Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: When Risk becomes Reality

What happened in NY/NJ with Hurricane Sandy is really important -- and most of the main stream media has missed the story.
1) Gov Christy said the damage was "Unthinkable." Really?
Answer: No - that is how he and other local officials covered their behinds after their own abject failure. Sevevn years ago DHS published "15 National Scenarios" that local officials were to use as a benchmark for preparations. One of them looked almost exactly like Sandy. Officials in NY and NJ (and elsewhere) ignored the warning. And they let their Emergency Managers focus on lesser contingencies. This is another major failure of state and local leadership (Christy and Bloomberg and Cuomo) -- just like Katrina -- with those officials desperately trying to shift blame (like in Katrina).
2) Where was FEMA?
Answer: Exactly where it was supposed to be doing what it is supposed to be doing. FEMA does not do RESPONSE, which is what the first 3-5 days is all about. That belongs to state and local officials. FEMA does RECOVERY -- by law. That means evaluating damage and writing checks -- mostly for infrastructure, not individuals. FEMA rebuilds schools and sewage systems. It does not go door to door performing rescues. It does not provide hot meals to the community. FEMA is only about  3000 people -- smaller than the NYC Transit police. It does not clear trees and evacuate hospitals or hand out water. It hires contractors and arranges to have water and other materials shipped to the areas impacted. Again, like Katrina, this was a huge state and local fail.
3) So DHS got it right?
Answer: No DHS failed in a different way - primarily in the guidance they provided states and the requirements they laid on states. DHS has shifted from a focus on Preparedness under Chertoff to Risk Management under Napolitano. This encourages officials to prepare for what is most likely, not necessarily what is most dangerous. Local responders love this because it is easier and puts them in charge. Preparing for really hard stuff (like the 15 scenarios) means they have to meet somebody else's standards (the Feds) and not their own. DHS has also shifted focus from preparation by Top Officials to "community response" -- getting everybody to partner and play together in an emergency. Takes the pressure off top leaders, and off federal planners both -- they just set it all up and all these various partners cooperate in time of emergency. And the problem heals itself.
"Whole of Community" (the new federal buzz word) failed miserably and as a result, tens of thousands of people were without food and shelter and 1 million still without power 9 days after the storm.
4) What went right?
Answer: Heroism by local responders and citizens, Cooperation by neighbors. Help from across the nation (utility crews, Baptist men, Red Cross, etc.) Response worked at the bottom. It failed at the top.
RECOVERY will be a TRILLION $ issue. We ought to consider who failed in Preparedness when we consider who will pay for Recovery.
In Sandy, the Administration failed, DHS failed, state and local leaders failed -- and reporters, distracted by the election, did not call them on it. A national scandal.
PS -- Major Hurricane in a Major Metropolitan Area was only 1 of the 15 National Scenarios. 3 of the 15 dealt with bio threats. And everybody knows NYC is target #1 for a nuclear weapon. If you think the hurricane was a mess . . ..

1 comment:

  1. Your #2 has some errors in it, David. FEMA continues to do response as well as recovery and, in fact, had IMAT teams and a multitude of people in place at strategic locations in the primary states, who got into gear quickly as the storm abated. The lack of gasoline, public transportation, and other issues, impeded them early on, but they were there.