The coalition, ProtectingAmerica.org, an organization of emergency management officials, first responders, disaster relief experts, insurers and others, also released the findings of a national survey that found that nearly half of all Americans feel personally vulnerable to a major natural catastrophe. The survey also found that 70 percent of respondents say the country is still not prepared to deal with catastrophe and that they support Congressional action to reduce the financial and economic consequences of catastrophe.
"The catastrophes of the last hurricane season were a wake-up call to America, and this survey is a wake-up call to Congress. By a margin of nearly three-to-one, Americans are saying 'we're not prepared and we want the Congress to do something about it'," Witt said.
"As we have traveled throughout the country discussing the potential for the onslaught of a mega-catastrophe, it has become absolutely clear that families are frightened by the prospect of not being able to rebuild and recover in the aftermath of a disaster," Witt said.
"The likelihood of ever more-fierce hurricanes making landfall anywhere from the Gulf Coast to New England, the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Earthquake, and the ever-menacing possibility of a replay of the New Madrid earthquakes in the American Heartland, are fueling an understandable and responsible call to action on the part of the American people," Admiral Loy said.
"This coalition has come together to push for the enactment of an integrated local, state and national solution that helps America be better prepared and protected from the ravages of catastrophe and the economic consequences that follow," Loy added.
At the core of ProtectingAmerica.org's mission is the establishment of a comprehensive, national catastrophe management solution that will increase public awareness through improved education; allow for better coordination with state, federal and local mitigation and recovery efforts; strengthen emergency response and improve financial mechanisms to rebuild after a major catastrophe. The organization supports permanent changes that will lead to continuous improvements in the way we prepare for and recover from catastrophe.
ProtectingAmerica.org and its local affiliates are supporting the enactment of state and national programs that would include privately financed catastrophe funds as backstops to the private insurance market. These funds would be financed by deposits from private insurance companies; interest earnings would be exempt from taxes. The funds' private deposits and the majority of the earnings could only be used to cover replacement and rebuilding costs following major catastrophic events. A portion of the earnings could be used to increase public and consumer education, strengthen first responders, enhance building codes and improve their enforcement.
Legislation (H.R. 4366) that would establish a privately funded national catastrophe fund that would serve as a backup to state catastrophe funds has been introduced in the Congress by a bipartisan team of representatives from Florida, New York and Michigan. The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), attended the press conference today.
"Natural catastrophes are national problems that need national solutions," said Rep. Brown-Waite. "This isn't about earthquakes on the West Coast or hurricanes on the East Coast. It's about natural catastrophes that can strike virtually anywhere in America. Implementing a national catastrophic insurance fund will help local communities recover quickly and efficiently from the next natural disaster."
The coalition's survey found that by a margin of 76-to-12, respondents support the concept of a privately funded national catastrophe fund and catastrophe management solution modeled after the program included in H.R. 4366.
The survey of 1,000 registered voters was conducted between February 7 and 16 jointly by The Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies, two of the nation's leading polling and survey research organizations. The survey has a margin or error of +/-3.1 percent.
Joining Witt, Loy and Rep. Brown-Waite were several members of the coalition including representatives of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association, Operation HOPE, and others.
"Operation HOPE joined ProtectingAmerica.org because we have seen firsthand the hardship that lack of preparedness can cause," said John Bryant, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, Incorporated. "Operation HOPE's mission is to improve the financial literacy of Americans, and that includes protecting families' assets from the devastation natural catastrophes can cause. ProtectingAmerica.org shares that vision with Operation HOPE."
ProtectingAmerica.org has affiliates in New York and in California. Other state affiliates will be announced in the coming months.
James Lee Witt is the CEO and Chairman of James Lee Witt Associates, LLC a public safety and emergency management consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.
Admiral Loy is senior counselor with The Cohen Group, a global strategic consulting firm.