FEMA’s plan underestimated Puerto Rican hurricane

In the U.S. disaster response system, the primary responsbility for disaster response falls on state (territory) and local governments. In theory, the federal government response is supposed to be secondary.



The plan also expected private sector companies to quickly restore telecommunications on the island. “There are minimal expectations that federal assistance would be required to restore the infrastructure during the response and recovery of a storm,” it said. If communication systems were not fixed quickly, the document said, first responders could use satellite phones instead or rely on mobile communication trucks delivered to the island.

But during Maria, Puerto Rico’s communication system was wiped out, leaving telecommunications companies scrambling to slowly repair the infrastructure as state and local officials struggled to communicate with FEMA and other first responders. Local officials described limited communications as one of the biggest challenges in the first week after the storm.


To many in the disaster community, the problems with FEMA’s plan were representative of broader disaster management challenges across the entire agency. FEMA, individual communities and the country prepare for disasters that fit within their current capabilities, they said, but don’t plan for disasters that could cause even more damage, requiring greater planning or resources in such a dire scenario.

“If you go back and look at almost any federal disaster plan, it suffers from planning to your current capabilities versus planning to what actually could happen,” said a former FEMA official, adding “I wouldn’t say this is a special case, but it is a problem endemic to the federal government.”


The “private sector will fix” expectation will be normal for today’s governments. The challenge with climate chaos, is that Puerto Rico was another step to the new normal.

Companies like http://aeronetpr.com/ have been in over-drive taking customers from the wireline companies that can't rebuild at a reasonable pace.