Disaster Victims Data Breach

FEMA ‘major privacy incident’ reveals data from 2.5 million disaster survivors

The Federal Emergency Management Agency shared personal addresses and banking information of more than 2 million U.S. disaster survivors in what the agency acknowledged Friday was a “major privacy incident.”

The data mishap, discovered recently and the subject of a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, occurred when the agency shared sensitive, personally identifiable information of disaster survivors who used FEMA’S Transitional Sheltering Assistance program, according to officials at FEMA. Those affected included the victims of California wildfires in 2017 and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the report said.

In a statement, Lizzie Litzow, FEMA’s press secretary, said, “FEMA provided more information than was necessary” while transferring disaster survivor information to a contractor. “We believe this oversharing has impacted approximately 2.5 million disaster survivors,” said a Department of Homeland Security official who asked for anonymity to provide background information beyond the official FEMA statement.

Thanks to Bill Nicholson for the citation.

Articles re Midwest Floods

  1. Wash Post on 3/22: 25 States Are at Risk of Serious Flooding This Spring, U.S. Forecast Says
  2. As reported in WashPost: NOAA warns of ‘unprecedented’ spring flood season that may become ‘more dire’ in coming weeks
  3. From Reuters, this report on how serious the economic damage to farmers in the midwest is: Farmers Face Devastation Following Midwest Floods.
  4. New CRS report on Federal Disaster Assistance for Agriculture (3 pp) should be helpful to folks in the midwest US.
  5. From The Atlantic: Are the Midwestern Floods a Natural Disaster? A distinction must be drawn between natural and human-induced catastrophes. Note that the author, a law professor, does discuss what steps are being taken to reduce flood damage and losses.
  6. From Accuweather: Central U.S. to Remain Underwater for Weeks.

Federal Government Is Not a Reliable Partner

From Homeland Security Today: PERSPECTIVE: The Lingering Scars of the Government Shutdown on Contractors

There was a time when the government was seen as the most stable customers that any company could possess. While not always timely or efficient, government still operated with regularity and dependability. But that is no longer true. Reliable budget and appropriation cycles no longer occur as continuing resolutions and short-term funding bills increasingly provide incremental “pay as you go government.” That’s a dreadful enough environment to operate in as a government but it’s even more precarious if you’re a government contractor who is dedicated to supporting that customer.

DHS has long been a mixed bag in terms of being a dependable customer. While certainly funded with deep pockets for most of its operations, poorly defined requirements, procurement operations challenges, frequent leadership vacuums and less than stellar engagements with the private sector have made DHS a customer with which many companies are refraining from doing business. Add to those conditions the prospect of being obligated to perform government support functions, and then not get paid because the administration and Congress can’t fulfill their budgetary responsibilities, and you can understand why there is a bitter taste in their mouth.

The Diva would add that recent threats to holding back promised federal funds for recovery in Puerto Rico and the CA wildfires, to name just two major disasters, is another reason why the federal government is not a reliable partner.