Presidential Radio Address - 18 April 1998
Good morning. Although Hillary and I are in Chile, far from home today, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas, who have suffered the latest in a series of tornadoes that swept through the South with ferocious force.
Yesterday I spoke with the Vice President, who was in his home State of Tennessee to see the damage, comfort the victims, and reassure the people of Tennessee that we're standing ready to help them in this time of crisis.
It's often been said that when disaster strikes, the things that divide us fall away as neighbor helps neighbor and stranger reaches out to stranger. We saw this just a year ago tomorrow in Grand Forks, North Dakota, when flood and fire nearly destroyed the entire city but could not destroy the spirit of its residents or stop its newspaper, the Grand Forks Herald, which just this week was awarded the Pulitzer Price for public service. We saw it again this winter in New England, when ice storms isolated entire communities but couldn't keep people apart. And we saw it in Florida and Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, as tornadoes have torn towns to pieces but have not taken away people's hope.
These natural disasters have tested our faith, and tragically, they have taken many lives. But they've also reminded us of the enduring power of the American people to overcome calamity and the commitment of our national community to help people rebuild their communities. There are some challenges no individual—indeed, no community—can handle alone. When faced with them, all of us have a responsibility to act through our National Government.
For more than 5 years, we've worked hard to make our Government smaller but more effective, with less redtape and more flexibility. Under the leadership of Vice President Gore, we have reinvented Government so that it better serves the American taxpayers, more effectively targets its efforts, and can respond more quickly to crises.
There's no better example of what this new kind of Government can do than FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I was Governor of a State that had more than its fair share of natural disasters for a dozen years. So when I became President, I vowed that the Federal Government would help communities respond to the ravages of nature. When I took office, disaster relief became one of our highest priorities. And our efforts were led by the very able person who had headed our effort in Arkansas when I was Governor, James Lee Witt.
With the Vice President's commitment and James Lee Witt as its driving force, FEMA has gone from being a disaster itself, in the eyes of many, to becoming a model of disaster relief, recognized around the world for its skill, speed, and dedication. It used to take hours of waiting in line to register for assistance; now it takes only minutes over the telephone. It used to take over a month to receive that assistance; now it takes about a week. And our "one stop shopping" disaster recovery centers are helping people to rebuild their lives, their businesses, and their homes more quickly than ever.
We know every dollar spent on disaster preparedness and prevention saves two or more dollars in future costs. That's why FEMA also has launched Project Impact, building disaster-resistant communities through partnerships with the private sector, volunteer groups, community organizations. FEMA has already started seven of these pilot projects, and we're working to put a Project Impact community in every State by this fall.
I thank the dedicated public servants at the reinvented FEMA and other agencies for restoring citizen confidence in their Government simply by doing their jobs well.
One year after the flood waters receded, the work of rebuilding communities continues in Grand Forks. And FEMA is still there to help, just as it is there to help in tornado-ravaged Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
In the worst of situations, we see the best in our citizens and our public servants. As I work here in Chile with other democratic leaders from our hemisphere at the second Summit of the Americas to bring the benefits of the modern world to all our people, it's reassuring to know that old-fashioned American values of neighborly care and concern will be a constant in our lives, no matter what good fortune or new trials the 21st century brings.
Thanks for listening.