U.S. disaster-response force stretched thin as hurricane season starts

  • In US
  • 2018-06-13 11:22:06Z
  • By By Andy Sullivan

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida last September, the top U.S. disaster-response official ordered all hands on deck.

With 4,500 Federal Emergency Management Agency staffers already helping survivors of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, FEMA chief Brock Long told managers in an internal memo to ready every member of the agency's on-call reservist workforce for deployment.

In the following months, thousands of FEMA reservists, who account for about half of the agency's disaster-response personnel, would descend on Florida, Puerto Rico, California and elsewhere to help recovery efforts after an unprecedented string of natural disasters.

But not all would respond. About 500 reservists, or one of every twelve workers, ignored FEMA's deployment request, current and former officials told Reuters.

"We didn't even hear from them," Patrick Hernandez, who oversees FEMA's disaster workforce, said in an interview. "We need to get people in here who understand the system and adhere to the protocols."

With the 2018 hurricane season already underway, FEMA is scrambling to hire more people who are willing to depart at a moment's notice for assignments that can last months at a stretch.

Internal documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show the agency's disaster-response force is understaffed by 26 percent. And as last year revealed, many of those who sign up don't always respond when needed. (For graphic, see https://tmsnrt.rs/2Juw4LV)

That comes at a cost. At times, staffing shortages force FEMA to shuffle personnel from one disaster to the next and in some cases rely on workers who do not know how to do the job effectively, according to interviews with 15 current and former FEMA workers.

Some local officials say the agency's central mission - getting federal aid where it is needed - is undercut by the constant turnover.

"They had no knowledge of the system. They had no knowledge about how to do anything but fill out forms," said Junior Shelton, mayor of Central, Louisiana, which experienced catastrophic flooding in 2016. "We're still sitting around waiting for that money to get here."

Hernandez said staffing issues have not affected FEMA's ability to get the job done. "I would not agree with that statement wholeheartedly," he said.

Help wanted at FEMA: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Jxn6O1


The extraordinary string of domestic disasters in 2017 continues to weigh on the U.S. agency. With thousands of workers still out in the field, official figures show that 33 percent of FEMA's disaster-response workforce is available for deployment, down from 56 percent at this time last year.

Some specialties are stretched especially thin: Only 13 percent of the workers who direct federal aid to pay for rebuilding costs after a disaster hits are currently available.

"That's a very low number, and that would be very scary going into more disasters," said Elizabeth Zimmerman, a former senior FEMA official.

Unlike military reservists, those who work for FEMA don't have a guarantee that their regular jobs will be available when they return home. As a result, most are retirees who don't need steady work or recent college graduates who don't yet have a full-time job, current and former managers say.

Reservists are allowed to turn down up to three assignments each year, meaning FEMA cannot count on a full reserve force during peak periods. According to internal figures, FEMA's reservist corps has grown by roughly 1,000 workers over the past year. Still, it remains 3,700 workers short of the 10,949 reservists it has determined it needs to be able to respond to several disasters at once.

Some reservists say they are not in a position to accept months-long assignments far from their homes.

"I could get a phone call tomorrow telling me to go to Puerto Rico, but the truth is I'm not going to go," said Alessandra Jerolleman, who said family obligations prevent her from leaving Louisiana.

FEMA officials point out they can pull in other types of workers when needed. Some 22,000 federal employees from agencies like the Defense Department participated in disaster-relief work with FEMA in 2017, for example.

"We rely on our reservists and we love them," said FEMA's Hernandez. "But FEMA's made up of a lot of different elements."


FEMA also hires residents of disaster zones to help out, a practice that is widely praised for boosting employment and harnessing local knowledge. But some say it can hinder FEMA's effectiveness.

Carlos Mercader, Puerto Rico's top lobbyist in Washington, said he received numerous complaints of poorly trained FEMA workers who assess damaged houses in a seemingly arbitrary manner. While one might be declared a total loss, another that appeared to suffer similar damage might be denied reconstruction assistance, he said.

Local hires accounted for more than half of the 2,878 FEMA employees in Puerto Rico in May, according to agency figures obtained by Reuters. Only 100 are permanent FEMA employees.

"They probably should be sending us more people with as much experience as possible," Mercader said.

FEMA officials say Congress could help with recruiting and retaining reservists by guaranteeing they can keep their regular jobs while on assignment, as is the case with military reservists. Officials have also asked Congress to change hiring laws to give reservists preferential status when they apply for a full-time FEMA job.

Congress has yet to act on those requests.

But FEMA's own actions may also drive away some who are willing to serve, reservists say.

Paul Seldes, 59, said he tried unsuccessfully since 2011 to find an assignment that matched his background in field operations.

Instead, the agency repeatedly asked him to report to a telephone call center to screen financial-aid requests from disaster survivors. By last fall, he no longer bothered to respond to such deployment requests, he said.

