Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on Weathering the Storm: The Need for a National Hurricane Initiative

July 28, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As a nation, we depend on critical infrastructure and basic services everyday: We can talk to family and friends across the nation, drive on well-marked, safe roads, and rely on a robust public safety system to come to our aid in emergencies. But if we want to make sure that essential foundation is there when we need it most, we must continue to invest in cutting-edge technology and the latest research.

Every year, hurricanes strike this nation, threatening enormous devastation and great loss. Approximately 100 related deaths occur annually with damages in the United States alone averaging an estimated $11.4 billion annually.
On August 29th, it will be four years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region, resulting in $125 billion dollars in damages and over 1833 reported deaths.  Yet, as we approach this anniversary, over 10,000 people still live in New Orleans without permanent or adequate housing. Those who chose to stay after the storm are left with mediocre government services and substandard living.
Whenever our country’s less fortunate citizens suffer, our nation suffers as a whole and it is the responsibility of those elected to serve—from the federal government to local communities—to do all we can now and in the future to make sure a tragedy like this never happens again.
Hurricanes are a frequent reminder that we must be prepared for the worst—and that by investing in our communities we can help them weather storms better and recover more quickly.
It is easy to assume that only coastal states must prepare for hurricanes, but that could not be further from the truth.  Inland states, such as West Virginia, feel the effects of hurricanes through severe thunderstorms, flooding, and tornadoes.  In 2003, Hurricane Isabel hit the Northeast and caused significant damage in my state. West Virginia ultimately received more than $1.5 million from FEMA to assist in our recovery efforts.
With today’s hearing, I hope to highlight and discuss some of the Federal research going on right now to better understand the basic science of hurricanes: Where are the data gaps? And what more do we need to improve hurricane forecasting?
In addition, we will focus on mitigating hurricane damage by improving building codes to create more hurricane-resistant structures and maintaining coastal areas as buffers from storm surges and beach erosion.
Of course, long after a hurricane has struck and the television reporters and aid workers have gone home, the hard work of recovery continues in communities across the nation, even as they prepare for the next storm.
Today’s witnesses understand those challenges and I want to thank them for joining us here today. We really do have an all-star panel representing both private and public sectors, government and academia. I look forward to your testimony.