FEMA officials said they are actively training and preparing earlier after NOAA forecasted an 85% chance of an “above normal” hurricane season in 2024.

FEMA officials said they are actively training and preparing earlier after NOAA forecasted an 85% chance of an “above normal” hurricane season in 2024. Jeff Greenberg / GETTY IMAGES

FEMA is promising to be more 'forward-leaning' this hurricane season

The agency wants to get its staff deployed earlier in the process ahead of what is shaping up to be an intense period of potential disasters.

The federal government is prepared to quickly respond to disasters more quickly ahead of the upcoming hurricane season, saying it can now deploy personnel and resources earlier in the response process. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has worked in recent months to train local governments for disaster response and prepare to send materials wherever they are needed, Erik Hooks, the agency’s deputy administrator, said on Friday. It has tripled its capacity to send supplies to the northeast and mid-Atlantic after opening a new distribution center in Pennsylvania and is “well-postured” for what could be a particularly active season. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast an 85% chance of an “above normal” hurricane season this year, which formally spans from June 1 to Nov. 30. 

FEMA’s efforts will help the agency assist communities even if storms intensify without warning. 

“We’re posturing earlier, we're prepositioning earlier, so that we can reach people faster than ever,” Hooks said at a press conference in Miami. 

FEMA has trained 4,000 state and local emergency responders to boost their coordination with the federal government. The agency has also updated its processes for individuals to receive federal assistance, a change Hooks said would “jumpstart the recovery process.” 

He added that more federal deployments will take place ahead of any forecasted events. 

FEMA is “being more forward leaning than we ever have been before because we do not want to be slow prepositioning not just commodities, but personnel, too,” Hooks said. “So Incident Management Assistance Teams will push out outside of the impact zone ahead of any event, and we will also have the ability to respond even more effectively and faster to meet the needs of communities around the nation.”

FEMA has more on its plate than ever before, the number of disasters during peak hurricane season it responds to growing from 30 in 2016 to 71 in 2023. It has struggled to maintain adequate staffing to keep pace with demand. A recent Government Accountability Office report found staffing shortages have forced FEMA to function at 65% of its operating capacity.

FEMA reservists have told Government Executive in recent years that new hires were receiving insufficient training before deployment and some employees were working 12-hour days for a month straight.

The agency has frequently tapped volunteers throughout the Homeland Security Department and elsewhere in government to help supplement its efforts. GAO has also found that at times of peak deployments, such as when several major hurricanes hit in 2017, 54% of staff were serving in capacities in which they were not formally certified.

Employees and GAO have said burnout at FEMA has increased since the pandemic and recruiting remains a challenge since most of its staff are reservists who only work part of the year. The benefit for those employees was frequently that they had months of break in between deployments, but increasingly the workers—particularly those with specialized skills—are being sent from one disaster to the next without any time off.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell recently told Congress she was optimistic her agency is better retaining its part-time workforce after Congress passed the Civilian Reservist Emergency Workforce Act to provide those employees who leave their day jobs to address disasters with the same protections as members of the armed forces deployed to active duty. She also said recruitment bonuses are helping to bring in more employees, as FEMA has been regularly onboarding new personnel every two weeks.

Michael Brennan, director of the National Hurricane Center, said on Friday the public should not care about the overall forecast for this season and instead focus on staying prepared for any event that might occur in their area. 

“Seeing a forecast like this, people should be concerned but calm and measures,” Brennan said.