WASHINGTON – As we near wildfire season, some California lawmakers are raising concerns about FEMA readiness amid the coronavirus. We’ve already experienced several near 4.0-magnitude earthquakes, and FEMA admitted it is expecting other natural disasters like wildfires to hit the state.
But there aren’t any new guidelines for the public to understand how FEMA is changing its response, which ignited Senator Kamala Harris’ focus on FEMA.
Harris, along with dozens of other Democrats, is pushing to hear how FEMA is fully prepared to carry out its mission in responding to natural disasters during this pandemic.
FEMA’s Regional Administrator, Robert Fenton, said he wants to assure everyone, his agency has been reevaluating its response.
“What we’re doing is revising our plans to have to make decisions earlier,” Fenton said. “So what California is doing now is to order more PPE into the state, not only to reopen it but to have it available as we go into fire season for these situations.”
But Harris said that’s not enough.
She wants “clear guidelines” for how the pandemic can reshape emergencies.
Fenton said he recently met with management groups like CalFire and the National Guard and they’re reassessing situations like evacuations. Instead of having everyone escape to one building, they have plans to open more shelters and are stocking up on non-traditional supplies that may be needed amid the pandemic.
“The protocols haven’t changed,” Fenton said. “What has changed is basically, now we have to take into account that we’re doing this in the COVID environment.”
Harris said she feels like the lack of “clear guidelines” puts a burden on the shoulders of local and state governments. But Fenton said he’s working closely with local leaders for programs like Project Airbridge, which is meant to transport PPE from overseas into local hospitals at expedited rates.
“The resources, the PPR, is drastically increasing and in the month of May, I think we’re going to be at the point where we’ve caught up to the demand,” Fenton said.
Some states blame FEMA for slow PPE response, but Fenton said manufacturing everywhere is slowing down due to heightened demand, of up to 600%. He said this is “uncharted territory” but they’re working quickly to get up to speed and then stay ahead.
Senator Harris said she just needs to know the exact steps the agency will take to respond to each and every disaster that could hit amid this pandemic.