In 2017, Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, devastating the island, killing thousands and highlighting the problems with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response. Now, another major storm, Super Typhoon Yutu, has roared through a U.S. territory, bringing 180 mph sustained winds and up to 20-foot storm surges to the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Now, the Trump administration must apply the lessons learned in the aftermath of Maria.
The Northern Mariana Islands are a U.S. territory acquired after World War II, and are home to just over 55,000 people who are U.S. citizens but, like Puerto Rico, lack voting representation in the U.S. government and are not states.
Had Super Typhoon Yutu developed in the Atlantic, it would have been a Category 5 hurricane, instead, such storms in the Pacific are known as typhoons. But no matter what you want to call it, Yutu was a massive and powerful storm — the worst to hit the U.S. since 1935.
Dealing with the aftermath on the Pacific islands will also be a challenge. Early reports indicate that much, if not all, of the islands, including Saipan, the most populous, and Tinian, are without power. Search and rescue operations remain difficult if not impossible, due to destruction and current weather conditions. According to an update from the governor’s office posted on Facebook, the shelters on the island are full, many residents appear to have lost everything, ports and airports are closed, and hospitals suffered major damage.
But the Trump administration, in the wake of Maria, is hopefully better prepared to support residents than it was a year ago.
Specifically, the Trump administration and FEMA must be poised not only to respond to multiple serious storms in a single season but also to have a coordinated effort with local authorities.
Additionally, the failures of Maria must not be tolerated. Monthslong delays in restoring power, mismanagement of supplies (including water bottles that sat unused until they rotted at the airport), lack of situational awareness, and failures to adequately process information contributed to a soaring death toll.
The details of debacle were eventually published in an After-Action Report released by FEMA that highlighted the institutional failures but at least demonstrated that the agency recognized their mistakes.
With what looks to be an even more devastating storm with likely deadly consequences, FEMA and the White House must apply the lessons learned in last year's catastrophe to prevent the chaos, death and politicized haggling that defined Hurricane Maria.
In the Northern Mariana Islands, FEMA is already on the ground and President Trump declared a state of emergency before the storm made landfall. Hopefully, this early action translates into a strong federal response, saves lives, and applies the lessons so carefully documented in FEMA’s After-Action Report from last year.