What Happens If a Hurricane Comes During the Government Shutdown?

Hurricane Karen is forming in the Gulf of Mexico. A shutdown-strapped FEMA is getting ready.

A handwritten FEMA sign drips in the rain where people were waiting on line to receive 1,500 donated coats from New York Cares in the Far Rockaway neighborhood on November 13, 2012.
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Oct. 3, 2013, 9:23 a.m.

Hur­ricane watches are now in ef­fect from Grand Isle, La., to In­di­an Pass, Fla. It’s not yet clear how strong the storm, Hur­ricane Kar­en, will be­come as it moves to­ward the Gulf Coast. But even though the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is shut down, the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency is get­ting ready to re­spond.

In a state­ment Thursday morn­ing, FEMA said it has be­gun to re­call fur­loughed em­ploy­ees “ne­ces­sary to serve func­tions of the agency that pro­tect life and prop­erty.” This is hap­pen­ing in ac­cord­ance with the agency’s shut­down con­tin­gency plan. FEMA’s Hur­ricane Li­ais­on Team in Miami’s Na­tion­al Hur­ricane Cen­ter was re­act­iv­ated Thursday morn­ing.

But not every weath­er agency is up and run­ning. Here is where we would typ­ic­ally give you some in­form­a­tion from the Na­tion­al Ocean­ic and At­mo­spher­ic Ad­min­is­tra­tion. But its web­site, NOAA.gov, is cur­rently down due to the shut­down. Ready.gov, a site that helps Amer­ic­ans set up plans for dis­asters, is not up­dat­ing dur­ing the shut­down.

Des­pite the shut­down, FEMA is do­ing more than just get­ting ready to re­spond to a pos­sible hur­ricane. The agency has enough em­ploy­ees on hand to con­tin­ue its flood-re­lief ef­forts in Col­or­ado and its work help­ing areas of Ok­lahoma hit by a tor­nado in May. Part of the reas­on is that fund­ing for these ef­forts comes from the Dis­aster Re­lief Fund, which isn’t cur­rently af­fected by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment fund­ing lapse.

But FEMA can’t just do everything dur­ing a shut­down. On Wed­nes­day, a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing about the agency’s emer­gency alert sys­tem took place. No one from FEMA was able to at­tend.

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