Disaster Response and the Autopilot Government

Ken Deuel

Ken was in the US Navy for 20 years, and has been on the internet for 25 years. Recently discovered that he is a cat person. Formerly a political libertarian weirdo, but not completely formerly.

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63 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    I can see how Puerto Rico might need more of an airlift response and it is not completely Trump’s fault considering that PR is an island.

    But a lot of the slow or non-existent response to PR seems to stem from the fact that Donald Trump doesn’t really like people of color and this is likely a big part of the reason the Federal Government has been slow to respond. Granted that Trump waived the Jones Act eventually, it took a big public outcry before it happened where as the response to Houston and Florida was quickly to waive the Jones Act.

    Trump and Company also show themselves willing to sabotage when they can’t change outright. They are willing to let the ACA die by a billion cuts and neglect if repeal is not possible.

    Erik Loomis noted on LGM that it is a sign of American decline that Oxfam needs to step up and respond in Puerto Rico. Has Oxfam ever needed to intervene in a U.S. disaster. I think we are heading more and more into ages of bad faith and away from any concept of nationhood. It is still asymmetrical but I think more and more voters are identifying with their regions and parties than as Americans as a whole. I’m getting less skeptical of the idea of the United States breaking up. More likely I wonder if the United States will be technically entact but with a toothless federal government/judiciary that no one listens to or follows.

    Someone on LGM pointed out that the right-wing is only one state away from being able to call for a Constitutional Convention. Suppose they do. What is to make California, New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, etc. go along?Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      The Jones Act doesn’t matter if the choke point is a gazillion cargo containers in one port on the island and no way to get that cargo towards where the people on the island need it.

      (Well, there’s a hypothetical way if it was useful for a surge in ships of any flag to get that cargo from one port to a different port that may have better access to a more complete ground transportation network. But I’m pretty sure the container capacity and thruput to the rest of the island is much smaller for the backup ports like Mayaguez and Ponce compared to the huge central facilty in San Juan)

      Ultimately, calling Trump a racist, even if true, is the most facile analysis possible, because it lets every other person and institution off the hook.

      Also, while Texas and Florida voted for Trump, the hardest hit parts didn’t. But Texas and Florida also aren’t in a financial crisis with an ongoing brain drain and a GDP thats decisively less than any US State.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Kolohe says:

        I agree on the first part.

        As to the racism, I think it is a yes and a no. The problem with Trump’s response is not that it is non-existent or slow. Some of that might not even be his fault. The problem is that he went to Puerto Rico in a huge troll against anyone who opposes him, the citizens of Puerto Rico, and to throw red meat at his own followers.

        What seems to be happening as a result of a lot of factors including increased negative partisanship is the rise of all trolling all the time. Trump’s Presidency might be a perfect example of trolling.

        What do you think of Trump smacking down Rex Tillerson regarding North Korea and Tillerson allegedly calling Trump a “fucking moron.”

        There have been power plays and dysfunction in government before but has it existed to this degree.Report

        • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          I think Rex is finally not the complete disappointment I thought he was.

          I agree that Trump is uniquely awful, but the government, by design, is supposed to mitigate that awfulness – to wit, we got rid of the spoils system 134 years ago with the start of the civil service and have other statutory and judicial safeguards designed to keep everyone on track.

          Does Presidential leadership matter? Yes. Is Trump’s “communications strategy” not only bat guano crazy, but also actively harmful?
          Probably. But almost all of the downsides of bad executive leadership manifest themselves in the medium and long run.

          I think it’s terrible we have the first Internet troll President. But it’s neither a complete nor sufficient explanation for when the government doesn’t perform as it should.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Kolohe says:


            I think we are learning that all the so-called safeguards and automatic systems are not that safe or automatic. Trump seems capable of gumming them up either through neglect or active interference.

            We are going to see how bad his toxicity is I suspect.Report

            • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              I still think trying to get both neglect and active interference in play, simultaenously, is somewhere between a logical fallacy and giving Trump too much credit for being an evil mastermind.

