In the wake of the 1000+ death toll of Hurricane Katrina and stories regarding bureaucratic stalemate and organizational confusion, there was concern regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s readiness for Hurricane Harvey. Thankfully, it seems FEMA did a serviceable job. The stories of Harvey were that of first responders, rescues, and citizens working together to save lives – proving that in the face of turmoil, the human spirit often shines pure.
Now, as thousands of people remain displaced from Hurricane Harvey, another, even stronger storm is taking aim at Florida. That storm is Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, that is gaining strength as it heads toward the United States mainland.
So the question becomes with recovery operations underway in Texas, the largest wildfire in Los Angeles’ history burning in California, and another hurricane hitting coastal Florida soon, is FEMA prepared for Irma? And can they afford it?
According to Fortune magazine FEMA is short on cash. Of the 13 billion dollar annual budget, FEMA has about a billion dollars on hand – with half of that ‘immediately’ available for recovery and response. 500 million dollars may seem like a lot, but those resources are spread out across two major disaster areas in Los Angeles and Houston, and soon a third, Florida.
Thankfully, The House of Representatives acted swiftly on Wednesday, approving a 7.9 Billion dollar aid package for Harvey victims – some of which will go to supporting FEMA’s forthcoming Irma efforts. It just needs senate approval – which means, at the very least, FEMA will have the financial resources required for an adequate emergency response to Irma. Relief and recovery is another story.
As with Harvey, FEMA is taking several pre-emptive steps to prepare for Irma, having already deployed resources and staff in Peurto Rico – working with The National Guard to provide medical and communications infrastructure ahead of Irma’s landfall.
According to FEMA Director Brock Long there are there are over 700 Emergency responders stationed in Irma’s path.
Asked about whether FEMA is prepared for another major hurricane so soon after Harvey, Long responded with a comforting statement about the ultimately chilling nature of FEMA. “Despite everything that’s going on, this is what we test and train for. We have catastrophic plans. Obviously after Irma, yes, staffing patterns could be strained, but right now we are actually operating out of a Caribbean office.” He told CBS.
Meanwhile, President Trump signed a emergency declarations for Florida and the keys, which officially allows FEMA to fully mobilize.
Thus, it appears FEMA is prepared to support and assist, but much of the responsibility is on the citizens, local first responders, and state resources to act quickly – Governor Rick Scott stating he’s activated the state national guard:
Scott also encouraged those intending to evacuate to ‘Get out now!’ but also called for volunteers:
Irma is expected to hit Florida this weekend – likely as a Category 3 hurricane – the same level of hurricane that hit Texas. After demonstrating competence in their response to Harvey, FEMA now must demonstrate their flexibility.