The 2017 hurricane and wildfire seasons were among the worst on record in the United States. The storms that year included three of the five costliest in the nation's history: Harvey and Irma along the Gulf Coast, and Maria in the Caribbean. More than 70,000 wildfires scorched about 10 million acres. All told, these events affected the lives of nearly 47 million people, testing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in unprecedented ways

One of the crucial lessons that has emerged from 2017 is that FEMA cannot, on its own, bring about recovery after a disaster strikes. However, FEMA can offer resources that will help state, local, and nonprofit partners chart a path toward preparation and resilience. To prepare for the next time catastrophic disasters hit in quick succession, FEMA could expand its mitigation programs that help communities absorb disasters and promote engagement in recovery and resilience at the community level. In the era of climate change—when extreme weather events have become more frequent and intense—these lessons have become even more important.

The 2017 hurricane and wildfire seasons tested (PDF) FEMA in unprecedented ways. Multiple overlapping disasters caused staffing shortages, and the final hurricane, Maria, required FEMA to shift staff already deployed elsewhere to Puerto Rico. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General (DHS-IG), and FEMA's own after-action reporting (PDF) point to some of the below issues that hampered FEMA's effectiveness.

  • Territorial and local governments lacked the resources to respond to a major disaster effectively.
  • The severity of the 2017 hurricane and wildfire seasons surpassed the capacity of FEMA's workforce.
  • The complexity of FEMA's programs slowed the recovery progress.

Read the full article about what FEMA learned by Jason Thomas Barnosky, Patrick Roberts, Joie D. Acosta at RAND Corporation.