              And fails to give enough credit to the professionalism of career government civil servants, which is a core center-left belief (on the American political spectrum), no?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

                I still think trying to get both neglect and active interference in play, simultaenously, is somewhere between a logical fallacy and giving Trump too much credit for being an evil mastermind.

                In fairness to Saul he said “or” not “and”. And I hear you about giving Trump too much credit as an evil mastermind. I think that’s a mistake too. What he has, tho, is a unique genius at destroying seemingly everything he touches. Passively. Just by association. It’s like a force field of chaos projecting outwards without limit.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Stillwater says:

                Ok. And score one for Team Evil MastermindReport

              • Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

                Maybe the debate we should be having isn’t over whether Trump is evil or incompetent, but how to properly characterize his unique type of evil.

                It would not surprise me at all to hear reports that he directly intervened with FEMA to make sure that, oh, manpower and resources should not be directed away from Texas and Florida….Report

  2. Oscar Gordon says:

    I could understand the slow response if a bunch of agencies not used to cooperating suddenly had to, but isn’t the whole point of FEMA that it exists to coordinate those agencies, whatever they are?Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Thank you, that’s the TL;DR I should have provided 😉

      There isn’t any excuse for FEMA and other federal agencies to be caught this flat footed, especially making some of the exact same mistakes made in Katrina. I.e. not having a backup plan when local assets that you intended to partner with and leverage are unavailable.Report

      • El Muneco in reply to Kolohe says:

        We criticize the military for institutionally gravitating towards “fighting the last war”. But at least in their case they generally do it well .

        I am willing to give slack to an agency for truly unforeseen or unprecedented circumstances. But as a baseline, you should be able to do the things required last time and do them right.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to El Muneco says:

          I am willing to give slack to an agency for truly unforeseen or unprecedented circumstances.

          The destruction was forecast 4 days before the hurricane hit, tho. Surely that’s plenty of time to coordinate a relief effort which effectively bypasses the port as a point of entry, no? I mean, I hear you about the extent of the destruction being unprecedented, but I fail to believe that no one in FEMA identified the types of problems they’re currently trying to surmount. Or identified them within a day or two of the actual event.Report

          • Doctor Jay in reply to Stillwater says:

            I think it is very hard to get aggressive, proactive, anticipatory responses out of government agencies because they are so, so vulnerable to second-guessing.

            You mention the forecast 4 days before landfall. But hurricanes are notorious for not following the forecast, for changing their course, or weakening or strengthening.

            I am sure that if I were a government official, I’d be worried about having to answer a Senator’s questions about why I spent so much money on something that just got everyone wet.

            Which is why everything is on autopilot unless the political person in charge says it isn’t. And I would bet that the autopilot game plan is pretty much “do nothing until you have reports of damage in hand”

            Which in turn is why this stuff demands that the President get involved.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Doctor Jay says:

              Fair enough, but I’m not even focusing on all the permutations possible and certainly not suggesting that FEMA should have spent money preparing for the unlikely. I’m just talking about helicopters. On day 5 (I think) Oscar Gordon correctly identified the choke-point *and* the solution: more helicopters. It doesn’t seem all that difficult to plan in advance for that contingency let alone make it happen once the delivery problems are identified post-storm.Report

              • InMD in reply to Stillwater says:

                One of the best books I’ve ever read and which I think is instructive is The Guns of August. The ‘always fighting the last war’ point by @el-muneco is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s historical evidence to suggest that bureaucracies don’t respond to crisis based on whats actually happening but rather implement long laid plans regardless of their efficacy. Its possible to have good leaders who can overcome this tendency or luck into situations where the plan largely addresses the circumstances but they’re the exception.

                Trump was never going to be the type of leader who can masterfully wield clunky federal agencies but I don’t think that’s unique to him. Given the problems in Puerto Rico I dont know that this ever could have gone well. I hate to sort of agree with Trump but just because the feds have been underwhelming doesn’t mean that Puerto Rican authorities should be given a pass for failing in their responsibilities. They’re supposed to be the first line of defense, not FEMA.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to InMD says:

                I don’t mean this to sound like ankle-biting but if the argument is that bureaucracies aren’t flexible and nimble then doesn’t that apply to the Puerto Rican bureaucracies Trump has criticized for not doing enough as well?

