Disaster Plans and Hurricane Sandy

A really important article about the effectiveness (not very!) of disaster planning and how it was used during Hurricane Sandy.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I am constantly preaching about self-reliance in disasters as essential and how you cannot count on FEMA or anyone else to come riding to the rescue in white hats. As the article says,

“Some of these other organizations they’re more bureaucratic. Red Cross and FEMA didn’t show up for at least ten days, and we were there from the day after the storm. They’re unbelievably bureaucratic and unable to deal with an issue that requires nimbleness, and [they’re] hierarchical which means that they have to wait for permissions and things like that. I mean FEMA: the city has to request it from the state and the state has to request it from the government and they have to approve back down the same chain. And so it’s ridiculous... 

Certain types of disasters (swift-water rescues like the ones that saved the children in the school bus last weeks) can be successfully drilled and trained even though they are rare. But, a September 11 or Hurricane Sandy is much more difficult because they are unprecedented. We need to fix the structural problems (i.e., incompatible radios) the impede disaster response. Then, we have to hire smart, experienced people and allow them to figures it out when one of these huge disasters occurs.


  1. In many areas FEMA and ARC couldn't get supplies/staff in because of road conditions. Think about how widespread the impact was. The ARC has volunteers and supplies spread out around the country, it takes time to mobilize them. Sure, that can (and do) preposition command level staff and minimal equipment to get the relief operation going. But the rest of the staff has to travel by plane,and supplies by truck. The command staff has to assess needs, then make the requisitions, those requests go up the chain, then it has to be determined what assets are available, notify staff of activation, and notify supply warehouses of needs to prepare loads. Then they have to contact trucking companies to pick up supplies. They do not have fleets of trucks parked outside the supply depots 24/7.

    Th sooner requests are made the faster the response will be, the events ALWAYS start at the local level, it is up to the local agencies to get their requests in as soon as possible to speed up response

  2. Keith,

    Your comments are appreciated.

    Without going into all of the details, there were more problems with the disaster response for Sandy than the article indicated. For example, the Red Cross pre-staged supplies for NYC in Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania RC people hijacked them and they never got to NYC.

    FEMA was busy - literally - staging photo-ops in the worst damaged areas the day after the storm. They would swoop in with a truck and a photographer. People would unload stuff from the truck to make it look like FEMA had set up some type of response center and photos would be taken. Then, they would pack up the truck and leave!

    Is planning important? Yes. But, one can take a reasonable position that we can over plan.

    Thanks again, Mike

    1. Oh I agree wholeheartedly. Disasters always start at the local level, the planning and preparedness done at the local level has a LOT to do with how the event unfolds and the relief/recovery process proceeds.

      Case in point, Hurricane Katrina, the presidential decleration was made DAYS in advance of the storms making landfall. They could have been making requests as soon as the declaration was made i.e MREs and bottled water to feed people who didn't/couldn't evacuate. Planes/buses to assist in evacuation of New Orleans, FEMA already had supplies prestaged, but nobody asked for them.

      FEMA can't do anything until it is requested.

      They also didn't implement their EOP (which is a legal binding document). Their EOP called for using the city school and public transit buses to assist in evacuation the city. the OEM wanted to enact that proceedure, but the mayor said no, instead he decided to contract a commercial busing company, and by the time those buses got there it was too late. Meanwhile all the cities buses were under water.

      As you stated citizens and government agencies need to be more self reliant and better prepared. This is what I do for a living.

      I live in a rural area of NW Ohio (population 29,000 in the county), locally we have a mobile kitchen on a box truck chassis that will serve 1500 meals a day, not counting the other kitchens available locally. We have two generator trailers we can move anywhere in the county to power a shelter,nursing home, fire station etc. as needed, We have a mobile command trailer with communications capabilities that many would find hard to beat. We have enough medical supplies (excluding medication) to open a field hospital. We even have a disaster animal response team to take in shelter and treat animals in a disaster situation, from household pets to livestock.

      If we can prepare, so can other local government agencies.


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