With hurricane Joaquin intensifying to category 4, citizens all along the East Coast should be preparing for a substantial impact. In the coming days, it is important to remember the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s advice:

  1. Know your evacuation route
  2. Gather supplies (first aid, food, flashlight, etc.)
  3. Establish a family plan (method of contact in case of emergency)
  4. Listen for alerts

So charge your cell phone, watch the Weather Channel, and prepare your home. Joaquin may hit the U.S. or head out to sea, but it’s always better to be prepared than to be scrambling around in the middle of the storm looking for flashlight batteries.

Same goes for Congress. Legislators should be working on making sure that FEMA is prepared for a storm of this magnitude. Hurricane Joaquin is probably the most significant storm of 2015 so far, and no one wants to go through a repeat of prior disasters, like Katrina and Sandy, when FEMA seemed to drop the ball.

Why? Quite simply, FEMA has been stretched way too thin and cannot do it all.

Ever since the passage of the Stafford Act in 1988, more and more disasters have been federalized. There were an average of 28 federal disasters per year under President Reagan, which has grown to about 130 federal disaster declarations each year under Presidents Bush and Obama.

As a result, even with an ever growing budget ($7.033 billion was allocated in fiscal year 2015, to be exact), FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund would still be inadequately prepared for a large-scale disaster due to the countless number of other situations they handle throughout every year. Many of these other disasters are localized disasters that have historically been handled by state and local governments. Now these disasters are consuming more and more of FEMA’s time, money, and focus, leaving less for larger disasters.

America is already swimming in debt; we don’t want to be swimming against a hurricane, too. If FEMA is not forced to more appropriately allot the funds that it is given, the United States will be hard pressed to bear the costs of recovery.

Congress should therefore reform FEMA so that its limited disaster response dollars are focused on disasters that are truly beyond the ability of state and local governments to handle.

FEMA was not designed to respond to every localized disaster. Every time it does, FEMA becomes less able to handle a catastrophic event.

So as Americans prepare for the possibility of Joaquin, Congress should make sure FEMA is prepared in the future.