Disaster Zone

Resilience Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

Lessons from the feds about Hurricane Sandy

by Eric Holdeman / June 26, 2013

Yesterday I spent the day with a number of people from across the nation looking at what lessons can be learned from the Hurricane Sandy Experience.  The key person putting this event together was Steven Flynn.  Because he was able to get grant funding to support the work he could sponsor the travel for a variety of people to attend.  Generally he drew on people from other major metropolitan areas that have been doing catastrophic planning and also have significant risks.  I liked the mix of attendees.  Due to the significant business interruptions to the NY/NJ ports there was a number of other port authority representatives in attendance.  


The first panel of the day was a federal one that spoke to what they learned from the Hurricane Sandy Experience.  See my notes below.  Please note that this is what I could capture, certainly not a verbatim record for what was said.


Coping with Sandy:  A Federal Perspective: 


Coping with Sandy:  A Federal Perspective: 


  • Richard Reed, Sr. VP American Red Cross and Former Deputy Assistant to the President.
    • Integration of staffs for Resiliency.  Idea is to go beyond the discrete actions of response, preparedness, recovery, etc.  Definition is both building more disaster resilience and the bouncing back.  Left of boom—right of boom
    • An all of community, all of nation effort.  All-hazards approach.
    • Holly Bamford, Asst. Administrator NOAA. 
      • Top 25 most dense counties are coastal communities.
      • Mid-80’s two storms cost over a billion dollars.
      • Now we have had ten storms over a billion dollars
      • Trying to predict the future.  More population, density and infrastructure on the coasts.
      • Dune construction and dune development did help with Hurricane Sandy damages.
      • Risk framework assessment for ports.  Capacity of ports, livability and security of ports and their systems.
      • Richard Serino, Deputy Administrator, FEMA
        • New emphasis is more than FEMA—whole community effort.  Government and others bringing resources to bear
        • Private sector brings a great deal of resources.  National Business Center.
        • We need to bring the public to bear.  Getting people to realize what they can do.  Getting individuals to see their role and then how they work with their neighbors.  Need to start at the local level. 
        • Put the survivor centric model in place.  Replaces the thought of victims.  The simple terminology makes a huge difference.  Survivors are not just individuals, but communities.
        • Citizens are part of the solution.  It is not for responders to push them out of the way.
        • How we coordinate our grant dollars is important.  Communications are not as common a finding after a disaster.  Because of the influx of dollars to help fix the interoperability issue. 
        • BG Ken Savre, CG & Division Engineer North Atlantic Division, U.S. Corps of Engineers
          • Project based approach.
          • Corps definition of Resiliency: The ability to avoid minimize and recover from the effects of adversity.
          • They have a comprehensive study.  Bring together subject matter experts Looking at the entire NE.  Build maps with layers showing the risk.  Goal is to establish the study as the baseline for where to commit resources. 
          • NOAA: 
            • Post Sandy, closer working relationship with Corps of Engineers. 
            • NOAA partners with USCG and Corps in after action.  3,000 miles of coastline documented with high resolution imagery.  Shared that with other federal agencies. 
            • Biggest lesson learned is the impact of storm surge.  Working with the NWS.  Tide is a big issue when it comes to storm surge.  Where will the water go?
            • Translating the information into action can be difficult.  New models will have information down to street level.  They already have the high resolution photography to help do that.
            • Serino
              • They crowd sourced the looking at photos to estimate damages.  They had 5K people looking at photos to help in categorizing the damages. 
              • They had volunteers registering people at their homes for damages and FEMA claims using iPads. 
              • Trying to combine their own internal data bases so that they interface with one another.  The average homeowner has seven interactions with FEMA, sometimes with seven different individuals. 
              • Working to get basic needs taken care of at people’s homes so they can stay in their homes.
              • Richard Reed
                • The ARC is evolving. 
                • A Lego approach to put together whatever structure you need
                • Not about every organization being all things to all people
                • They are trying to integrate their different aspects of what they do.  Less stove piping internally.
                • There is a softer side of the ARC skills, leading and convening
                • How to play with the Federal Govt. better:  Do your homework before the disaster.  Understand how the system works.  Know what to ask for when the Feds show up.  Only your imagination is your limitation when it comes time to respond.  There are great opportunities to innovate. 
                • Leveraging all federal agencies is key. 
                • Disaster donations are not a solution, but a problem.  You can spend a lot of time wasting time doing things with little value.
                • Serino
                  • Within local communities there is a great deal of resilience.  Cities that take volunteers leverage that for the future.  Joplin had 176K volunteers.  1M in volunteer hours of labor.  This translated to $17M in offset that is available for the offset in matching federal dollars. 
                  • Need to be careful that we are not always preparing for the last disaster.  We could have a Sandy X3. 

Aging infrastructure is making us less resilient, when in actuality we are becoming fragile.


Leadership Advice:


  • You have to have a team that can go for the long haul.  It is not a week’s effort, you need months of effort. 
  • Calm level headed leaders.
  • Being able to adjust to the circumstances.
  • Need to look at the long-term effort.  Resiliency is a political issue.
  • “Need to get back not to where we were, but where we need to be.”  Holly Bamford.
  • Leadership matters.  President:  Cut the red tape, take a blow torch to the red tape.  Allowing leadership to happen at the FCO level.  Putting FCOs with local elected officials helped greatly.  Down to the County Executive and Mayors.
  • Start with the end in mind.  Anticipate what might happen and reading the information as it comes in to stay ahead of the event.
  • Leverage your relationships.