In 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a category 4 hurricane with winds as high as 155 miles per hour. More recently, Hurricane Fiona made landfall on the southwestern end of Puerto Rico as a category 1 hurricane, with 85-mile-per-hour winds. While Maria was unequivocally more deadly, both natural disasters led to sheer devastation. The power outages following Hurricane Maria lasted for months and Hurricane Fiona initially left 1.5 million people in darkness.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the federal agency responsible for overseeing the government’s handling of significant natural disasters, was widely criticized for its response to Hurricane Maria. Reports found that FEMA had a critical lack of supplies in their response, while also suffering from a shortage of staff, and a variety of logistical issues including a fundamental lack of properly trained personnel. In fact, in a report regarding the Trump administration’s response to Maria, it was found that a central FEMA warehouse in Puerto Rico was nearly completely empty when the storm actually hit. This chaotic response to one of the deadliest natural disasters on record culminated in a profound struggle to deliver food and water to residents. All in all, Hurricane Maria caused nearly a trillion dollars in damages and left Puerto Ricans feeling unsupported by the federal government.
This time around, the US government seemed far better prepared to lead an efficient hurricane recovery effort. A FEMA administrator for natural disaster recovery noted that the agency possessed ten times more food and water and three times the amount of generators, in Puerto Rico, as compared to the onset of Maria. President Biden also quickly responded with a coordinated plan to deploy several incident response teams to Puerto Rico in a timely manner, including Mobile Emergency Response Support, Staging Management Teams, and Mobile Communication Office Vehicle operators. While both events led to widespread destruction in Puerto Rico, the US responded differently this time around, by preparing beforehand and crafting a more advanced plan to respond.