                Focusing on PR’s own failings during the relief effort may be worthwhile, but not as an excuse for federal level inaction and arguably incompetence, seems to me.

                Add: Go Rockies!!Report

              • InMD in reply to Stillwater says:

                It does, and we really should have higher expectations of FEMA. Its not like this is the first hurricane and it won’t be the last. Trump’s incompetence and inexperience in government only exacerbate the shortcomings.

                Still this is a geographically large country with a federal form of government. Expectations about natural disaster relief should be set accordingly.Report

              • Doctor Jay in reply to Stillwater says:

                Oh, I think we could have done better. Probably by a lot.

                I just think it’s a cheap shot to complain about bureaucracies when they do exactly the predictable thing, as they are designed to do.

                Responding well to this sort of thing requires both a lot of preparation, and that comes in the form of all those recipes and contingencies, AND on-the-spot decision making by a leadership that is willing to take some risks and some heat.

                And guess which one of those elements I believe was the most lacking. Of course, those who could have made a difference could be trying to blame the bureaucracy.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Doctor Jay says:

                If you want to say that bureacracies are risk-adverse behemoths, you’re not going to get a strong contrary argument for me.

                But it does raise a question of why then should we pay for risk adverse behemoths? Why not spot spending money on them, but instead on something smaller (and thus presumably cheaper) and more nimble.

                (If you’re a government official with civil service protections operating within the law, and you are worried about answering a Senator’s questions, you should quit immediately. You are a coward, and unsuitable for serving the public. You have to do something really wrong to get fired, and at that, it’ll will take two tries to fire you)Report

          • El Muneco in reply to Stillwater says:

            I guess I should have said explicitly (I trusted context to heavier lifting than it was capable of). That clause was intended as a hypothetical – I think that this situation had challenges, but none that aren’t obvious in the first five minutes of analysis.

            I was saying that even if that wasn’t the case, it’s no excuse for getting anything else wrong, especially things that would be generally considered baseline competence.Report

  3. Kolohe says:

    I will give some allowance that the bureaucracy’s ‘bandwidth’ may have been exceeded to be able to with alacrity to the crisis in Puerto Rico as

    1) Maria was the fourth big storm to affect the US and/or other Carribean nations. US Navy and other nations’ assets were still in the middle of supporting hurricane recovery ops in neighboring Carribean islands from Irma (and dodging Jose) when Maria hit.

    2) the night that Puerto Rico was essentially in a communications blackout because Maria was at its most intense, a major earthquake hit Mexico City. Even Spanish language US channels had scant to non- existent coverage of what was happening in PR because they interupted scheduled programing with continous coverage from DF.Report

    • Dark Matter in reply to Kolohe says:

      In terms of keeping the lights on and/or getting them back, I think a lot of what we think of as “the government” stepping in to “save us” is the local power company’s “sharing of manpower in an emergency” agreement(s) with all the other power companies… and WalMart/McDonalds/etc recovering in the background.

      PR of course, is separate from all of that.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Dark Matter says:

        This is a good point and another reason I was giving the response some benefit of the doubt in the early days. This is more Michael Cain’s lane, but from what I’ve seen, most of getting the lights back on on the East Coast after a hurricane or ice storm or whathaveyou is getting every utility worker from the unaffected regions to get in their trucks and drive to the affected region.

        Also, Puerto Rico has no Waffle Houses.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Dark Matter says:


        Is there no way to get linemen to an island in the middle of an ocean other than pickup trucks?Report

        • Kolohe in reply to Stillwater says:

          Clearly there is a way. But it takes a heckuva lot more planning, coordination and resources.

          Hawaii has the potential for similar problems. We’ve seen some of the same thing during their earthquake a few years ago and the rare hurricane that does hit them.

          One thing that Hawaii can take advantage of is that a ‘slow motion’ event like a hurricane is unlikely to affect *all* the inhabitted islands debt geography. So potentially the people in charge should be able to preposition relief assets on non-affected islands.

