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Peter Gaynor, FEMA Nominee, Quizzed about Puerto Rico in Senate Hearing

“So Mr. Gaynor, how will you seek to prepare FEMA to be able to handle the next Puerto Rico-style emergency?” The question came as members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held hearings with Peter Gaynor, nominee for the position of Deputy Administrator of FEMA.

Gaynor was the director of the Providence Emergency Management Agency and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency. He was also previously responsible for security at Camp David and was in charge of Plans, Policy and Operations at Marine Corps Headquarters after the Sept. 11 bombings. he served in the Marines for 26 years.

“If confirmed,” Gaynor said in a prepared statement for the hearings, “it will be my honor to serve in what I consider to be the most challenging job of government—helping communities reduce the risks associated with future disasters, while assisting disaster survivors all across the country.
He continued, “I look forward to supporting Administrator Long’s three overarching Strategic Goals: Building a Culture of Preparedness, Readying the Nation for Catastrophic Disasters, and Reducing the Complexity of FEMA. I will also work relentlessly and with purpose to better strengthen national preparedness and resilience to weather the next hazard or threat.”

Questions about Puerto Rico

While Gaynor did not mention Puerto Rico in his statement, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) asked what Gaynor would do to help FMEA get ready for another disaster like Hurricane Maria’s destruction in Puerto Rico.

Gaynor spoke about making sure that states are prepared. “There’s always work to be done,” Gaynor said. “I’m not sure FEMA is really built for a catastrophic season like 2017.”

Hassan insisted. “When a flood wipes out an entire town, you can’t turn around and say, ‘Get your fire trucks out.’ Your fire trucks are under water.” If state and local resources are wiped out, she said, “FEMA has to be the last resort when everything else has run out.”

“We may coordinate,” Gaynor said of FEMA, “but it requires everyone to participate.”

Hassan expressed a desire to continue the conversation further at a later time.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) brought up the problem of emergency food provision contracts in Puerto Rico. Contractors in several cases failed to provide the work they were hired for.

McCaskill suggested training programs, better local preparation, and a plan to take bids on emergency services before the emergency is underway. The worst time to take bids, she said, is when there is a situation of dire need. “Prepositioned contracts” she said, “save the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.”

Gaynor suggested a survey to see which states already have prepositioned contracts.

Gaynor did not mention Puerto Rico in his answers to those questions. He spoke instead about “states” and kept his responses general.

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