FEMA Recently Released Their 2017 After-Action Report on Last Year’s Hurricane Season.
The report evaluates their recovery operations after the historic hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Since the report is a little long (65 pages) and a little dry (so. many. acronyms.), we wanted to give you the highlights businesses need to know. It’s not very often the country experiences this level of catastrophe so it’s essential we take this unique moment to learn how we can be better. Although based on hurricane recovery, these lessons will help you prepare your business for any unexpected event that comes your way.
A quick note before you read: every statistic and quote in this blog is from the 2017 Hurricane Season FEMA After-
Action Report released July 12, 2018, which can be read in its entirety here.
“No disaster follows the plan,” according to FEMA Administrator Brock Long in his forward to the 2017 After-Action Report. Yet, planning still proved paramount in the recovery operations from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. In Texas and Florida, their hurricane plans and expected damaged were phenomenally accurate. In 2015 Florida predicted the percent of their population that would lose power during a major hurricane almost exactly. This paid off in swift recovery operations.
“Planning can help to expedite and inform decision making to quickly manage a crisis situation.”
Failure to comprehensibly plan can severely impede recovery. According to the report, Puerto Rico’s plans did not consider the state of their infrastructure and how much liquidity they had available for recovery operations. When Hurricane Maria made landfall it badly damaged the already unstable electrical grids and communications infrastructure. The government didn’t have a lot of cash on hand to help survivors and begin rebuilding.
It’s easy for businesses to make the same mistakes in their planning process. Poorly maintained or aged physical resources may be more damaged in a crisis and, of course, cash is king is a recovery environment. Your business needs to be ready to pay for the necessary recovery resources without relying on additional financial transactions.
Tests are an essential part of preparation. According to the 2017 After-Action Report, tests help identify strengths and shortfalls which, “inform future preparedness efforts and response operations.” FEMA credits Florida’s pre-disaster exercises in helping “efficiently execute mutual aid agreements” after Hurricane Irma.
It’s often simple to plan an action, but much more difficult to execute it during a crisis. For example, when Hurricane Maria knocked out the communication infrastructure in Puerto Rico. FEMA distributed satellite phones to hospitals and mayors around the island.
Seems like an easy solution.
This plan had not been tested and many of the phone recipients didn’t know how to use a satellite phone. Communication and needs assessments remained a tremendous challenge.
There may be some actions and steps in your plan that seem easy to execute, but during a recovery, you’ll quickly find that nothing is simple. Test your plan to work out these kinks before a crisis.
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall, FEMA already had essential staff deployed around the country to 32 smaller disaster events. As Irma and Maria struck, they had to figure out how to prepare and transfer thousands of employees across the country to respond to increasingly complex disasters.
They worked creatively to solve their staffing shortfalls by extending deployments, centralizing operations, and hiring locally. Still, staffing proved to be a very difficult challenge in recovery efforts, particularly in Puerto Rico.
Businesses can learn from this challenging situation.
Disaster won’t strike at a convenient time. You and your team have to be ready for anything at any time.
Logistics are often overlooked but are an essential component of disaster recovery. In every recovery operation, FEMA is coordinating and distributing a lot of the commodities and resources. According to the report, FEMA handles much of these logistics but expects states and territories to handle “the final mile” of delivery logistics.
After Hurricane Harvey, the Texas National Guard took over this task. In Florida, the state handled these distribution logistics. In Puerto Rico, FEMA had to take a direct role in coordinating and distributing resources. With short-staffed logistics personnel on the island, blocked roads, damaged ports, and Hurricane Jose riling up the ocean, this was no easy task.
Businesses can also overlook this colloquial “final mile.” You might know you need a 100kW generator in a power outage, but you may not have considered these follow up questions.
These questions can seem tedious and difficult. That’s why many companies hire third-party vendors like us to handle this part of their recovery. Spending your time or investing in a vendor to carefully plan logistics will pay off after an unexpected event.
According to the FEMA’s 2017 After-Action Report, 80 percent of households impacted by Hurricane Harvey did not have flood insurance. Insufficient insurance makes a tragic situation even more difficult to rebound from.
“The 2017 Hurricane Season again reinforced that individuals with adequate insurance coverage recover faster and more fully after a disaster.”
Businesses also need the same protections if they hope to recover fully after a disaster.