          But there’s still a huge imbalance in population density and infrastructure between Oahu and everyone else. So any direct hit on Honolulu is still going to be the worst case and is going to take extra prolonged effort.Report

        • Dark Matter in reply to Stillwater says:

          That pickup truck also has all of their gear, a chainsaw for dealing with down trees, etc. Flying the guy to the island is great but what you really need to do is fly him and his truck there. And that’s ignoring all those power workers already had another, much more accessible set of hurricane damage to fix up.

          And from FEMA’s point of view, emergencies normally don’t involve needing to worry about that. The implication is they started two weeks behind just from these sorts of issues.Report

  4. George Turner says:

    Without Puerto Ricans helping, the federal government can’t do very much. I think we’ve got 10,000 DoD, FEMA, and other personnel down there. The population of Puerto Rico is 3.4 million, so 99.7% of potential aid providers down there aren’t federal, they’re the inhabitants. Most of the personnel we sent are focusing on maintaining power to hospitals, clearing roads, coordinating, and such. But let’s suppose half of them were asked to do door-to-door supply delivery. That would mean one delivery person for every 680 Puerto Ricans. For a 12-hour shift, that would require every man delivering aid to make one delivery every minute. That’s never going to happen, and that’s why we didn’t set up our system that way. The local communities have to be that “last mile” in the chain, and San Juan isn’t doing that.

    Now how did hurricane response in the Caribbean traditionally work? Well, a hurricane swept through and wiped out an island and the fleet of ships in the harbor. Sometime later some other ships would show up and say “Wow. This place got hammered!” So then one of those visiting ships would sail to another port, load up on supplies, and sail back to Europe. About two months later the ship would arrive in a European port and deliver a report. Supplies like saws and nails would be loaded over the following weeks and the ship would spend two or three months sailing back. So about a six-month disaster response time. Given that, and listening to the mayor of San Juan, it’s amazing any of the islands has a population greater than zero.

    And what does FEMA do for all the little independent Caribbean islands? How do they somehow avoid mass death without the Army Corps of Engineers showing up? Oh, they just handle things themselves, like normal people do.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to George Turner says:

      My understanding is that the people aren’t being lazy, they are out of fuel. The storm made many roads impassable, and a lot of the fuel was getting diverted out of vehicles and into electrical generators to keep critical services (hospitals, etc.) powered. So by the time emergency supplies started showing up and roads started getting cleared, all the trucks that weren’t damaged were out of fuel.

      So the FEMA response should not have been to airlift, or use the LCACs, to get tanker trucks and tractors all around the island so they could start clearing roads and delivering fuel all over, instead of trying to just move out from San Juan.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to George Turner says:

      And what does FEMA do for all the little independent Caribbean islands? How do they somehow avoid mass death without the Army Corps of Engineers showing up? Oh, they just handle things themselves, like normal people do.

      Like normal people do.


      • George Turner in reply to Stillwater says:

        Yep. What would people do if aid didn’t show up from Washington? They would just have to fix what needed fixed.

        Considering that in hurricanes and floods the victims outnumber the federal aid workers by probably a hundred to one, they can do a lot more fixing than the federal people can. Assuming that even 20% of the victims are the adult males with trucks and chain saws, they still outnumber the federal workers by 20 to 1. That heavily implies that the federal folks can make the recovery only go about 5% faster than it otherwise would.

        Let’s call the unaided recovery rate 100%, the rate at which the people in the area would make repairs and get things back to normal, and call that the “natural” rate of disaster recovery. With federal aid the rate kicks up to 105% or perhaps even 110%. Now if the victims sit around waiting on the federal aid people to show up, then no fixing is getting done. Because they can’t get the 105% rate they demand, they don’t settle for the 100% recovery rate, they opt for the 0% rate. At that point they aren’t victims of the natural disaster, they are victims of their own mindset.

