Daniel Kaniewski, deputy administrator for resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, discusses lessons learned in disaster response, and how FEMA’s strategic plan is informing their development.
2018 saw several historic natural disasters hit the United States, from California wildfires to Carolina hurricanes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s five-year strategic plan was released in anticipation of these disasters, to try and manage them effectively. Now that the agency is approaching the plan’s second year, Daniel Kaniewski, deputy administrator for resilience at FEMA, says that progress has been made. “We are readying the nation for catastrophic disasters. What that means is that FEMA is there to support the state and local governments, but we need the state and local governments to be ready themselves to respond to most of those disasters so FEMA can provide supplemental assistance. To that end, we’ve learned the life lines, infrastructure sectors that are focused on communications, or infrastructure like roads and bridges, energy, those are areas that local governments need to make sure are functioning, that the private sector needs to make sure are functioning and that FEMA can provide assistance as needed. That has worked quite well.” Kaniewski said that lessons learned from the devastating 2017 hurricane season were integrated into preparations for the next year. “Something that we learned in the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, is that sometimes it is best to have private sector do its response rather than the federal government trying to go in and do it better or do it first. In Puerto Rico, we were loading C-17s and ships with food and water. It turned out there was plenty of food and water on the island. There was a 30-day supply of food and water that we were unaware of because we didn’t have visibility into that. We didn’t understand that the grocery stores and markets and other private sector stores had stockpiles there,” Kaniewski told Government Matters. “So, when Hurricane Lane hit, the first hurricane of 2018, we had visibility into what the private sector was doing. Specifically, grocery stores. We knew that the grocers on the island had supplies for several weeks. Several days in the stores, and maybe a week or more in warehouses… We prepositioned assets to make sure that our assistance could follow the private sector’s.”