Jul 13, 2018

FEMA report concludes agency wasn't prepared for Hurricane Maria

A U.S. Army soldier starts to unload a shipment of water, provided by FEMA on October 17, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

After nearly a year of harsh criticism in the wake of Hurricane Maria, FEMA published its internal audit of the agency's response to the 2017 hurricane season, concluding that its efforts and planning were insufficient and in need of critical updates.

Why it matters: The agency's failure to adequately plan for a major hurricane strike on Puerto Rico may have contributed to scores of deaths and the suffering of island residents. In addition, FEMA's shortcomings may have exacerbated economic damage and contributed to the depopulation of the island in the wake of the storm.

The "After Action" report also contradicts the Trump administration's claims that its disaster response was adequate.

The report finds that FEMA was more prepared for an event like a tsunami or earthquake on the island, even though 18 major hurricanes of Category 3 or greater intensity have passed within 200 nautical miles of San Juan since 1950, according to NOAA.

Hurricane Maria struck the island as a strong Category 4 storm on Sept. 20, 2017.

The big takeaways: The agency on the front lines of U.S. disaster response was far less prepared for the cascading and long-lasting damage of a storm like Maria, which knocked out virtually all of the island's critical infrastructure at once, than it was for a more transient event that would have damaged just a portion of the island.

  • FEMA's Puerto Rico warehouse was cleared in response to Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida on Sept. 10. This meant there were fewer supplies left for Hurricane Maria survivors when that storm struck just 10 days later.
  • FEMA said they were short thousands of workers, and those they did get (many were pulled from other agencies) weren't trained to respond to such an event.
  • The report details a week of chaos after the storm hit. FEMA "had little information about the status of infrastructure" which "diminished situational awareness" in the first 72 hours after landfall, leaving hospitals, roadways and water infrastructure unaddressed.

The bottom line: The report comes amid the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, and its conclusion amounts to an appeal for more resources. FEMA's report recommends that other government agencies, communities and the private sector help to more proactively plan for such extreme events.

"The work of emergency management does not belong just to FEMA," the report states.

Go deeper

NYC races to build field hospitals as coronavirus death toll tops 1,000

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces at the USTA Bille Jean King tennis center that the venue will be transformed into a 350-bed temporary hospital. Photo: Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans at a news briefing Tuesday to turn buildings and facilities into makeshift hospitals across the Big Apple — including U.S. open tennis courts.

The big picture: New York City now accounts for a quarter of all deaths from the novel coronavirus in the U.S. — more than 1,000 as of Wednesday morning. De Blasio said the city had "about 20,000 working hospital beds in our major hospitals" before the outbreak. Officials need to triple that number in the coming weeks.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 859,556 — Total deaths: 42,332 — Total recoveries: 178,300.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in confirmed cases. Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 189,510 — Total deaths: 4,076 — Total recoveries: 7,109.
  3. Business updates: Should you pay your rent or mortgage during the coronavirus pandemic? Find out if you are protected under the CARES Act.
  4. Public health updates: More than 400 long-term care facilities across the U.S. report patients with coronavirus — Older adults and people with underlying health conditions are more at risk, new data shows.
  5. Federal government latest: President Trump said the next two weeks would be "very painful," with projections indicating the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans.
  6. Coronavirus in custody: Inmates in all U.S. federal prisons are set to enter a 14-day quarantine on April 1. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release 10 detained immigrants who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 while in confinement.
  7. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Captain of nuclear aircraft carrier docked in Guam pleaded with the U.S. Navy for more resources after more than 100 members of his crew tested positive.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll tops 4,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 4,000 people in the U.S. — with over 1,000 deaths reported in New York City alone, per Johns Hopkins data. The number of deaths are still much lower than those reported in Italy, Spain and China.

Of note: Hours earlier, President Trump noted it's "going to be a very painful two weeks," with projections indicating the novel coronavirus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans — even with strict social distancing guidelines in place. "They are going to be facing a war zone," he said of medical workers.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health