While the U.S. continues to grapple with an unrelenting rise in coronavirus cases, a look ahead into the near future raises additional concerns for the nation as this year's Atlantic hurricane season approaches.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is being pushed to its limits as it responds to the coronavirus pandemic while also providing relief efforts to ongoing disasters across the nation. Currently, FEMA is playing a secondary role in the crisis, supporting the federal response led by the Department of Health and Human Services.
However, the agency could soon face overwhelming challenges if states begin to pour in requests for emergency aid or disaster workers.
"Given the evolving nature of this pandemic, this could present a significant challenge to FEMA," deputy director Daniel Kaniewski, said in an interview.
President Trump recently declared a national emergency, giving all states and territories eligibility to seek limited assistance from FEMA. In response, the agency ramped up its coronavirus relief efforts, activating emergency response centers and deploying incident management teams to the five states hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic: California, Hawaii, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.
Such efforts seem promising; however, the major concern for FEMA is that it is at risk of overload. Reports indicate that, as a result of staffing shortages, it will soon pull disaster workers out of Oklahoma and South Dakota, where they have been aiding with recovery efforts from storms that ravaged the states last year.
Agency spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow said the decision was not influenced by coronavirus reasons; however, such is still an example of how the agency already has its hands full. Keeping up with coronavirus demands while still having to deal with a slew of existing natural disasters caused by climate change could prove to be a herculean task.
Which begs the question: will FEMA be prepared to deal with the upcoming hurricane season while the coronavirus pandemic reaches its peak?
A report by a modeling group at Imperial College London says that if no control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behavior are taken, a peak in daily coronavirus-related deaths could occur in the U.S. in about three months, which is somewhere around June 20. That puts the peak of the coronavirus pandemic right after the start of this year's Atlantic hurricane season, which is expected to begin on June 1.
This year, forecasters from the National Hurrican Center are predicting an "above average" hurricane season, due to "the combination of La Nina conditions, an active West African monsoon, above-average ocean temperatures, and the possibility of lower-than-average wind shear conditions."
Hurricanes alone are incredibly stressful to deal with. In the past decade, the U.S. has seen devastating effects from Atlantic hurricanes like Sandy, Irma, and Michael. Hurricanes mixed with peak coronavirus outbreaks just seems like a nightmare.
But FEMA assures the public that it is prepared for the challenge. According to a monthly report published by the agency on March 6, they had $35.3 billion available for disaster recovery. Trump and Congress have also approved additional billions of dollars in emergency funding in recent years.
"We are healthy when it comes to dealing with all the disasters that are on the books and the next coming hurricane season," said FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor.
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