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Only a quarter of FEMA’s disaster workforce can reportedly be deployed



The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s ability to respond to natural disasters has been reportedly stretched to the brink after multiple natural disasters over the last three years.

The New York Times reported that fewer than a quarter of the agency’s disaster workforce of 13,654 people is ready for deployment, with the rest already deployed elsewhere or unavailable.

It continues a downward trend over the last two years. At this point in 2018, 34 percent of its emergency staff were available for deployment and 55 percent the year before.

“I’m worried,” former FEMA director of disaster operations Elizabeth Zimmerman told The New York Times. “That’s of concern, to make sure that there are enough people to respond.”

FEMA spokeswoman Abigail Dennis told The New York Times in a statement that the agency has grown its disaster response workforce by a quarter since Hurricane Harvey struck Texas in 2017 and that its ready to draw personnel from other agencies to make up for any shortfalls.

With Tropical Storm Barry expected to make landfall Saturday along the Louisiana coast, FEMA’s disaster management ability has come under new scrutiny. The Government Accountability Office issued reports over the past six years that FEMA has repeatedly lacked trained staff to aid in recovery efforts in disaster-stricken areas. Shortages also forced the agency to move workers into roles the agency had not qualified them for, further prolonging recovery efforts.

Read more: California’s governor is asking Trump for emergency assistance after major earthquakes rattled the state 2 days in a row

Last month, acting FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor testified to the House Committee on Homeland Security that the agency was still short-staffed by 2,000 people.

While the agency implemented some reforms during the Obama administration, staffing has been a long-term issue. Its also struggled to fill its ranks due to low unemployment and declining interest among Americans in public-sector jobs, Politico reported.

But the accelerating tempo of natural disasters in the United States — floods, hurricanes and forest fires — have stretched FEMA, particularly after the natural disasters of 2017, which included Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. These disasters are also becoming larger in scale with longer recovery periods that mandate more aid workers.

FEMA still has 2,400 employees working on Hurricane Maria recovery efforts and 650 are helping communities recover from Hurricane Harvey. And 1,150 are still dealing with the aftermath of the devastating Midwestern floods earlier this year.

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