Every year, Americans lose billions of dollars to natural hazards. Hurricanes, wildfires, floods, heat waves, and droughts affect millions of Americans and are particularly devastating for low-income communities and communities of color. The number of ‘billion-dollar disasters’—those that cause over a billion dollars in damage—is rising as a result of climate change, urbanization, high risk developments, communities in vulnerable areas, aging infrastructure, and federal policy that rewards risk-prone behavior rather than incentivizing risk reduction. An overhaul of U.S. federal disaster policy will reverse the trend and eliminate billion-dollar disasters. This goal requires action at all levels of government, coordination across agencies, and leadership from the highest levels.
The Biden-Harris Administration should implement a multi-phase plan beginning with an executive order instructing federal agencies to define federal roles in disaster response, coordinate agency efforts, and integrate social justice and climate change into decision-making. Agency-level mandates will develop and implement best practices, incentivize state and local measures, and create an evidentiary basis for funding allocations. Finally, legislative reform of disaster laws will enable flexible responses to the continuing effects of climate change. A coordinated overhaul of federal laws and policies will inspire change at state and local levels, leading to a U.S. disaster policy that is climate-ready, addresses social inequities, reduces taxpayer liability and disaster damage, and saves lives.