Testing innovation in the Superstorm Sandy response: FEMA coordinated the activities among federal agencies and not-for-profit partners, which rolled out new programs developed post-Hurricane Katrina.

Author:Watkins, Muriel

Hurricane Sandy came ashore along the coast of New Jersey and New York City on October 29, 2012, as a powerful storm spanning 1,100 miles. Early estimates of damage approximating $75 billion make it one of the most costly Atlantic hurricanes, second only to Hurricane Katrina. In any natural disaster of this magnitude, significant federal resources are mobilized. Given the early estimates of the disaster, let's examine the disaster life cycle--preparedness, response, and recovery, as well as the coordination among federal agencies.


Preparedness: October 22-28

Similar to the storm watch of Hurricane Katrina when the country followed the forecast of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) Director Max Mayfield, so, too, did we tune in to the national weather news as advisories were issued on Tropical Storm Sandy. The nation continued to watch as it became Hurricane Sandy, hitting Florida and traveling up the East Coast. Unlike other storms, Hurricane Sandy did not turn out toward the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, it turned inward toward the New Jersey shore.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) began issuing public advisories on Monday, October 22, about a tropical wave in the Caribbean Sea, which was later upgraded to Tropical Storm Sandy with winds approaching 40 miles per hour. As early as October 23, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) predicted the storm would strike the East Coast. Other forecast models anticipated the storm would follow typical hurricane patterns and turn eastward and out to the Atlantic Ocean. The storm strengthened into a category 2 hurricane on October 24 with NOAA issuing watches for the east coast of Florida. The NHC began forecasting landfall in New Jersey.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was involved early, after the initial NOAA advisories, to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to a major civil emergency and to supervise a coordinated response by other federal agencies. FEMA began actively monitoring Hurricane Sandy on October 24. By October 26, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate provided President Obama with a status report of Hurricane Sandy, while Deputy Administrator Richard Serino conducted a conference call with the NWS and partner agencies to assess readiness.

Mobilizing Federal and State Partners

The next day FEMA begin mobilizing its federal partners with the activation of the National Response Coordination Center, a multi-agency center that coordinates federal responses. Health and Human Services Secretary Janet Napolitano and Fugate consulted East Coast governors regarding the storm advisories. FEMA's not-for-profit partner, the American Red Cross, began to mobilize for a response effort with its community partners to prepare shelters and ready-to-eat meals. FEMA's external affairs private-sector division conducted the first daily call with private-sector partners participating in the newly established National Business Emergency Operations Center (NBEOC).

Having been alerted to the potential for severe weather conditions, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency as Sandy hit the Caribbean and announced that the MTA would suspend all mass transit service--subway, bus, and commuter rail--by 7 p.m. October 28. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also declared a state of emergency, took precautionary steps to mobilize state agencies, and urged residents to prepare for the storm.

As a preparatory measure, President Obama signed emergency declarations for potentially affected states, making federal support available. He joined FEMA on a call with governors and mayors in the path of Hurricane Sandy. At this stage, more than 1,032 FEMA personnel were positioned for deployment along the East Coast to support a disaster response operation.

Response and Recovery: October 30 and Continuing

The morning after Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast Coast, the president issued a declaration of major disaster for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, thus initiating a long-term recovery program. The declaration was followed by an initial notice by FEMA announcing the availability of federal disaster assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by Hurricane Sandy beginning on October 26, 2012, and continuing.



At that point FEMA announced the appointment of a federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected states and informed residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated...

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