The federal General Accounting Office (GAO) has released a new report on the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires that contains initial observations on the Federal response and key recovery challenges.
The report notes that in 2017, four sequential disasters – hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and the California wildfires – created an unprecedented demand for federal disaster assistance. According the the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 2017 included three of the top five costliest hurricanes on record.
Given the scale and cost of these disasters, Congress has raised questions about the federal response and various recovery challenges that have arisen since the disasters.
The new report comments on federal/state preparedness and response as well as existing and emerging disaster recovery challenges highlighted by the disasters.
With respect to FEMA, the report found that the agency faced a number of challenges that slowed and complicated its response efforts to Hurricane Maria, particularly in Puerto Rico. Many of these challenges were also highlighted in FEMA’s own 2017 hurricane after action report, including the sequential and overlapping timing of the three hurricanes, logistical challenges complicated efforts to deploy federal resources and personnel quickly given the remote distance of both territories; and limited preparedness by the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico for a Category 5 hurricane. GAO also noted the incapacitation of local response functions due to widespread devastation, resulting in an additional burden on FEMA to assume response functions that territories would usually perform themselves.
The report can be found on the GAO website or by clicking here.