Consolidation of Initial Disaster Assistance in Response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria
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In 2017, after hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria resulted in catastrophic damage, the Office of Inspector General conducted three inspections to assess SBA’s initial disaster assistance response. We reviewed SBA’s staffing adequacy, loan application volume, and timeliness of disaster loan approvals in response to the damages caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. This review summarizes the results of those inspection reports.
The unprecedented damage, application volume, and magnitude of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria presented challenges for SBA. However, within 9 days of Hurricane Harvey, the agency established both disaster and recovery centers. While still helping victims of Hurricane Harvey, SBA established its presence for Hurricane Irma within 20 days. Then, while still assisting hurricane Harvey and Irma disaster survivors, SBA was able to staff disaster recovery and business recovery centers within 13 days in Puerto Rico and 33 days in the U.S. Virgin Islands to help victims of Hurricane Maria.
SBA quickly increased its staffing levels from 758 on August 4, 2017, to 2,579 by September 30, 2017. The agency effectively staffed and opened loan processing centers in each of the affected communities and exceeded its loan application processing goals for accepted applications for all three hurricanes. However, SBA’s response was not without difficulty. We found there was a 24 percent backlog of loan applications. SBA also did not meet its goals for answering calls and responding to email messages and some survivors were on hold 45 minutes or more waiting to discuss their applications.
To reduce the backlog and increase staffing, the agency began using USA Staffing to automate recruitment, hiring, and on-boarding processes. The agency also set new program-specific training requirements for temporary disaster employees and volunteers and awarded a new blanket-purchase agreement to three different vendors for translation services. SBA’s corrective actions, when implemented, should enhance its initial response to future large-scale disasters.
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