FEMA administrator Brock Long was interviewed on CNN as Atlantic States prepared for Hurricane Florence’s landfall. He emphasized the importance of “pre-positioning” — getting funds and response teams in place ahead of time rather than waiting until after the disaster occurs.
Long spoke of disaster response as a chair with four legs:
- federal government
- state and local government
- the private sector
“If all four legs of that chair are present going into the response and recovery,” Long remarked, “then the disaster goes really well, like we saw in Harvey and Irma.”
Long said that these legs were not all “present” in the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, but that he felt his agency did a “phenomenal job.”
Peter Gaynor used the same chair image in his testimony during a Senate hearing last month. He also focused on “pre-positioning.”
CNN interviewer Alisyn Camerota acknowledged the chair metaphor, but also asked, “There were 2,975 people killed in Puerto Rico as a result of Maria, and so is there anything that FEMA and the federal government could have done better?”
Long expressed concern about the deaths in Puerto Rico but wanted to distinguish between direct consequences of the hurricane and the ongoing results of the lack of electric power and potable water and so on.
“There’s a lot of things that come after disasters occur in the long-term,” said Long. “But what I really believe is that we have to concentrate on the pre-disaster mitigation, fix the infrastructure that was crumbling before the storms in [Puerto Rico] so that we prevent this from ever happening again.”
President Trump described the federal response to Hurricane Maria as an “incredible unsung success” on ABC. While the administration and FEMA continue to defend the government’s record, new information continues to surface. For example, it appears that “millions of water bottles” were never distributed and are still sitting at an airport.
FEMA’s own review of their actions admitted that “enhancements to the planning process and format are needed to improve usability during operations” and that “FEMA could have better leveraged open-source information and preparedness data, such as capability assessments and exercise findings, for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
The report also mentioned “staffing shortages,” inefficiency,” and ” limited situational awareness.” However, the recommendations in the report, like the interviews, emphasize the importance of helping local governments prepare for disasters.