WASHINGTON, D.C. — When almost two dozen tornadoes touched down in Ohio on Memorial Day 2019, it was a stark reminder of the threat natural disasters pose to the Buckeye State.

What You Need To Know

  • The head of Ohio’s Emergency Management Agency testified before the U.S. Senate on Wednesday

  • The hearing focused on how natural disasters are worsening because of climate change

  • Sima Merick said Ohio’s agency is well-prepared for active and slower weather months

  • She asked senators to have FEMA coordinate all federal resources

Sima Merick operates the Ohio Emergency Management Agency that responds to many of them.

“I believe that Ohio is very resource rich, we're a strong state, we have a lot of trainings and plannings,” she told Spectrum News in an interview.

Merick testified before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday in a hearing focused on how natural disasters are worsening as the climate changes.

Jennifer Pipa, with the American Red Cross, said climate-related disasters like hurricanes and wildfires have increased six-fold in the last 40 years.

“By 2030, we anticipate responding to a significant climate emergency every 10 to 12 days, a near constant state of response, leaving our communities in a chronic state of recovery,” she testified.

Even Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters — who hosted the hearing to mark National Preparedness Month — acknowledged the realities of the changing climate.

“We have seen, over the past couple of years, the most damaging wildfires, droughts and hurricanes in our recent history,” Portman said.

Peters added, “Driven by climate change, these extreme storms, hurricanes, wildfires and floods are becoming more frequent and more destructive each and every year.” 

Merick, who also serves as president of the National Emergency Management Association, told senators that responding to natural disasters during the pandemic has created new hurdles for state and local agencies because different federal partners are in charge of certain programs.

She testified that she wants the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to be the point agency for everything.

“Let FEMA be the coordinator of federal resources instead of forcing us at the state level to fumble our way through the federal government,” Merick said in the hearing.

She called Wednesday’s hearing productive and told Spectrum News she wants Ohioans to know her agency is prepared for active weather moments, like May 2019, or quieter times.

“Disaster preparedness occurs, whether they're intense, whether they’re run of the mill, whether they’re annual,” Merick said.