The Community Disaster Resilience Act passed both chambers of Congress. Its action on the NRI would solidify an online tool that utilizes data for identifying communities most vulnerable to natural disasters. It would also require that data be used to create community disaster resilience zones (CDRZs) and establish those most in need of mitigation projects and federal funding.

“Communities in Michigan and across the nation who are most affected by natural disasters often lack the necessary resources to invest in resilient infrastructure,” Peters said. “By helping direct public and private investments toward these communities, this legislation will help them withstand destructive extreme weather events. It will also ensure our nation is taking a strategic, data-driven approach to protecting communities from floods, wildfires, and storms.”

The NRI factors in expected annual losses, social vulnerability, and community resilience into its assessments. Community disaster resilience zones would be public affairs, transparent to other federal departments and stakeholders to see what areas are most in need, and offering an option for the president to provide increased federal resources to upgrade local infrastructure.

“I’m pleased this bipartisan legislation has passed the House because not every community in Ohio has the same vulnerabilities or experiences the same level of catastrophic outcomes even when impacted by the same disaster,” Portman said. “While natural disasters can be highly unpredictable, FEMA has risk index tools to help us know where we should prioritize our disaster mitigation funding. Research has found that for every dollar invested into mitigation, communities are saved six dollars due to reduced future losses.”

FEMA will have to create an optional review process for potential mitigation projects within CDRZs to help direct private investors to approved mitigation projects. This could be especially helpful for small, impoverished, rural, and historically disadvantaged communities, which often face significant consequences from natural disasters, both in human cost and financial harm.