Record-Setting Hurricanes Prompt Expansive Federal Response
With the recent landfall of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, large portions of the southeastern United States have experienced unprecedented levels of damage due to the violent conditions brought by two consecutive record-breaking storms – the first time on record two storms of such strength have hit the continental United States in the same hurricane season.
In response to the millions of displaced and otherwise impacted Americans, the federal government has mobilized tens of thousands of employees to assist in the recovery effort as a part of the National Response Framework – the overarching strategy that guides agency response and collaboration in various disaster scenarios.
Hurricane Harvey’s economic toll has been consistently estimated to be upwards of $180 billion, and the final toll of Irma remains unclear, as the weakening storm is still working its way across the country. In responding to the storm, Government Executive points out that agencies have called up more than 32,000 employees “in the two-fronted response to the storms” (preparation and recovery after the fact).
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which heads disaster response initiatives, “has more than 5,000 employees supporting the Harvey response in Texas and Louisiana and more than 1,000 working to prepare for Irma.” The agency is also said to be planning “to hire 400 to 500 employees in the coming weeks, a spokesperson said, with some beginning work” as early as this week.
FEMA’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “activated its Surge Capacity Force on Aug. 28 to supplement FEMA workers on the ground” and “had deployed 937 employees as part of the Harvey response efforts,” as of Wednesday of last week.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) “plans to deploy roughly 250 employees to Florida to assist with airport security,” in addition to “500 TSA volunteers working as part of FEMA’s Surge Capacity Force” and 200 who are supporting recovery efforts on the ground in Texas.
Other agency efforts noted by Government Executive include the Department of Agriculture’s provision of free meals to schools, shelters, and other organizations, the Environmental Protection Agency’s ongoing monitoring of toxic sites impacted by both storms (13 under Harvey and at least 22 under Irma), the Veterans Affairs Department’s deployment of resources aimed at veterans impacted by the storms, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s work to “coordinate humanitarian flights bringing relief supplies into the disaster zone as well as search and rescue missions flown by the military, FEMA, Coast Guard and others.”
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