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2017 Hurricanes and Wildfires: Initial Observations on the Federal Response and Key Recovery Challenges


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In 2017, four sequential disasters hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the California wildfirescreated an unprecedented demand for federal disaster response and recovery resources. According to FEMA, 2017 included three of the top five costliest hurricanes on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that the cumulative damages from weather and climate related disasters in the United States were over $300 billion in 2017 alone. As of June 2018, Congress had appropriated over $120 billion in supplemental funding for response and recovery related to the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires. Further, in October 2017, close to 14,000 federal employees were deployed in response to the disasters. Given the scale and cost of these disasters, Congress and others have raised questions about the federal response and various recovery challenges that have arisen since the disasters. This report provides GAOs observations on: (1) federal and state preparedness and response coordination for hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida, and the California wildfires; (2) federal preparedness for and response to hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and (3) existing and emerging disaster recovery challenges highlighted by these disasters. GAO analyzed FEMA policies, procedures, guidance, and data specific to disaster response and recovery programs. GAO focused on the busiest period of disaster response activity for the federal government August 2017 through January 2018, with select updates on recovery efforts and obtained updates through June 2018. In October and November 2017, GAO teams made site visits to hurricane damaged areas in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.



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