Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at FEMA’s virtual Extreme Heat Summit on August 28, 2023.
Thanks so much, Tom. Thank you all for joining us today, and for your work in this critically important area.
You know, when it is 110 degrees outside, your body has to work overtime to cool itself off. After just seconds outside, your heart automatically begins to race. A few minutes in that heat can cause headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Every additional minute increases the likelihood that your organs overheat to the point of failure, leading to hallucinations, seizures, blood poisoning, and even death.
Over the last two weeks, that was the daily reality people faced in parts of Texas and Florida – but also in parts of Wisconsin and South Dakota. It was the threat 1.6 million residents of Phoenix, Arizona, the fifth-largest city in the country, lived under for a record-setting 31 straight days last month, causing up to 350 deaths and nearly 3,000 hospitalizations – disproportionately children, older adults, and homeless people.
110 degrees is not a nice day at the beach. Extreme heat is no longer a looming threat in a climate change-driven future. It is an urgent, dangerous, and deadly problem in our country today. 1 in 3 Americans are currently living under a heat alert, and heat is already the number one weather-related cause of death in the United States – about 700 Americans are killed by extreme heat every year.
It is a crisis that is only going to grow worse, and impact more communities – north, south, east and west – in the years ahead.
It is not only people who are in danger from extreme heat – so is our critical infrastructure. Sustained extreme heat can cripple our roadways, runways, railways, electrical grids, and other critical infrastructure, severely curtailing our ability to surge resources to communities in need and compounding the human cost.
Keeping Americans safe is the highest priority of the entire Biden-Harris Administration, and it is our founding mission here at the Department of Homeland Security. Mitigating the impacts of extreme heat will require all of us, at every level of government, to work together closely and invest now in preparedness and resilience.
That is why we have convened this summit. We’re here to help streamline communication and coordination, to help cut through red tape, and to get resources out to every community that needs them.
These resources range from the first-of-its-kind resource guide we unveiled last week, which provides a best practices roadmap for communities to develop extreme heat risk-assessment and response plans, to our Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC, grants, which help fund climate-smart construction projects, backup generators, cooling centers, and more.
Earlier today, in fact, our Administration, the Biden-Harris Administration, announced the project selections for $1.8 billion in new BRIC grant funding, alongside nearly $650 million in additional extreme weather-heat mitigation assistance funding. These awards build on the nearly $200 million in resilience funding announced earlier this summer, and include projects in 23 states receiving their first BRIC or Flood Mitigation Assistance funding award.
These projects are a truly lifeline for communities across the country. My colleagues will detail them, and future funding opportunities, over the next 90 minutes.
Just as important, though, this summit is an opportunity for each of us to connect with and learn from one other.
What are the impacts of extreme heat that you are already seeing in your communities? What have you already done to help mitigate the impact of extreme heat? How can other government leaders take your efforts and adapt them to fit the unique needs of their own communities?
Governor Edwards, for example, from whom you’ll be hearing shortly, will be speaking about Louisiana’s efforts. How are those efforts applicable to Wisconsin? How are the lessons we are already learning from the tragic wildfires in Maui relevant to dry, arid climates in Texas? What steps are hospitals, power grids, schools, community centers, and constituents already taking to prepare for next summer’s heat? I am really grateful that Governor Edwards and other leaders are lending their time and lived expertise today.
Over just the last few months, we have seen the DHS workforce, FEMA, Administrator Criswell, and the entire Administration deliver for communities in their moments of need – in Hawaii, California, Kentucky, New York, Vermont, Florida, and too many more. We are going to continue to be there wherever and whenever communities are threatened by extreme weather, including over the coming days as Tropical Storm Idalia bears down on Florida.
But as Administrator Criswell will tell you, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When it comes to extreme heat, that worth is measured in lives.
Thank you – thanks to all of you for being here today. I am grateful for your partnership and your commitment to ensuring the health, safety, strength, and resilience of our country.