What a Disasterologist Would Ask Clinton & Trump about Climate Change, Disasters, and Emergency Management

Credit: NOAA via FEMA

Credit: NOAA via FEMA


The next presidential debate will be held this Sunday. The format is a town hall style which made me think about what I would ask if I were there. There has been some speculation that it would be timely to ask the candidates about climate change at the debate given that Hurricane Matthew has devastated parts of the Caribbean and the east coast of the United States.

Each administration has influenced emergency management in the United States in various ways (see: Rubin & Sylves for a recording of that history). So, it seems prudent and appropriate to ask the candidates their plans for emergency management. Last month I wrote a wildly speculative blog post about how I suspect each candidate views emergency management. As noted in that post, neither candidate has had much to say on the subject.

If given the opportunity I would ask the following questions of each candidate: 

How will your administration incentivize, support, and assist the planning and implementation of mitigation projects across the country, particularly given the urgency of a changed climate?

What role do you see the federal, state, and local governments playing in the long-term recovery of communities and individuals? Is their current role adequate? 

What emergency management related policies will your administration change or create?

What will your administration do to address the lack of federal funding for research related to emergency management and climate change?


Answers to the following questions would prove useful in understanding how they view emergency management. Of course, I could likely guess how each candidate would answer (or not answer) these questions but hearing each candidate address the issue of emergency management, particularly mitigation and recovery would provide actual insight as to what the next four years will look like. This is important and could have far-reaching implications. The layperson likely is unaware the extent to which the federal government does (or could) influence emergency management.

I am more than confident in saying that we will face more diverse and severe hazards in the future. The sooner we implement mitigation to lessen or eliminate those threats the fewer people will die and more communities will be spared.

However, no matter how much we mitigate and prepare there will be communities that experience disasters. We cannot plan our way out of everything.

The next four years will see the recoveries of communities across the country. Some recoveries are already well underway (see: New York, New Jersey, and Detroit), some are newly working on recovery (see: West Virginia and Louisiana), some are about to be newly engaging in recovery (see: Florida), and some will be undergoing multiple recoveries at once (see: South Carolina and Houston, Texas)… and those are just the floods. So, as I have said ad nauseum, we must create a more effective and efficient recovery process. Communities cannot and should not be forced to go through an infuriating decade-long process. We must find politically savvy and financially reasonable ways to support local communities as they plan for and implement equitable and holistic recovery.

Actions taken by the federal government - both in the White House AND in Congress - will influence emergency management... I'd personally like to get a heads up on what we'll be dealing with. 



If you are interested in learning more about emergency management generally and mitigation specifically I was interviewed last month on "America Adapts".

 If you are interested in learning more about recovery I recommend reading this article I wrote for Vox last month (just replace “Louisiana” with “Florida” for a take on Hurricane Matthew).