        On independent islands in the Caribbean and throughout the Pacific, that mindset wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t be adopted, because there is no federal aid to get. The people who do 100% of the recovery work are the people who got hit with the natural disaster. The same applies to most of central America. They don’t sit around counting the number of US Navy ships that have arrived because none ever do. They just get to work repairing the damage.Report

        • Maribou in reply to George Turner says:


          1) I believe Stillwater was remarking on how you were contrasting “normal people” with … Puerto Ricans? People who (supposedly) sit around and wait for federal aid? I can see why he was taken aback, although I’m currently assuming the latter rather than the former.
          2) In the modern era, independent islands throughout the Pacific generally get HUGE amounts of aid from less affected countries (including for eg the US and Venezuela) when needed, and send aid when they are less affected and other countries are more affected. There’s a whole lotta mutual aid going on. This idea of staunchly independent islands each taking care of their own is … outdated at best.
          3) Assuming that 20 percent of the population of any modern, fairly citified place has access to and the skills needed to safely use chain saws is … optimistic at best. Assuming that Puerto Ricans are just sitting around waiting for federal aid and not doing anything to help themselves is… ignorant at best. Just because they’re pissed at the lack of FEMA doesn’t mean they’re not working on fixing the problems. It’s *trivially* easy to find examples of both things happening at once: http://time.com/4960263/puerto-rico-devastation-hurricane-maria-aid/

          I strongly recommend you either learn more about the historical context, or stop ragging on people who are going through one of the hardest of hard times right now.Report

          • George Turner in reply to Maribou says:

            Puerto Ricans have been saying that some of the mayors and other bad actors are impeding recovery efforts by tacitly refusing to distribute the aid that has arrived so as to cast blame on Trump. The mayor of San Juan, by the way, has a 24% approval rating. She keeps saying that people are dying because there’s no aid, but Jeraldo Rivera has been going around to hospitals and morgues and he says he can’t find any of them.Report

            • Kolohe in reply to George Turner says:

              and if Geraldo Rivera is known for one thing, it’s finding what he’s looking for.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Kolohe says:

                He was asking the health care professionals if they’d seen all the dying that San Juan’s mayor kept talking about. They said no. He confronted her with that, and she redefined “dying” to mean the process of going weeks into the future without getting any food. By that metric we all start dying after dessert, and only stop dying when we get the next appetizer.

                But back to the point, Cuba is frequently hit by hurricanes. Where does their aid come from? The neighboring islands they kept trying to destabilize? Jamaica? Haiti? Russia? For some reason they’re still there.Report

              • Maribou in reply to George Turner says:

                @george-turner Venezuela is among the (many) nations who help Cuba with hurricane recovery. China and Vietnam are others. It took me fewer than 30 seconds to find that information. I don’t have time to find you more information right now, but I do expect you to work a little harder to stay informed.

                I’m not saying it isn’t a complicated political situation, and that plenty of people aren’t using the media to their own advantage.

                But if you keep making utterly unfounded claims, particularly around the topic of Puerto Ricans somehow being abnormal compared to other people who experience natural disasters, you’re not going to be doing yourself any favors.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Maribou says:

                I’m sure those starving Venezuelans sent all kinds of food aid to Cuba, probably some potato peels and maybe some half rotted apple cores, because they’ve been eating anything that can be eaten, including starving zoo animals.

                Have the ships from China and Vietnam gotten to Cuba yet? The voyage takes a month at 14 knots.Report

              • Maribou in reply to George Turner says:

                @george-turner Again, sending aid doesn’t always mean food, and yes, the Venezuelan government is pissing off their people by sending aid to lots of other countries including Cuba:

                China is using airplanes, not ships. (Much like the US needed more helicopters in PR.) Vietnam, who knows? It very well might take a long time. Regardless, your claim that other Caribbean islands make it on their own and not through help from others is still patently false.

                I’m not going to do all your research for you, George, I’m just telling you to do more research before you go making authoritative pronouncements about things in defiance of the facts.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Maribou says:

                Anybody recall Tampa getting aid from Haiti after Irma hit? Yeah. Me neither.

                Venezuela donated $1 million to Antigua, which comes to a whopping $12 per Antiguan. They didn’t send in any food from Venezuela to Barbuda because they don’t have any, as Venezuelans are starving to death. Instead Venezuela sent a plane to fly in a load of food donated by Barbados, which was kind of pointless since everybody on Barbuda was already leaving for Antigua, 20 miles away. Then the plane got stuck in the mud and had to be pushed out, but it finally flew out 120 people.

