Category Archives: FEMA

Watchdog: FEMA Wrongly Released Personal Data Of Victims

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency wrongly released to a contractor the personal information of 2.3 million survivors of devastating 2017 hurricanes and wildfires, potentially exposing the victims to identity fraud and theft, a government watchdog reported Friday.

The Homeland Security Department’s Office of Inspector General found the breach occurred when FEMA was working with a contractor that helps provide temporary housing to those affected by disasters. FEMA is one of Homeland Security’s many agencies; the sprawling 240,000-person department also includes immigration enforcement, and the U.S. Secret Service.

FEMA officials said that since the discovery of the issue, the agency was no longer sharing unnecessary data with the contractor and has conducted a detailed review of the contractor’s information system and has found no indication to suggest data has been compromised.

The agency said in a statement it is working with the contractor to remove the data from its system and has instructed staff to complete additional privacy training.

“FEMA’s goal remains protecting and strengthening the integrity, effectiveness, and security of our disaster programs that help people before, during, and after disasters,” FEMA Press Secretary Lizzie Litzow said in a statement.

Some information, like names, last four digits of a Social Security number and how many people live in a household are required to confirm eligibility and locate housing for victims. But FEMA also provided the contractor with bank names electronic funds transfer numbers and bank transit numbers that were not required by the contractor.

The 2.3 million people lived through California wildfires and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

The watchdog said that FEMA violated both federal privacy laws and also Homeland Security policy by giving the extra data to the contractor, whose name was redacted in the report made public Friday.

The contractor also knew that FEMA was providing too much personal data but didn’t inform the disaster relief agency.

The 2017 hurricane season was particularly brutal. Harvey slammed ashore in Texas on Aug. 25, 2017, as a powerful Category 4 storm. It killed 68 people and deluged much of the Houston metropolitan area — home to more than 6 million people — with 3 to 4 feet of water. Flooding damaged more than 300,000 structures and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage, according to a report from the National Hurricane Center . Irma struck Florida Sept. 10 and battered Georgia and North Carolina, killing 129 and devastating the Florida Keys. Maria made landfall Sept. 20, devastating Puerto Rico and plunging much of the island into darkness for months after, causing major damage and leaving nearly 3,000 people dead.

Wildfires in California in 2017 burned some 1.2 million acres of land, destroyed more than 10,800 structures and killed at least 46, and insurance claims topped $3.3 billion.


Associated Press writer Adam Kealoha Causey in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

Watchdog: California Wildfire Victims Personal Data Wrongly Released By FEMA

By Christine Weicher

(CBS News) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency, charged with providing support to victims of disasters, unwittingly released private personal information of 2.3 people affected by the 2017 California wildfires and hurricanes Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida and Maria in Puerto Rico. The agency has acknowledged it is a “major privacy incident”

An investigation by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and stamped “for official use only” criticized, saying “FEMA did not take steps to ensure it only provided only required data” to transitional shelters, including hotels. “Without corrective action, the disaster survivors involved in the primacy incident are at increased risk of identity theft and fraud,” the report read.

An unnamed private contractor was charged with administering the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program and had access to social security numbers, bank accounts and bank transfer numbers. Part of the OIG’s report is redacted.

“FEMA provided much more information than was necessary,” FEMA Press Secretary Lizzie Litzow is quoted as saying.

FEMA reported it has complied with the OIG’s recommendations to “safeguard both Personally Identifiable Information and Sensitive Personally Identifiable Information of disaster survivors.

Read Office of Inspector General’s Report

FEMA Extends Housing Program For 2017 Wine Country Fire Survivors

WASHINGTON (CBS SF) — California representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA District 5) and Jared Huffman (D-CA District 2) announced Tuesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has granted an extension for the Direct Temporary Housing Program.

The program provides affordable housing for owners and renters whose homes were destroyed in the October 2017 wildfires. The two representatives asked FEMA for an extension earlier in March.

The Direct Temporary Housing Program has been extended to July 10, 2019 for pre-disaster homeowners and to May 10, 2019 for pre-disaster renters. The extension covers all survivors of the fires that occurred between October 8 and October 31, 2017.

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“Affordable and available housing was already a problem across our region before the tragic October 2017 fires and the destruction of homes and property has exacerbated that shortage,” said Thompson in a statement. “I will continue fighting to deliver every federal dollar and resource throughout our recovery process.”

“I’m glad to see that FEMA acted swiftly to extend this needed housing assistance,” said Huffman.

“While this progress on the ground is encouraging, we still have a long way to go to achieve security for our fire survivors. I will keep fighting with my colleagues in Congress for services and funding until full recovery is achieved for our community.”

FEMA Rejects $306M In Reimbursement For Oroville Dam Repairs

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A state agency says the federal government has rejected $306 million in reimbursements for California’s repair of the nation’s tallest dam.

The amount is less than half of what California has so far requested from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair Oroville Dam, where spillways crumbled and fell away during heavy rains in early 2017.

The problem prompted nearly 200,000 people to evacuate but the dam did not collapse.

FEMA has approved $333 million for repairs. State water officials put total reconstruction costs at $1.1 billion.

The California Natural Resources Agency on Friday confirmed the amount of money rejected and said the state plans to appeal the decision.

FEMA has not responded to emails seeking comment.

The Sacramento Bee reports FEMA says damage to the upper gated spillway existed before the heavy rains.

 

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