‘Frankly, in 2017, Harvey, Irma and Maria got their attention…’
(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) The Federal Emergency Management Agency is struggling to find capable employees to fill disaster management positions.
According to Politico, the agency’s total staffing levels remain below its target for the 2018 fiscal year, in part because fewer than two-thirds of the agency employees are qualified for their jobs.
As a result, FEMA lagged in its response to the 2017 hurricane season because it lacked both the numbers and the level of training to handle the destructive storms.
In its after-action analysis, the agency said field promotions “placed staff in positions beyond their experiences and, in some instance, beyond their capabilities.”
FEMA had “nearly exhausted staff for two units of specialized response teams,” the agency said in its report.
About 62 percent of the agency’s staff is deemed “qualified” for their jobs, based on the agency’s review of experience, training and performance.
“We’ve been pointing out workforce challenges with FEMA for years,” said Chris Currie, director of emergency management issues for the Government Accountability Office. “Before the 2017 disasters, we had not seen a lot of improvement in their workforce management. Frankly, in 2017, Harvey, Irma and Maria got their attention.”
Currie said that if FEMA can’t find qualified employees, it will struggle to handle another natural disaster: “If we were to experience another set of catastrophic disasters in a sequential nature, it will still be a big challenge.”
FEMA’s staffing challenges were obvious in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria caused $90 billion in damage and by some estimates killed thousands of people. A Politico investigation found that FEMA struggled to move personnel and resources to the island after the hurricane.
“The bottom line is they are looking to grow the right level of organizational competency that will have them in a position where they can address most of the activity they need to address,” Mark Misczak, a former FEMA official, said.