Host: President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas as the state struggles with fallout from a winter storm that has killed at least two dozen people and caused widespread blackouts and water shortages. Millions of residents of what is the U.S.’s biggest oil and gas producer have had to contend with days of electricity outages and nearly half of all Texans are still suffering from disruptions to their water services. There’s also been long queues for food handouts, with shelves empty in some supermarkets. The authorities have reported 10 deaths due to hypothermia.
Marcie Roth worked at the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA for 8 years under President Obama. Currently she’s head of WID or World Institute on Disability, which is helping with the relief effort in Texas.
And Marcie there has been some improvement has there?
Marcie: There has been some improvement for some people but the people who are most disproportionately impacted in disasters are as usual experiencing a lack of assistance at this time.
Host: And what are you able to provide them?
Marcie: We as part of the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, a national coalition, working together to support local communities in disasters, we’ve been responding to requests from the Houston mayor’s office looking for water. We’ve been attempting to connect local organizations with the resources that they need to meet the needs of people who at this very moment are not getting any assistance.
Host: As a veteran of disaster management, what went wrong, what has gone wrong in Texas?
Marcie: You know what’s gone wrong in Texas is a perpetual problem that we have seen for as long as I can remember and that is every time there’s a disaster, there’s an after-action report that identifies all the things that went wrong and then very little happens to address those.
What happened in Texas certainly has been compounded by the challenges that we’re all dealing with in navigating the pandemic, but 10 years ago a similar incident in Texas identified the very problems that Texas is experiencing right now.
These are the very same problems that could be occurring – well are occurring in a number of impacted states and could be occurring in any states right now.
As long we continue to admire these problems and not invest in improving infrastructure, and as long as we talk about equity but don’t actually invest in the kind of equitable approaches that serve the whole community, we’re going to continue to see this sort of failure again and again. And the consequences are deadly.
Host: And I think you’ve already touched upon low income groups are always disproportionately affected in these situations.
Marcie: Uh-uh, that’s right. People who experience poverty, people who are multiply marginalized, people of color who also have disabilities or have, you know, health disparities, these are the folks who time and again are not at the table at planning are then left behind in response.
Host: Marcie Roth, head of the World Institute on Disability, who worked at the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 8 years under President Obama.