"I have this capability, I have this knowledge, I have this training - why don't you want to listen to me?" he said.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Paul Thomasch)


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


  • iqoption
    (2018-06-13 13:30:42Z)

    I discovered this is an instructive and fascinating post so i suspect as much it is extremely valuable and proficient. I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article.

  • e-travelins
    (2018-06-16 11:41:38Z)

     If someone week i really ashen-haired not actually pretty, whether you will lite grope a present, thought to follow us to displays bursting with ends of the earth considerably? Inside the impeccant previous, sea ever have dried-up, my hubby and i only may very well be with all of you connected thousands of samsara.

  • movierulz
    (2018-06-17 03:16:17Z)

    This article was composed by a genuine speculation essayist. I concur a hefty portion of the with the strong focuses made by the essayist. I'll be back

  • آموزش ux
    (2018-06-18 08:18:37Z)

    I am extremely delighted in for this web journal. Its a useful subject. It help me all that much to take care of a few issues. Its chance are so awesome and working style so rapid.

  • PlayStation 4 controller skins
    (2018-06-22 13:56:02Z)

    The caliber of collection that you are providing is but marvelous

  • SEO Analyzer 
    (2018-07-03 10:39:33Z)

    I am always searching online for articles that can help me. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also. Keep working, great job!

  • nightrush
    (2018-07-12 21:13:48Z)

    The reward is typically a level of the store a player gives. In this way, for instance, another card shark goes to a virtual gambling club and puts in US $100. As a reward for

  • Thrills
    (2018-07-14 10:54:17Z)

    We prescribe that you utilize the downloadable sort of online gambling club, particularly on.

  • School fundraising ideas
    (2018-07-17 07:45:45Z)

    The website is looking bit flashy and it catches the visitors eyes. Design is pretty simple and a good user friendly interface.

  • وکیل حقوقی
    (2018-07-20 05:35:21Z)

    Good composed article. It will be steady to any individual who uses it, including me. Continue doing what you are doing – can'r hold up to peruse more posts.

  • blockchain technology uses
    (2018-08-08 20:13:26Z)

    Now I am ready to do my breakfast, when having my breakfast coming again to read further news.

  • voyance par tel
    (2018-08-11 03:13:27Z)

    Thank you for helping people get the information they need. Great stuff as usual. Keep up the great work!!!

  • cartomancie gratuite
    (2018-08-13 16:38:44Z)

    I personally like your post; you have shared good insights and experiences. Keep it up.

  • I discovered this is an instructive and fascinating post so i suspect as much it is extremely valuable and proficient. I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article.

  • imran
    (2018-08-29 18:58:37Z)

    discovered this is an instructive and fascinating post so i suspect as much it is extremely valuable and proficient. I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article.image editing

  • image editing
    (2018-08-29 19:01:52Z)

    I am extremely delighted in for this web journal. Its a useful subject. It help me all that much to take care of a few issues. Its chance are so awesome and working style so rapid.

  • imran ahmed
    (2018-09-16 20:01:37Z)

    discovered this is an instructive and fascinating post so i suspect as much it is extremely valuable and proficient. I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article.Cbd oil for anxiety

  • Cbd oil for anxiety
    (2018-09-16 20:03:44Z)

    proficient. I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article.

  • free movie streaming" title="imran ahmed">imran ahmed
    (2018-09-18 20:05:04Z)

    The FEMA head defended Trump's roundly criticized denial of the official death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria.

  • free movie streaming
    (2018-09-18 20:06:57Z)

    discovered this is an instructive and fascinating post so i suspect as much it is extremely valuable and proficient. I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article.

  • imran ahmed
    (2019-01-12 01:05:31Z)

    Normally I wouldn't count an airport as a true landout, but this one gets special treatment because it was my first cross country.Taikuri juhliin Turku

    • Delhi Escorts @imran ahmed
      (2019-05-16 11:25:17Z)

      I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work! I am Impressed. We appreciate that please keep going to write more content.

      • Escorts in Delhi @Delhi Escorts
        (2019-05-16 11:27:29Z)

        This is such a amazing article i am glad to be here and read this. I understand each and every point of your article.

        • Delhi Escoorts @Escorts in Delhi
          (2019-05-16 11:52:21Z)

          I only say thank you for all the undertakings that you put in this article and gives us such a amazing informative article. you are inspiration to us.

          • Call Girls in Delhi @Delhi Escoorts
            (2019-05-16 11:53:27Z)

            Nice work keep it up thanks for sharing the knowledge.Thanks for sharing this type of information, it is so useful.

          • Ahmedabad Escorts @Delhi Escoorts
            (2019-05-16 11:54:24Z)

            I am really happy to say this I am deeply read your article, I am searching like this type valuable information, it’s really helpful for me, I am happy to found it, thank you so much for share this blog, great work, keep sharing like this type of article, thank you so much for read my comment.

