he 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season was one of the most active seasons in U.S. history, causing widespread damage to, or destruction of, critical infrastructure, livelihoods, and property. The hurricane season was accompanied by devastating wildfires in California that burned for months. Between April and November there were 17 named storms, of which 10 became hurricanes (Figure 1). This After-Action Report focuses on three of these storms that made landfall as major hurricanes in the United States in quick succession. Specifically, this report focuses on the response and initial recovery from August 25 to November 30, 2017.
- On August 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 storm. For several days, the storm hovered near the Houston metropolitan area and set a record for the most rainfall from a U.S. tropical cyclone. Of households impacted by Hurricane Harvey, 80 percent did not have flood insurance.
On September 6, Hurricane Irma became one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record. The storm’s center passed just north of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and destroyed critical infrastructure on St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys. Hurricane Irma was the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since 2005. The public followed evacuation orders as the storm approached Florida, resulting in one of the largest sheltering missions in U.S. history. Hurricane Irma also impacted the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the states of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
▪ The center of Hurricane Maria passed southeast of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands on September 19 as a Category 5 storm, and made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm the next day. Hurricane Maria severely damaged or destroyed a significant portion of both territories' already fragile critical infrastructure. Maria left Puerto Rico’s 3.7 million residents without electricity. The resulting response represents the longest sustained air mission of food and water delivery in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) history.
In addition to the three major hurricanes making landfall, Hurricane Jose threatened the Caribbean and the East Coast of the United States for nearly two weeks, requiring FEMA resources and interfering with sea transport to the Caribbean. Similarly, Hurricane Nate made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River, but its impacts were relatively limited. Nearly simultaneously, FEMA also supported California in responding to some of the most devastating wildfires to ever impact the state. Last year’s hurricanes and wildfires came at a time when FEMA was already supporting 692 federally declared disasters and tested the Nation’s ability to respond to and recover from multiple concurrent disasters.
From Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in Texas on August 25 to the end of the 2017 Hurricane Season on November 30, the President granted 10 Major Disaster declarations and 10 Emergency declarations for communities impacted by these three storms. As of April 30, 2018, FEMA had obligated $21.2 billion towards the impact of these hurricanes, including disaster assistance to survivors and the affected communities. FEMA coordinated large deployments of federal personnel, both before and after the storms’ landfalls, to support response and initial recovery efforts across 270,000 square miles. These deployments included over 17,000 FEMA and federal Surge Capacity Force personnel, and nearly 14,000 staff from various offices of the Department of Defense (DoD) operating under DoD’s Defense Support of Civil Authorities process.
FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces, comprised of state and local emergency responders, saved or assisted nearly 9,500 lives across the three hurricanes. These numbers stand in addition to the thousands of lives saved or assisted by DoD, the U.S. Coast Guard, state and local first responders, and neighbors helping neighbors. Concurrent with response operations, FEMA moved quickly to meet long-term survivor needs.
The unprecedented scale, scope, and impacts of the complex combination of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and the California Wildfires tested the capabilities FEMA has developed and improved since hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. The 2017 Hurricane Season involved major operations across multiple incidents that required decision-makers to rapidly observe and react to unfolding events. FEMA surged and redeployed resources for incidents across a wide geographic area to support millions of survivors in their time of need.