A recent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report on its own response to a hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico last year confirms a tsunami of miscalculation and mismanagement.
“The after-action report describes an initially chaotic and disorganized relief effort on the island that was plagued with logistical problems, and stretched into the longest feeding mission in the agency’s history,” the New York Times reports.
“The agency vastly underestimated how much food and fresh water it would need, and how hard it would be to get additional supplies to the island,” the Times adds. And additional supplies were urgently needed, since FEMA’s warehouse in Puerto Rico had been emptied out completely just two weeks previously, “its contents rushed to aid the United States Virgin Islands” which were then being “hammered by another storm.”
And it wasn’t just the FEMA cupboard that was bare: the agency had “thousands fewer workers than it needed, and many of those it had were not qualified to handle such major catastrophes.” The report also acknowledges FEMA’s failure “to take account of the logistical problems that its own disaster planning drills had shown it could face when coping with a disaster in Puerto Rico.”
The net result was an impoverished island largely left to fend for itself.
A week after Hurricane Maria made landfall, the Times notes, “FEMA still did not know whether half the island’s hospitals were open,” in part because “the satellite phones that FEMA had sent to the island were not meant to work in the Caribbean.”
On the plus side, “FEMA did provide huge generators to power water-pumping stations on the island, and has been spending US$20 million a month on generators for two electric power plants.”
And in what FEMA called an “unprecedented” level of aid, the agency “has provided one million nights’ lodging in hotels and 130 million meals after the 2017 storms.” In all, “the agency spent nearly $4 billion on aid and recovery efforts related to Puerto Rico.”
Despite all the money spent, the problems continue—though not all can be laid at FEMA’s door.
“Nearly 10 months after Hurricane Maria, about 1,000 households on the island are still without power, and the management of the island’s government-owned electric utility, PREPA, is in turmoil,” the Times notes.