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Labor Shortages at the Face of Natural Disasters: FEMA is Stretched Thin

Alisa Zhou

Hurricane Harvey, the California Wildfires, and the many other natural disasters have drastically impacted the United States. In the instance of a natural disaster, which federal organization leads the efforts for rescue, recovery, and relief? For the past forty years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also known as FEMA, has been the organization behind emergency disaster relief for millions of people living in the US or in US territories. It is a federal organization part of the United States Department of Homeland Security. 

Due to the increasing occurrence of natural disasters over the past three years, however, FEMA has run short of emergency relief staff. This shortage has now hindered the agency’s goal to prolifically provide aid to people in need of emergency rescue and relief. FEMA requires that each staff member deployed is well-trained and prepared for their job. Therefore, even though FEMA is able to use military personnel and other staff from federal agencies to assist with staff shortages in the event of an emergency, they may not have enough time to train these new staff members. Current relief members may already be deployed to begin emergency relief before they have a chance to train the new, temporary staff members. 

The increasing frequency and scale of natural disasters adds an additional layer of challenges to FEMA. For instance, when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, FEMA was already actively responding to 32 emergency declarations. The current number has risen to 65. Furthermore, larger natural disasters require more staff for longer periods of time. The labor shortage experience by FEMA combined with the increased need for workers to respond to larger and longer natural disasters calls for immediate action. FEMA must find more support for its hiring and training practices. Natural disasters don’t have patience — they come whether you are ready or not.



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