FEMA Stretched Thin at Start of Hurricane Season
Reservists at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) account for about half of the agency’s disaster-response personnel. They are dispatched as needed to help recovery efforts following natural disasters. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, however, about 500 reservists ignored FEMA’s deployment request, according to FEMA officials. Reservists are allowed to turn down up to three assignments each year, meaning FEMA cannot count on a full reserve force during peak periods. 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 time.
Internal documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that the agency’s disaster-response force is understaffed by 26 percent. Staffing shortages often compel FEMA to shift 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 mission of bringing federal aid where it is needed is hampered by its constant turnover.