As Hurricane Irene Approaches, Budget Cuts Imperil Ability To Respond To Extreme Weather

Hurricane Irene

Today, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reports that it has upgraded Hurricane Irene to Category 3 status. The hurricane is barreling towards the eastern coastline of the United States, having already pounded the Bahamas and other locations in the Caribbean sea.

As federal, state, and local governments scramble to prepare for the imminent arrival of the hurricane, it is important to look at how budget cuts at all levels of government have imperiled the ability to detect and respond to Hurricane Irene and other similar extreme weather events in the future.

Last week, Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), warned that federal budget cuts will force the agency to go without building a satellite that helps detect extreme weather events five years from now:

Without money to build a new satellite, the federal government will no longer be able to forecast severe weather events far enough in advance for communities to take life-saving action five years from now. That was the message that Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, delivered on Wednesday at a town-hall-style meeting in Denver. […] “Whether the gap is longer than that depends on whether we get the money”— $1 billion — “in the next budget,” warned Dr. Lubchenco, an environmental scientist. “I would argue that these satellites are critically important to saving lives and property and to enabling homeland security.”

Unfortunately, some of the nation’s budget cuts are already hurting the ability of local communities to respond to the incoming Irene. In Palm Beach County, Florida, budget cuts have forced a cutback in the emergency management budget by 16 percent. In South Carolina, another state likely to be battered by Irene, budget cuts have led to a third of the emergency management divisions’ staff being lost. “We’re going to do what we can with less and we think we can be effective in that regard,” said Joe Farmer of the division.

As the far-right continues to demonize government and demand even more austerity, it is important to remember that government spending on things like disaster preparedness not only keeps important employees working but is crucial to saving lives.

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