Disaster Zone

Hurricane Sandy--The Disaster Response is the Easy Part

People don't realize what a long haul they are in for, both government and individuals.

by Eric Holdeman / November 4, 2012

Granted FEMA has done a good job of responding.  They pre-positioned staff and equipment as best as possible and now six days later those resources for response are flowing into the impacted areas.  Perhaps not as quick as some would like, but fast from a disaster response perspective.


What states and locals don't realize is that the recovery process will be a long and complicated affair with plenty of angst, disappointment and frustration by those seeking public assistance from FEMA and other federal agencies.  James Lee Witt pointed this out in his Op-ed in Newsday Witt: A blueprint to help in Sandy's recovery


Because of the broad swath of damage from the storm there is going to be a huge need for FEMA staff to assist in the recovery process.  I'm sure all the FEMA Regions are sending staff to assist in running Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) and the Disaster Field Offices (DFO) that will be established in all the states.  Disaster reservists are also there or on the way to assist with disaster assessment and to begin the long process of documenting "eligible" damages.  


My concern is if FEMA has all the staff that it needs, especially Disaster Reservists who's numbers have dwindled.  Yes, FEMA has begun recruiting and training Americorps staff to help with the recovery process, but these will be neophytes to the process.  


You might be thinking that New York City will have plenty of experience from the 9/11 disaster.  Interestingly I was with a few NYC OEM staff a couple of months ago and we were chatting about the events of 9/11 and how NYOEM responded.  I knew more about it than they did--since they had been hired after those momentous days.  Turnover is always an issue and you can't count on the number of experienced people you thought might be there when it is now eleven years later.


This next phase will be the real test of FEMA in the coming months and years.  Response is sexy, recovery is where the rubber meets the road.  When all the cameras and reporters are gone, it will be in conference rooms and cubicles that FEMA will either prove itself or come crashing down in a mountain of unprocessed paperwork.