Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas delivered the following remarks in his keynote address to the #WinterReady Extreme Cold Summit.
Victoria, thank you so much for the too-kind introduction, and thank you so much for your superb work on behalf of people across this country. Thanks to all of you for giving me a few minutes to share some thoughts with you.
In Cooke County, Texas, the historical average low temperature in January is 40 degrees. Last Wednesday, it never got above 23 degrees, and it dropped down to nine degrees overnight. This meant that a number of local families, whose homes did not have the central heating or insulation necessary to withstand such an unusual cold front, were forced to rely on space heaters to stay warm.
Electric heaters are useful, but they can be very dangerous when used improperly – space heaters are involved in more than a thousand home fires across the country every year, and factor into the vast majority of home heating-related deaths. Last Wednesday, a Cooke County family of eight was using such a heater to get through the night in their otherwise-unheated home. Shortly after 3:00 am, it sparked a bedroom fire, taking the life of their seven-year-old daughter.
She was one of 95 Americans killed by the effects of extreme cold just last week – from Tennessee, where a patient in an ambulance and the driver of a pickup truck were both killed when the truck skidded out on black ice; to Illinois, where a man froze to death inside his unheated home; to Oregon, where a tree branch weakened by ice and wind took down a power line and killed three people.
Extreme cold can be relative. In Chicago, it might mean sub-zero temperatures and a wind chill 40 degrees below zero, as that city experienced last Tuesday; in Cooke County, Texas, 23 degrees was extreme. That makes extreme cold a potential threat to the safety and security of every American, everywhere – one that demands the same urgency, collaboration, and commitment that government has brought to extreme weather events like hurricanes, heat waves, and other events exacerbated by climate change.
That is why we at the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA launched the #WinterReady public safety awareness campaign, and that is why we have convened all of you: federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial leaders; emergency managers; and non-profit administrators for the #WinterReady Extreme Cold Summit. The DHS workforce, including FEMA and its great Administrator, Deanne Criswell, from whom you’re going to hear in a few minutes, and our partners across the Biden-Harris Administration, will continue to be there not only in your community’s moments of need, but well before then too, as we work together to prevent grave harm from ever occurring. We are here today to help streamline communication and coordination, to help cut through red tape, and to get resilience resources out to every community that needs them.
These resources range from our Hazard Mitigation Assistance programs, including Flood Mitigation Assistance funds and Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC, grants, which help fund climate-smart construction projects, warming centers, backup generators, and more; to our #WinterReady partner toolkit, which provides individuals and communities with free tips on how to keep homes warm, travel safely, and prevent heating-related fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Just as important, this summit is an opportunity for each of us to connect with and learn from one another. The lessons learned in Dallas or Buffalo today may prove valuable in Atlanta or Seattle tomorrow. Homeland Security is fundamentally an exercise in partnerships, and when it comes to extreme cold, the impact of our work together can be measured in lives saved.
Thank you all so very much for taking the time to join us today. I am grateful for your partnership, and for your continued commitment to ensuring the safety and resilience of our communities. I hope you find the Summit enriching and enjoyable. Thanks so much.