Five years ago, three back-to-back hurricanes caused major devastation across six Southern states and two U.S. territories. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria took lives and caused property loss and damage to critical infrastructure. For each of these disasters, FEMA answered the call to respond and help residents and communities recover and rebuild.
When Hurricane Harvey blew ashore south of Houston, Texas, on Aug. 25, 2017, it was a Category 4 storm. Harvey inundated the Houston area, setting record rainfall levels. Within three weeks, two more record-setting storms, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, would rumble across the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas.
Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest Atlantic storms on record and the first hurricane in five years to make landfall in Florida, wreaked havoc across the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria quickly followed and left 3.7 million Puerto Ricans without electricity. The scale of the destruction resulted in the longest sustained air mission of food and water delivery in FEMA history.
The three storms caused a combined $265 billion in damage. In response, FEMA coordinated large deployments of federal personnel, both before and after the storms’ landfalls, to support response and recovery efforts across 270,000 square miles.
The lessons learned from those historic storms continue to shape FEMA’s disaster response and recovery efforts.
In early 2020, FEMA developed a strategy to quickly develop estimates for Public Assistance applicants in Puerto Rico for damage from Hurricane Maria. Using the FEMA Accelerated Award Strategy (FAASt), the agency first focused its attention on three subrecipients in Puerto Rico representing the power, water, and education sectors. This created one fixed cost estimate for each subrecipient. This estimate gave subrecipients a recovery budget to use for their facilities island-wide. While FAASt still requires subrecipients to submit scopes of work, workplans and hazard mitigation proposals, it allows for faster project development and obligation.
In August 2021, FEMA implemented policy changes to increase equity in how the agency delivers disaster assistance to individuals and households. Changes include more flexibilities in proving home ownership and occupancy and expanding the types of damage and assistance provided to survivors.
In 2022, FEMA’s average daily number of staff deployed increased to 7,165 compared to 6,664 in 2017. 2021 had the highest number of deployments per year on record with an average of 8,903 staff members deployed on any given day.
These 2017 storms were devastating for survivors and communities. They are a reminder that disaster recovery is a whole community effort. FEMA continues to apply the lessons from those hurricanes and remains committed to working closely with its partners in government, the private sector, voluntary organizations and the faith community to meet the needs of disaster-impacted communities and survivors.