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A New Law Requires Agencies to Better Prepare for Natural Disasters

Supporters say the law is more important than ever given the growing frequency and severity of storms.

Federal agencies will soon have to think more carefully about their exposure to risks from natural disasters, with President Biden on Monday signing into law a measure that will force agencies to respond more deliberately to climate change. 

The Disaster Resiliency Planning Act (S. 3510) will task agencies with incorporating their specific exposure to catastrophic events into their asset management and investment decisions. Lawmakers who supported the bill said the practice has become particularly important in recent years given the growing number of disasters each year with billion dollar price tags. 

The measure was introduced with bipartisan support and ultimately passed both chambers unanimously. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and wrote the bill, said when the House passed the measure last month it would both increase safety and save the government money.  

“The federal government—the nation’s largest property owner—must work to limit financial damages to public buildings after extreme weather events,” Peters said. “By ensuring that agencies are investing in resilient infrastructure that can stand up to increasingly extreme natural disasters, this legislation will protect our federal property assets and save taxpayer dollars.”

Peters and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said they put forward the bill to follow a recommendation from the Government Accountability Office, which found in a report last year that agencies were spending billions of dollars annually fixing up government-owned hospitals, offices, roads, bridges and other properties after disasters struck. Scott said he learned in Florida that pre-disaster mitigation can save lives and better protecting government assets will mean federal buildings are “safer when disaster inevitably strikes.” 

In a September markup of the bill, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, highlighted that the frequency and severity of natural disasters are increasing due to climate change. 

“As the largest real property owner in the United States, the federal government’s fiscal exposure to natural disasters is deeply concerning,” Maloney said, “and the federal government lacks a comprehensive, strategic approach to resilience.” 

Business leaders and other outside groups have also praised the new law, noting the widespread benefits of investing in smarter infrastructure and ensuring federal dollars are spent more efficiently. By developing risk assessments and resilience plans, they said, agencies can make more informed decisions about the buildings and maintenance in which they want to invest. 

The Biden administration has taken several steps to ensure agencies are better prepared for climate change, including by requiring them to consider the impacts of their infrastructure projectsbudget and contracts on the crisis. President Biden has also issued an order requiring all agencies to be carbon-neutral by 2050.