Question

In response to the many comments on the last posting, the Diva would like to know
To what extent does FEMA assess the capabilities of all of the states and territories prior to a disaster? And how adequate are their assessments?

Generally, I am interested in the extent to which a problematic response can be anticipated.  Specifically, I wonder if FEMA staff knew what the weaknesses were in Puerto Rico re Commonwealth and local emergency management capability before hurricane season started?

 

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5 Responses to Question

  1. JerseyShoreDave says:

    We need to be brutally honest with regards to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. The reason why the island is in such desperate condition many weeks after the storm is not because of FEMA, not because of the federal government, not because it is an island hundreds of miles away from the mainland, but because it is due solely and exclusively to the inability of the local government to manage its own affairs. In particular, the power grid on the island suffered from decades of deferred maintenance, neglect and outright corruption. If the expectation was that FEMA was to magically reverse years of mismanagement in a few weeks is frankly silly.

    In Puerto Rico, FEMA is acting in the role of first responder which should be the responsibility of the island government. As a result, that effort is adversely impacting FEMA’s focus with longer term recovery efforts. If FEMA and the federal government is clearing roads, restoring power to critical facilities, transporting food and water to those in need, providing medical care to those suffering, then what is the local government doing?? The answer is NOTHING, except in the case of the Mayor of San Juan who felt it was more important to find a TV camera than attend meetings with FEMA to coordinate response/recovery efforts, just like other Mayors on the island were doing on behalf of their communities.

    Under the previous administration, FEMA was unable to provide a comprehensive and unified response to Hurricane Sandy that impacted the New York City metro area. Congratulations to Brock Long and his senior management staff for managing three large scale disasters. Their dedication to helping disaster victims should be acknowledged and commended. Keep in mind that Puerto Rico will be the most expensive storm recovery in the nation’s history.

  2. plodinec says:

    Good question. I agree that FEMA should have known there’d be difficulties. What we don’t know is – how much and what kind of difficulties FEMA anticipated. To the best of my knowledge, FEMA has never been challenged in this way before so I’m sure they have learned / are learning a lot.

    One thing that should work in Puerto Rico’s favor is that they won’t have the international community coming in and in effect preventing local businesses from participating in the recovery (as happened in Haiti). The disaster should also provide opportunities to “build back better.”

    • recoverydiva says:

      I hope you are right on both points.

      I realize FEMA is very stressed, with 22 declared disasters, but some problems can be identified in advance and hopefully anticipated.

  3. recoverydiva says:

    So essentially the info provided to FEMA is a self-assessment from local and state EM officials. My next question is to what extent does FEMA review and makes its own assessment?

    In the case of PR, the fact that the commonwealth was bankrupt and the electric utility was also should have been warning signs of a troubled response.

  4. RDale says:

    At the regional (i.e. multi-county, same state) level we do annual assessments of a variety of areas into a regional THIRA / Regional Preparedness Report. That goes up to the state where they then take all the regional reports and develop a State Preparedness Report (SPR).

    We take subsets of each Core Capability, and then rate 1-5 in Planning / Organization / Equipment / Training / Exercise. For example, in Infrastructure Systems, we cover these individually:

    Communications systems
    Dams and flood control
    Food production and delivery
    Government facilities
    Heating fuel provision
    Hospitals
    Infrastructure site assessments
    Power restoration
    Public recreation facilities
    Public safety facilities
    Sanitation
    Transportation infrastructure
    Water treatment and provision

    What happens after FEMA gets that – I don’t know. But your question implies that 1) FEMA is monitoring every EM program and 2) FEMA has a way to influence programs that area weak. And 3) To be honest the issue in PR appears to be the utility provider – not the EMA? If the electric company that serves me doesn’t have adequate resources for restoring power, there’s not a thing I can do about it. Therefore FEMA can’t either. In 2013 we had an ice storm that affected about a dozen counties, and the City of Lansing is served by a utility that decided not to call in extra crews ahead of time, and wanted to save money so didn’t bring in outside contractors either. Needless to say – their response sucked 🙂 But I couldn’t go in an tell them do to that, so FEMA couldn’t have either.

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