Side Note

Government watchdog concludes FEMA wasn’t ready for last year’s hurricane season

Three hurricanes — Irma, Jose, and Katia — make their way through the Atlantic in 2017.

Three hurricanes — Irma, Jose, and Katia — make their way through the Atlantic in 2017.

No shit.

About a year ago, the United States experienced an unprecedented bad run for natural disasters. Hurricane Harvey happened, and its destruction was quickly followed by damage caused Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. And while that was happening, the entire west coast was basically on fire. While this would have been a lot for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deal with even under the best of circumstances, according to findings from the Government Accountability Office, FEMA was largely unprepared to provide adequate disaster-relief aid during last year’s hurricane season.

“The 2017 disasters overwhelmed FEMA’s workforce,” the GAO wrote on its blog, adding that the agency “was not prepared to deploy personnel to four near-simultaneous disasters.” These issued were exacerbated by the fact that “FEMA struggled to both train and retain employees.” According to the report, over half of FEMA’s workforce were essentially useless when it came time to actually provide aid to affected regions, because they weren’t actually qualified to perform the duties they were supposed to perform.

The report also cites Puerto Rico’s “limited preparedness” for Hurricane Maria as having exacerbated the issues FEMA faced. However, if that’s truly the case, it’s the federal government’s fault, not Puerto Rico’s. About a hundred years ago, the federal government encouraged Puerto Rico to raise infrastructure capital through selling tax-exempt municipal bonds, over the years borrowing so much money that it has effectively become a debtor state to its creditors. In 2016, a federal government panel assumed control of Puerto Rico’s finances, effectively imposing austerity measures on the island. It doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to see how such an arrangement might have made things worse for Puerto Rico when Maria hit.

With Hurricane Florence right around the corner, we can only hope that FEMA has taken the necessary steps to provide disaster aid this time around.