                We have rap stars and sports stars that provide more aid than that. Daddy Yankee pledged $1 million, as did J Lo. Ricky Martin doubled them. Pitbull flew out a planeload of cancer patients, and Mark Cuban sent a plane load of relief supplies. Real Housewife Bethany Frankel flew four planes full of supplies in.

                Venezuela give the tiny bit of aid it does so it doesn’t end up embargoed or invaded. It’s trying to swing Caribbean votes to block regional efforts to completely isolate it as a pariah state.Report

              • Maribou in reply to George Turner says:

                @george-turner So what was your original claim again?

                “The people who do 100% of the recovery work are the people who got hit with the natural disaster. The same applies to most of central America. They don’t sit around counting the number of US Navy ships that have arrived because none ever do. They just get to work repairing the damage.”

                I’ve more than sufficiently proven both that 100 percent of the work isn’t done by people on the islands themselves and that the US (including, as linked here, the US navy) does help other Caribbean islands, not just US possessions.

                You can keep shifting the argument ad infinitum, but it doesn’t change that your original claims were easily falsified. If you knew that, and were deliberately stating a case that you know to be untrue, please don’t. If you didn’t know that, stop moving the goalposts. And either way, if you’re going to claim that Puerto Ricans (or any other group of people in the midst of a disaster zone) aren’t “normal”, you’re going to need a *lot* better sourcing.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Maribou says:

                You don’t seem to understand the point. A navy ship cannot rebuild a Caribbean nation or a Central American country. The DoD sent 1,600 active duty military people to handle Harvey’s aftermath. Do you think those 1,600 people fixed all the Houston flood damage? If so, you must believe that a battalion of troops could rebuild Iraq’s less-damaged infrastructure in two months, too. If we couldn’t do nation building in six years when we sent in 150,000 troops, how can we do it in six weeks with only 15,000 bodies?

                Venezuela brags about how they helped Antigua by giving them $1 million, which is $12 a person. Do you think you could recover from a hurricane for $12? When the US goes in we spend billions on a rebuilding effort, not a million. Yet almost all of that is like insurance payouts. The actual repair work is done by the locals.

                Federal officials are not going to be swinging many hammers in Puerto Rico. The federal government has put 12,000 recovery people in PR, and most of them are military, trained in fighting and logistics, not in carpentry and drywall work. That work would get done whether the federal government showed up or not, just as it does when the federal government doesn’t declare a badly damaged area a federal disaster.

                Read your own link above on helping Haiti, where it says “More than 420 Marines on two Navy ships are preparing to head to the Caribbean if called upon to respond to Hurricane Matthew…” Haiti has a population of 10,850,000. Upping that to 10,850,420 is not going to make a significant difference in available manpower. For every Marine there will be 25,800 Haitians. Now, if it takes the average Marine, by himself, six months to rebuild a destroyed house, the task force we send could rebuild Haiti in about 12,000 years, or until the next hurricane, whichever is sooner. Or maybe the Haitians do almost all the work.

                But you reveal the mindset that’s the problem. Apparently lots of people think some Marines are supposed to show up on their doorstep to give them food, clean up their yard, and start rebuilding their house for them. That’s not what Marines do. They clear roads (an extremely common combat function), move big containers of supplies (also a combat function), get emergency power up, and rescue people who really need rescuing. If the disaster victims need foxholes, the Marines could also build those. They’re really more geared toward demolition.Report

              • Maribou in reply to George Turner says:

                @george-turner I recommend you stop trying to tell me what I must or must not believe and what mindset I do or don’t reveal. You’re doing a poor job of it and it wears out my patience.

                I especially recommend you stop trying to do that when I’m calling you on false claims and telling you not to strongly imply that Puerto Ricans aren’t normal.

                I don’t necessarily disagree with your now-claimed point, depending on how charitably I read you. I suspect that you and I actually have a number of points of agreement about this whole thing, including how much of what almost any politicians say or do in a situation like this is pure politicking.

                But you need to make those points the first go round next time, and not make different points about how Puerto Ricans aren’t looking out for themselves, how other islands and other hurricane sites 100 percent DO look out for themselves, and how expecting federal help in a disaster is not what normal people do. IE, the points you actually started out making, and the ones I objected to.

