Hurricane Harvey was described as a storm that did not discriminate, causing damage estimated at $ 125 billion, to the rich as to the poor. However, community leaders say residents of poorer neighborhoods have been worse off. (August 23)
WASHINGTON – FEMA has poorly shared the personal data of some 2.3 million victims of four major disasters in 2017, a government report that monitored the events said.
This mistake put hurricane survivors Harvey, Irma and Maria and California wildfires "at greater risk of identity theft and fraud," according to the report of Interim Inspector General John V. Kelly. Department of Homeland Security.
FEMA is a division of Homeland Security.
Related: Brock Long, who oversaw the Trump administration's response to Hurricane Maria, resigns from his position as FEMA leader
Related: FEMA reports under Obama are largely removed
The violation is due to the lack of adequate safeguards for those affected by the FEMA program to provide transitional shelter for homeless survivors, often placing them in hotels and other shelter arrangements. temporary accommodation, said the report.
The 13 types of compromised information included full names, dates of birth, partial social security numbers, addresses and financial information, including applicants' bank transfer details.Data was provided to a private contractor managing the transitional shelter program.
The report, originally submitted to FEMA on March 15, was released on Friday.
For those who survived the disasters, the disclosure was not well received.
"Mistakes can be made, but the people of Sonoma County have lived through so much and this only adds to their concern," said Sonoma Mayor Amy Harrington at USA TODAY. "It's just unfair that they worry about theft of identity."
Disclosure comes as disasters continue in Florida and California, with some families still housed in temporary housing.
"The last thing you need when you are trying to rebuild your home and your life is an impact on your credit," said Jeff Okrepkie, a fire victim in Santa Rosa, California. "To worry about it seems to me totally useless and a bit scary, to be honest."
Darlene Izzo, who received FEMA assistance for her transitional shelter after Hurricane Irma destroyed her family's home in Fort Myers, Fla., Said the violation was a new blow.
"It's bad enough with what you experienced with the hurricane," she said. "Thinking now that our information is published is very upsetting."
In a letter sent on March 28 to Kelly and included in the audit, FEMA's Associate Administrator, Joel Doolin, acknowledged the violation and said the agency had taken steps. energetic measures to mitigate the issues raised in this report ".
Doolin's letter indicates that the agency "immediately acted to end the excess data" of sensitive personal information as soon as it received the draft report from the agency. Inspector General in November.
The contractor was not identified in the report as it had been redacted.
Although this was not required, the contractor could have alerted FEMA that he was receiving unnecessary personal information and the agency "may be able to remedy this situation sooner and avoid other life-related incidents. private sector, "says the report.
The four disasters of 2017 left tens of thousands homeless in several US states and territories and caused billions of damage.
Hurricane Harvey caused massive floods in Texas. Hurricane Irma swept the Gulf Coast of Florida. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The California wildfires – about 9,000 of them – have burned more than one million acres in the state.
Among the information disclosed, banking data are perhaps the most damaging.
"Oh, that's not good, it's just about everything you need to transfer funds into or into a bank account," said Okrepkie, who created a non-profit group. lucrative called Coffey Strong to help his victims in the Coffey Park neighborhood stay connected during the rebuilding effort.
To date, 193 houses have been completed and some 700 more are expected to be online this summer. "It's really, really frustrating to hear."
Okrepkie said that the announcement of the FEMA data release would delay most rebuilding attempts.
"It's disappointing and discouraging to say the least," he said. "Registration at FEMA was an essential part of the recovery after the fires.Fires broke out and you immediately heard:" Ask FEMA for help, ask for help from the Red Cross. "Everyone has done it, so it's frustrating to see this happen because they have compromised the information of people already in a precarious financial situation because of their recovery."
Pamela Van Halsema, whose family of five has lost her home in Santa Rosa, has expressed concern that her information may be among the compromised information.
"What strikes me is that it strikes the most vulnerable people in our country," Van Halsema said. "People who survived a terrible disaster often do not have the means to find another place, no social network, insurance, or money in the bank, so they had to turn to FEMA for help. hotel or trailer, having that as an extra harm put on them is too much. "
She adds that she believes in "a government that provides social supports and social services, but not a government that plays fast with our private information.We must trust people in these times of vulnerability and we are afraid now that they outsource this (reconstruction) work to someone who might not be as scrupulous about our data. "
In Florida, Izzo said that she had had a bad experience with a contractor who had declared that he was certified by FEMA, but that she had later discovered that he did not have it. Was not. The contractor did a terrible job, she said. They lost money and had to hire another contractor to correct the mistakes, she said.
She added that she was now worried about what she needed to prepare to move forward. She wonders what information could have been communicated because the application required so much private information and feared that she would no longer be exposed to identity theft and opening accounts. fraudulent on his behalf.
"It's an extra burden for us to worry about what's going to happen with our personal information," she said. "We still have not repaired our roof. When does it end?
Contributors: Brooke Baitinger, John Fritze and Marco della Cava
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