            • Call Girls Number @Ahmedabad Escorts
              (2019-05-16 11:59:40Z)

              Just great combo!! Much the same as you, I don’t know how to play a solitary instrument, yet I’m an enormous music fan and I value the ability which a few people have and can play an instrument or considerably more delightfully!

  • Escorts Service in Delhi
    (2019-05-17 13:03:08Z)

    I was examining a part of your substance on this site and I envision this site is extremely instructive! Keep including.

  • Delhi Escorts
    (2019-05-17 13:03:38Z)

    An obligation of appreciation is all together for sharing this superb post. I should state I got a kick out of checking this great post. It had been a particularly informational and steady post you let us know, keep on incredible work.

  • goa call girls
    (2019-05-18 10:30:08Z)

    This article is incredibly superb, the strategy for making is essentially astounding. Keep doing work like this the world needs increasingly powerful articles.

  • hyderabad escorts
    (2019-05-18 10:31:20Z)

    I should need to thank you for the endeavors you have made in shaping this article. I am trusting in a similar best work from you later on in addition. Continue sharing!

  • Goa Escorts
    (2019-05-18 10:32:59Z)

    To a mind-blowing degree venerated looking at your blog. It was to an unprecedented degree particularly made and clear. A dedication of gratefulness is all together for your unimaginable effort and I was sitting tight for this post. I am satisfied to examine this kind of astonishing illuminating post.

    • Bangalore Call Girls @Goa Escorts
      (2019-05-20 11:48:07Z)

      I definitely enjoying every little bit of it. This is a great website and good share. I want to thank you. very nice! You guys make a great blog, and have some great content. Keep up the good work.

  • Hostpapa coupon
    (2019-06-06 09:50:34Z)

    I'm finding amped up as a result of this kind of really in a straight line ahead elements of your things rapidly after on

    • Kia Escort @Hostpapa coupon
      (2019-06-19 12:27:41Z)

      Their Marvellous looks come from a right hereditary and mainly from the air of their hometown. They are being from the hometown they have a unique glow that gives them confidence in certain things of life. Call girls in Jaipur have flawless golden skin, smooth and toned skin and feminine well-shaped physique. Their intense black eyes and long silky soft hair cannot be found in any other agency. They can impress you with undersize dresses along with lingerie, swimwear and then the nude body.


  • Juhu Escorts
    (2019-07-09 13:19:08Z)

    I Am Ritu Sharma. I Run my Own Mumbai Escorts In Colaba.http://www.escortservicemumbai.net/mumbai-escorts-in-colaba/

  • sweet heart
    (2019-07-11 08:00:22Z)

    My name is Arpita Jain. I run my independent Mumbai Escorts Service. I am an independent Mumbai escort girl. My service charge is low according the current market price. My service is super, because I know very well the personal requirement of my each customer. I am comfortable to provide my Mumbai Escorts Service at your home or in Hotel. Visit- http://www.arpitajain.org/ Call- +91 9OO4458359
    Visit The Links Below And Have A Look At My Various Mumbai Escort Services-

  • Escorts in Mahipalpur
    (2019-07-12 06:25:12Z)

    I have perused such a large number of online journals on your site, and they are extremely incredible as the data you gave is authentic.

  • Delhi Escorts Service
    (2019-07-12 06:26:00Z)

    On what I have seen your substance was to a staggering degree stunning. I figure you genuinely thought this astoundingly well.

  • Call Girls in Delhi
    (2019-07-12 06:26:55Z)

    Magnificent post! I genuinely esteem your work it really fulfills me and I am content with the strategy of your post. I think this is uncommon contrasted with another blog for me since this is amazingly helpful for me an obligation of appreciation is all together for sharing.

  • sonali
    (2019-07-12 13:04:40Z)

    Amazing! Incredible article, I am simply looking and discovered your blog. I might want to thank you for the useful post additionally it will encourage the peruser... Much appreciated once more!

  • theLYRICALLY Lyrics
    (2019-07-25 08:24:57Z)

    Article topic and content it's helpful for me best wishes for your future.

    • Delhi Escorts @theLYRICALLY Lyrics
      (2019-07-31 06:25:32Z)

      This is a misleading article, it is a fully commendable commitment to share this lighting system, I will go to the dash of the ideal open segment for some of the most recent posts on your blog. , You can pull extra back.

    • Escorts in Delhi @theLYRICALLY Lyrics
      (2019-07-31 06:26:32Z)

      I like to visit your site and always get an important item from it. The angle tent you posted here is amazing and has a great value. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post with us

  • Delhi Escorts
    (2019-08-17 11:56:40Z)

    My name is Riya I work as an independent escort call girl I like to meet young people and spend some romantic and memorable day.
    [url=http://www.callgirlsservicesdelhi.com/]Dwarka Escorts[/url]
    Delhi Escorts


Top News: US

Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.