                Because THOSE points are, at best, factually wrong and interfering with better arguments you could be making. And at worst they’re both factually wrong and socially harmful.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

                Here’s another thing Geraldo won’t find: statistics of the number of Puerto Rican’s with electricity and clean drinking water. Apparently FEMA decided that data isn’t relevant anymore.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Stillwater says:

                The data is readily available from Puerto Rico’s recovery status site.


                Electricity is 9.2%, water is at 54.2%. 78% of gas stations are open and 79% of supermarkets are open.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to George Turner says:

                “The data is readily available”… on this entirely other site!


              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                @stillwater One assumes Geraldo’s people are capable of Googling? And thus George is technically correct?

                (I say this not excusing FEMA in any way.)Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                I certainly don’t assume people will Google for data not appearing on the FEMA site. Why would they assume FEMA isn’t updating progress on everything relevant to the effort?

                Which is the point of my comment: the go-to site for individuals and reporters to find info on relief progress has eliminated data on two of the most important needs, electricity and drinking water.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                @stillwater “Why would they assume FEMA isn’t updating progress on everything relevant to the effort?”

                Is this sarcasm akin to your comment on the border wall post? That I am, in this case, missing? Because, like, I haven’t assumed FEMA was competent at anything since at least the Katrina days. And if I was a reporter, I darn sure wouldn’t assume they were the only relevant source.

                Perhaps we are just coming from a very different set of priors on this one….Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:


                No sarcasm at all. I genuinely don’t know why you think people would look for data which isn’t posted on the official government site wrt disaster relief/recovery.

                I’m also not sure FEMAs competence plays a part in this since they were posting that data until today.

                Also, I could tell from your tone when you jumped into this that you didn’t like my comment on the Border Wall post.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                @stillwater I actually thought your border wall comment was funny, so you are missing something there. If I had a tone, it was because I was puzzled as to why you would think even someone as journalistically lax as Geraldo wouldn’t follow through on a lack of data from FEMA to go find info somewhere else, and so your 2nd comment to George didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

                Perhaps I am in Mountain-West world, over here – certainly not your fault, if so – no one I talk to about disasters (we get fires, floods, tornados) would trust FEMA data without comparing it to other information (or at least looking to see if other trusted sources had other information). Reporters might, but if they didn’t report beyond “FEMA didn’t report,” we’d all be rolling our eyes at them.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                it was because I was puzzled as to why you would think even someone as journalistically lax as Geraldo wouldn’t follow through

                Well, apologies for the confusion on my part then. But really, there isn’t much here. Geraldo was a vehicle, and yes, I was making fun of him. The point, which I thought was clear, was that “FEMA decided that data isn’t relevant anymore.” They’re not posting updates on recovery progress for those two metrics anymore. Why? Well….

                I guess I should have provided a link.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Stillwater says:

                Why would FEMA need to repost data that’s on the Puerto Rican government’s own recovery website, a website that even tracks the number of refugee pets (196 so far) and functioning cell towers, and that does so in Spanish?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to George Turner says:

                Why? Because FEMA is participating in the recovery.

                Why not? Because the Trump WH is trying to distance itself from responsibility for poorly progressing measureables.Report

              • switters in reply to George Turner says:

                They were already posting it George. So the status quo was post it, which reveals that until yesterday, FEMA disagreed with you, as they felt the need to post it. The action they took was removing previously available information. But i’m sure that decision had nothing to do with PR and the lack of progress and would have happened even if those metrics showed great progress.Report

  5. Damon says:

    Well, let’s see.

    FEMA’s got a great track record of proactivity, competent management & logistic coordination, and dedicated staff who prefer to be in the field rather than sitting in air conditioned offices. Just look at their history–years and years of doing it right every time.

    BTW, I’m selling the verrazano bridge for ONLY 100k today!

