As Hurricane Florence strengthens and heads toward the East Coast, Virginia Tech disaster recovery expert Patrick Roberts says that response and recovery efforts could be challenged by the fact that many FEMA reserve and leadership positions are currently vacant.
“While FEMA has an experienced and well-regarded director, some appointed leadership positions remain vacant or filled with temporary, acting administrators. Only one of three deputy administrator positions has a confirmed appointee in place.”
“Appointees are important for bridging the gap between career staff and the political priorities of the White House. Once the storm passes, FEMA’s reserve staff will be critical for recovery efforts. Changes in the reserve program raise questions about how many reservists the agency will be able to count on.”
“FEMA depends on reservists for its surge capacity. They are usually retirees or recent graduates responding to a disaster in their community. Although they have local knowledge, they are less likely willing to travel across the country to a new disaster. Unlike military deployments, where reservists are guaranteed a job when they return, FEMA reservists are not assured of a job when they leave a deployment that could last months.”
Roberts adds that “while many people are focused on the storm’s expected landfall on the Outer Banks, the potential impact for the mountain regions of Appalachia are being neglected.” In 1969, Hurricane Camille had devastating effects for Appalachia because of heavy rainfall, mudslides, and flash floods. In the mountains and hills, flash floods move much more quickly and with greater force than in the flat lowlands.
“With this hurricane, FEMA has one asset on its side: Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Fort Bragg is a well-resourced, well-protected base of operations to respond to this storm. Not all hurricanes have come ashore near such a good staging ground.”
Patrick Roberts grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast. He remembers preparing for hurricanes by boarding up his house and standing in long lines for water and food, ready to be without power for days. He is based at Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region near Washington, D.C. and his research focuses on the government’s evolving role in emergency management and building resilience, as well as how bureaucrats speak back to politicians. Read bio here.