The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has released a new internal report evaluating how it handled the 2017 hurricane season, in which it acknowledges it was unprepared for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
The 2017 hurricane season was unusually destructive, causing a combined $265 billion in damage. The report notes there were three major hurricanes — Harvey, Irma, and Maria — in quick succession, while California simultaneously battled wildfire — all of which resulted in more requests for assistance than the previous 10 years combined.
According to the report, “the unprecedented scale and rapid succession of these disasters stretched response and recovery capabilities at all levels of government.”
For example, Hurricane Irma struck the U.S. Virgin Islands just weeks before Maria hit Puerto Rico, so FEMA depleted supplies in its Puerto Rican warehouse to aid the U.S. Virgin Islands. Ultimately, more than 80% of the Puerto Rican warehouse’s inventory was distributed — but there was not enough time to restock the supplies before Maria hit Puerto Rico.
The report also reveals how the agency struggled in Puerto Rico with unqualified staff; communication issues; and logistical problems such as transporting supplies to the island and tracking resources.
The 65-page report placed significant focus on the need to properly anticipate and plan in the future for any and all national disasters; it included the following three steps to ensure FEMA is better equipped to assist Americans in need in the future:
- Building a culture of preparedness,
- Readying the nation for catastrophic disasters, and
- Reducing the complexity of FEMA.
It also recommends developing a “more comprehensive understanding of local, regional, and national supply chains, as well as stronger relationships with critical private sector partners to support rapid restoration in response to catastrophic incidents.”
Unfortunately, in the meantime, Puerto Rico is still struggling — ten months after Maria hit the island.
According to the New York Times, roughly 1,000 households in Puerto Rico still do not have power, while the Associated Press reported last month that thousands of people are using plastic tarps to protect their still-damaged homes from the sun or rain. Meanwhile, CNN recently reported there has been an outbreak of bacterial disease in Puerto Rico.
The federal response to Maria has been wholly inadequate. Puerto Rico is an American territory, and Puerto Ricans are American citizens. The richest country in the world should be better equipped to aid its people, who have been suffering for months from a national disaster. It’s difficult to imagine that a mainland city like Houston would have suffered with so little attention from the federal government, press, or public.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.