    Now, add that to a place 1K miles away, that’s an island, and has decades of corruption and mismanagement, and I’m sure the recovery and clean up will proceed smartly and efficiently.Report

    • Jesse in reply to Damon says:

      I mean, yes, when the President nominates people to FEMA with an actual history of disaster management instead of political appointments like Michael Brown, FEMA has worked well, both under Republican (Bush I) and Democratic (Clinton/Obama) President’s. Not perfectly, but the responses to disasters under those President’s were widely hailed as positive.

      I realize this falls under your “I’m a quasi libertarian (except for things like immigration) so the government can’d do anything right kick”, but the actual evidence is against you on this one.Report

      • Damon in reply to Jesse says:

        Actually, my political beliefs have zero to do with this, although I can see where you might get that idea.

        I’d say that your assertion that FEMA has worked well during Bush 1/Clinton/Obama is, at least, up for debate given the number of hits I got on their failure for Sandy and others.

        However, I could have distilled my words down to “large bureaucratic organizations aren’t generally agile and are slow to change, and are filled with employees who CYA” and withheld the sarcasm.Report

  6. Oscar Gordon says:

    Regarding the trouble PR is having recovering:

    PR is a US territory. As such, I fully expect the local government has an understanding with the feds/FEMA that, in the event of a natural disaster, PR can expect the following forms of aid to appear in very short order (here would follow a list of what aid can be expected, stuff like fuel, fresh water, food, equipment, etc.). PRs disaster recovery plans would include those expected resources to arrive with X many days (with contingencies for X+3 and X+5 days, etc.). This means that PR has plans to begin recovery immediately after it’s safe to do so, but they are only going to have supplies on hand for at most X+5 days. After that, the aid needs to be arriving.

    This is normal disaster prep and planning. My community knows what the local FD and PD have on hand, and we plan for X many days without resupply (there are only two main roads with bridges into the area and one minor road, a good earthquake and we are down to the very minor road), with contingencies should we exceed X days.

    That is just my neighborhood coordinating with the city. My city coordinates with the county, the county coordinates with the state, and the state with the feds.

    FEMAs job, FEMAs one job, is to handle all that coordination. They seem to have done a decent enough job with Harvey, but it was obvious with Irma they were getting strained already, and Maria was clearly too much for them. This is storm season, three hurricanes in a row should not have been unexpected. If I had to make a guess, FEMA over-committed it’s resources to Houston, was able to divert resources to handle Irma, but has pretty much nothing left for PR. And by resources, I don’t mean supplies, I mean logistics managers. The people who can get on the ground, assess the situation, and call back for specific resources (supplies, equipment, people) to get moved to where they are needed.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      PS No one cares if the gas stations are open. Gas stations sell Gasoline and sometimes diesel. Trucks, industrial generators, and heavy equipment run on diesel, and if the diesel bunkers are running low, all the gasoline in the world is effing useless.Report

      • Lyle in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Recall that it was stated that there was no shortage at the terminals, and there is also a major fuel depot on St. Croix where there used to be a large refinery. The problem was getting fuel to the stations as well as hospitals. Note in addition small generators also run on propane, and with the high electric rates and no natural gas on PR perhaps just having larger propane tanks and running the generators on it might make more sense. (Definitely for home users, there just keep the tank more than 1/2 full at all times)Report

  7. Lyle says:

    we need to recall that Irma damaged a good bit of PR a couple of weeks before Maria. IMHO one thing the breakdown in comms shows is a drastic lack of imagination on the part of the PR government in terms of what could happen. In particular relying on the cell phone land line network in the event of an emergency, when Cell phone towers tend to be on hilltops where the strongest winds are, as are the relay points for first responder communications. The fact that the central government had to distribute satellite phones to the municipalities suggest that this sort of situation had not been thought of before. Before the storm recruit ham radio operators to be at the emergency operations center to communicate at least with San Juan and likley as well the mainland after the storm (The operators practice this) Then in each small community deploy CB radios and some generators etc to communicate with the municipality.
    In fact the storm does suggest another way to immobilize the US if a hacker figures out how to take the cell phones and land lines down what happens. (of course you go to a cash only economy immediately).

    Or in the case of the cut off bridge on shown on CNN, why not go to the pony express idea where the guy with the horse was asked to ride a bit further to turn the message in.Report