September is National Preparedness Month, and as we mark this month we must remember our most vulnerable communities and the lessons learned from previous disasters. Doing so will enable us to better prepare these communities and strengthen our responses to future disasters.
Global warming has made larger and more damaging storms the new normal. In recent years, we have seen an unprecedented increase in the rate and severity of hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, winter weather, and sea level rise. This dangerous trend has devastated communities across the nation — and without proper preparation, the next big disaster could hit home with catastrophic effects.
For me, home is North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District — a District that has high unemployment and poverty. Global warming and natural disasters affect everyone, however the impacts are even greater on low-income residents who live in neighborhoods that are economically depressed, overexposed to hazardous waste, and have infrastructure that cannot weather today’s storms. Unfortunately, many of our disaster recovery policies fail to take this into consideration, leaving many of these low-income communities in the path of destruction.
Hurricane Katrina is a painful reminder of this very lesson. Inner city residents were not adequately prepared for this unprecedented disaster. Residents in the heaviest hit areas such as New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward could not afford to evacuate, floodwaters were contaminated, and the flawed levee system was easily breached. The consequences for this lack of sufficient preparation for these at risk communities were grave. Thousands of lives were lost and total damage has been estimated at over one hundred billion dollars.
It’s time to break this catastrophic cycle and take immediate action to prepare all of our communities — paying special attention to those at greatest risk. We must ensure these communities and their unique needs have a voice when it comes to disaster planning and climate change policy so that we can bolster their resilience and reduce the impacts of intensifying storms.
But preparedness doesn’t just stop there, preparedness begins at home. This month, and every month, I encourage you to develop an evacuation plan and take the steps necessary to protect yourself and your loved ones when a disaster occurs. The already noticeable harms of global warming show no sign of stopping. The time to prepare is now.
Congresswoman Alma S. Adams represents North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District. She serves on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, the House Committee on Small Business, the House Committee on Agriculture, and the House Joint Economic Committee. Additionally, she is a member of the Congressional Safe Climate Caucus.