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FEMAʼs plan underestimated Puerto Rican hurricane

In the U.S. disaster response system, the primary responsbility for 
disaster response falls on state (territory) and local governments. In 
theory, the federal government response is supposed to be secondary.



The plan also expected private sector companies to quickly restore 
telecommunications on the island. â??There are minimal expectations that 
federal assistance would be required to restore the infrastructure during 
the response and recovery of a storm,â?? it said. If communication systems 
were not fixed quickly, the document said, first responders could use 
satellite phones instead or rely on mobile communication trucks delivered 
to the island.

But during Maria, Puerto Ricoâ??s communication system was wiped out, 
leaving telecommunications companies scrambling to slowly repair the 
infrastructure as state and local officials struggled to communicate with 
FEMA and other first responders. Local officials described limited 
communications as one of the biggest challenges in the first week after 
the storm.


To many in the disaster community, the problems with FEMAâ??s plan were 
representative of broader disaster management challenges across the entire 
agency. FEMA, individual communities and the country prepare for disasters 
that fit within their current capabilities, they said, but donâ??t plan for 
disasters that could cause even more damage, requiring greater planning or 
resources in such a dire scenario.

â??If you go back and look at almost any federal disaster plan, it suffers 
from planning to your current capabilities versus planning to what 
actually could happen,â?? said a former FEMA official, adding â??I wouldnâ??t 
say this is a special case, but it is a problem endemic to the federal