WASHINGTON – Governor Pat Quinn today delivered the keynote address at the National Journal's Natural Disaster Forum in Washington, D.C., where he discussed Illinois’ preparedness and response to several major natural disasters and called for needed changes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) disaster aid criteria. Under Governor Quinn’s leadership the state of Illinois has managed response to disasters ranging from deadly tornadoes to recent extreme winter storms. The Governor is working with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and the congressional delegation pass legislation to improve the federal formula in the disaster assistance process and help more people rebuild their lives.
“Illinois has faced a record number of historic natural disasters in recent years,” Governor Quinn said. “Disaster assistance shouldn’t be based on an outdated formula that excludes some of our hardest-hit communities. FEMA has been a great partner in helping individuals and businesses recover, and this legislation will allow them to assist even more communities with disaster recovery.”
In the last five years, Illinois has been through 11 natural disasters, including a record drought in 2012; deadly tornadoes in 2012 and 2013; historic winter storms earlier this year; and floods, including the spring 2013 flooding in 49 counties that broke all-time records on four major river systems.
The severe winter weather in Jan. 2014 again saw the mobilization of state resources at Governor Quinn’s direction – stranded motorists were rescued, roads kept open, warming centers provided and assistance offered to keep homes and businesses heated.
Governor Quinn also directed state agencies to assist citizens, businesses and local governments when catastrophic flash floods struck Illinois in April 2013. The Governor mobilized all available state resources to aid in cleanup and recovery, including debris removal, repairs, sandbagging, evacuations, supply deliveries and a grace period to file tax returns.
State assistance was also assembled for severe storms and flooding in June and July 2011, August 2010, and July 2009; tornadoes in June 2010; and severe winter storms in March 2009 and March 2011.
A tornado outbreak on Nov. 17, 2013 killed eight people, damaged or destroyed 2,500 homes and severely impacted the towns of Brookport, Gifford, New Minden, Diamond and Washington, Ill. The state was struck by 25 confirmed tornadoes in three hours, including two EF-4 twisters, the first ever of that strength during November. Governor Quinn successfully secured federal aid to assist people and businesses in 15 counties just nine days after the tornadoes caused widespread destruction across the state. However, FEMA denied the state’s request for federal assistance to help local governments in nine impacted counties, based on the existing federal criteria.
These recent disasters highlight the need to update FEMA’s criteria for awarding federal disaster aid. Legislation introduced in the U.S. House and Senate would bring more fairness to the federal disaster declaration process.
The Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act of 2014 will give FEMA a clearer, more substantive formula when evaluating disaster areas. It will modify a flawed system that places small and rural communities in highly populated states at a disadvantage in the federal disaster declaration process. The bill assigns a specific weight to each of the factors already used by FEMA, and adds other economic factors for the agency to consider when determining whether or not an area should receive federal assistance.
Governor Quinn directed state agencies to assemble an $8.8 million aid package for the Harrisburg, Ill. area when FEMA was unable to provide aid to local governments for a Feb. 29, 2012 tornado that killed seven people. Several state of Illinois agencies provided funding and manpower to clean up, rebuild and improve storm-ravaged areas of southern Illinois as a part of Governor Quinn’s commitment to make all possible assistance available to the area. The Governor also supported and signed a new state law preventing an increase in property taxes when a person rebuilds a home that was destroyed in a disaster.
Governor Quinn has also led the charge for improved state infrastructure so Illinois’ vital transportation routes and water supplies are better equipped for what Mother Nature throws at the state. Shortly after taking office, Governor Quinn proposed, and the Illinois General Assembly passed, a $31 billion infrastructure construction program. In addition, the Illinois Tollway established a $12 billion construction program and the Governor created a $2 billion Clean Water Initiative to improve drinking and wastewater systems. Most recently the Governor announced legislation to expand the program to address flood and stormwater management issues in communities throughout Illinois.
Last year, Governor Quinn was appointed to the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. The task force will recommend ways to strengthen the way states and the nation respond to natural disasters.