FEMA Isn't Getting Any More Competent After Disastrous Hurricane Maria Response

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Nearly six months after the Federal Emergency Management Agency released a report addressing how staff shortages affected its responses to 2017's hurricanes, Politico reports that FEMA still hasn’t gotten it together, and is still more than 400 people behind on its 2018 fiscal year staffing goal.

According to the publication’s review of FEMA’s training and recruitment, the agency aimed to have hired 13,004 people on September 30, the end of the 2018 fiscal year. However, Politico’s analysis found that the agency currently employs 12,592 emergency responders, thousands less than the 16,305 staff members that FEMA said is necessary for the agency to effectively respond to disasters, per the aforementioned July report.

The agency also missed their target for training, Politico found, with only 62 percent of its staff deemed qualified based upon employment experience, training, and performance, instead of the 88 percent goal it set for the end of the fiscal year.


The agency’s lagging could be because of the nature of the agency itself. A spokesperson told Politico that it failed to meet these staffing and training targets because disaster relief “continue[s] to impact the pace of training completions and of hiring.”

Politico also found that FEMA’s slow response to Hurricane Maria and the destruction of Puerto Rico was a fault of FEMA itself. Officials had blamed Puerto Rico’s distance from the mainland, scarcity of hotels, and shuttered airports for why it had taken nearly six times as long to build a fraction of the response in Puerto Rico as it had in Houston for Hurricane Harvey months earlier. Politico found, however, that FEMA “underestimated the extent of the storm’s damage and failed to send enough staff and resources, like food and water, to the island before the storm.”

Unfortunately, these recruitment targets are outdated anyway. According to Politico, the targets are based on a 2015 FEMA analysis, meaning 2017's multiple disasters and FEMA’s utter inability to respond to them—which would seem to increase the need for even more personnel—wasn’t taken into account. So much for FEMA learning from its mistakes.