The COVID-19 pandemic, a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, and massive western wildfires contributed to a historic 2020 for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in which the National Response Coordination Center was activated for an unprecedented 314 days.
The previous record was set in 2017, when the NRCC was activated for 78 days. Last year, 300 of the NRCC days were due to pandemic response, with more than 5,300 staff deployed to support response operations, according to FEMA’s year-end stats.
The previous record for presidentially declared emergencies and major disasters in one year was 128 in 2011. In 2020, that was far surpassed with 230 declarations. Three major declarations were due to wildfires in a season that included five of the 10 largest fires in California’s history and the largest known wildfire in Colorado history.
More than 5,000 FEMA employees were deployed to hurricane response in the Pacific and Atlantic — a dozen named storms made landfall, smashing another annual record, and on Sept. 18 three Atlantic named storms formed within six hours — and more than 1,200 employees FEMA employees responded to the western wildfires.
As Puerto Rico has still been recovering from the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria, an earthquake swarm including a magnitude 6.4 temblor on Jan. 7, 2020, left the island in even greater need. More than 1,200 FEMA employees supported the response to the series of earthquakes, the worst seismic activity to hit the island in 100 years.
More than 11,000 alerts were sent over FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System.
Just the act of responding to natural disasters put FEMA staffers at risk as the agency faced the challenge of emergency response and humanitarian aid during a deadly and highly contagious pandemic.
COVID-19 brought the first nationwide emergency declaration and the first time in FEMA’s history that the agency led a pandemic response, while serving on the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Project Airbridge, intended to rush critical supplies such as personal protective equipment to the U.S. supply chain, brought more than 1.1 billion pieces of medical supplies to the country on 249 flights from March 29, 2020 through June 30, 2020. Agency-coordinated efforts included distributing PPE care packages to 15,400 nursing homes, a hot spot for the virus.
As the virus kept many people out of work, FEMA and the Labor Department provided $42.5 billion in Lost Wages Assistance grants to assist Americans who were unemployed as a result of the pandemic.
At one point, more than 40,000 guardsmen were supporting the COVID-19 response operation under FEMA’s mission assignment to the Defense Department. More than 5,300 FEMA mission assigned DoD personnel assisted overwhelmed hospitals and staff at alternate care facilities.
More FEMA 2020 year-end stats include:
- $568.9 million in grants to disaster survivors for immediate needs
- $830 million in flood insurance payments
- $700 million in grants to assist firefighter training and equipment
- $927 million in mitigation grants
- $1.8 billion in 2020 DHS preparedness grants