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Supporting America’s Communities Impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria

At the Department of Commerce, we’re committed to partnering with communities who are recovering from the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Since the initiation of disaster response efforts prior to landfall in August and September, the Department has been leveraging the strategic guidance and technical expertise available through our many diverse bureaus to serve the recovery needs of the communities affected by the recent hurricanes.

Providing Timely and Reliable Data Critical to Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Recovery

At the forefront of preparation and response is the Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA plays many critical roles in protecting life and property across the United States every hurricane season.

Below are a few highlights on efforts this year by NOAA regarding Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria:

  • Provided critical data in determining the path and scope of hurricanes during the early stages of disaster preparation and response. NOAA issued early and reliable forecasts to communities in the path of this year’s storms. In particular, NOAA’s new geostationary satellite, GOES-16, assisted forecasters in tracking storms with greater detail than ever before.
  • Deployed “Hurricane Hunter” NOAA aircraft that flew more than 500 hours to provide critical data for forecasting, research and emergency response.
  • Launched new Storm Surge Watches and Warnings through NOAA’s National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center. NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS) provided services to help communities prepare, respond and recover, including Storm Quicklooks with near real-time coastal and weather data. After the storms, NOS collected post-storm aerial images to help assess damage to coastal areas.
  • Produced specialized flood maps as Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, helping emergency managers stage resources, recovery encampments, evacuation areas and other relief activities safely outside the areas of likely flooding.
  • Provided emergency hydrographic services at affected port areas to detect potential hazards that could delay the delivery of emergency supplies and maritime commerce. This service helped the U.S. Coast Guard make decisions on reopening ports.
  • Embedded National Weather Service meteorologists in federal, state and local emergency operations centers before and during the storms to help emergency response managers better understand storm forecasts.

The U.S. Census Bureau was also instrumental in providing local data that is critical to emergency planning, preparedness and recovery efforts. When hurricanes strike, this information is key in guiding effective operations for emergency response, mitigation and recovery. Through the U.S. Census Bureau’s On the Map for Emergency Management tool, communities in the affected areas were able to quickly and easily access detailed data on workforce, population and housing characteristics.

Supporting Long-Term Economic Recovery

The Economic Development Administration (EDA) has a long history of successfully supporting disaster recovery and resiliency efforts. EDA helps facilitate the timely and effective delivery of economic assistance to support long-term community recovery planning and project implementation, redevelopment and resiliency. They spearhead these efforts as the lead federal agency of the Economic Recovery Support Function (ERSF) under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF).

To help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, EDA continues to work closely with its federal partners through the ERSF process to identify federal assistance that can help address the region’s near-term liquidity issues and to identify options to help attract businesses and incentivize growth. ERSF partners are also conducting ongoing outreach to the business community to determine if they plan to continue operations in the region.

Today, the Economic Development Administration’s Regional Offices in Austin, Philadelphia and Atlanta are working closely with Economic Development Districts, federal, state and local officials – as well as other partners in areas impacted by the recent hurricanes – to accelerate economic recovery from these disasters.

Assisting Displaced and Impacted Businesses and Manufacturers

The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) has invested $1.25 million in funding to assist displaced and impacted minority-owned businesses (MBE) in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico. These business centers are assisting MBE’s with completing disaster recovery loan packages, and continue to leverage resources – along with their local stakeholder networks – to disseminate information to assist in hurricane recovery.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership program awarded a total of $6 million dollars to its centers in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico to help small and medium-sized manufacturers recover from 2017’s devastating hurricanes. The centers will use the funding to identify and provide recovery support to manufacturers who are suffering from physical damage to their facilities, labor shortages and other disruptions caused by the storms.

Ensuring First Responder Communication

Communication is critical before, during and after a disaster. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, thousands of federal personnel were deployed to the Gulf Coast, Florida and the Caribbean, conducting search-and-rescue missions and delivering emergency supplies of food and water. Staff from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) helped ensure that these responders could communicate with each other and with the various state and local agencies on the ground.

NTIA’s Emergency Response Team traveled to the affected regions to ensure the response teams’ wireless radios could link up, communicate and operate without interfering with or disrupting each other's work. They also helped federal agencies obtain frequency assignments when they needed additional spectrum access to rebuild operational capability or support response efforts. During Hurricane Harvey, FirstNet staff were deployed to emergency operations centers (OECs) in Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee. In addition to providing staffing support for monitoring and response to communications outages, they observed OEC response efforts for lessons learned. This insight is critical to FirstNet’s work to ensure the nationwide public safety broadband network meets the needs of emergency managers and first responders across the country.

Protecting Communities from Future Disasters

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, NIST’s Disaster and Failure Studies Program sent preliminary reconnaissance teams to:

  • Texas – to look at flood damage in Houston and wind damage in Rockport.
  • Florida – to evaluate wind damage, storm-surge impacts, and the effectiveness of emergency communication.
  • Puerto Rico – to look at storm damage to buildings and infrastructure, continuity of critical community functions, as well as the performance of the emergency management system.

These efforts will contribute to our understanding of how powerful storms affect the built environment and therefore how codes, planning and response can be improved, and help NIST determine if it will conduct disaster investigations under the National Construction Safety Team Act.