Posted by: Michael Byrne, Federal Coordinating Officer
I am a native New Yorker.
I was born in New York City. I grew up in the city’s Public Housing developments in East Harlem and my Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters still live here. I worked for the New York Fire Department for 20 years, eventually serving as a Captain. I worked at the New York Office of Emergency Management and then I joined FEMA.
I’m a proud New Yorker and today, I’m honored to be part of the federal team that is working hard to assist my home city and state.
Coney Island, N.Y., Nov. 12, 2012 — Aerial view of damage and debris on Coney Island, New York. Storm surge from Hurricane Sandy caused flooding and power outages throughout the island.
Long Beach, N.Y., Nov. 7, 2012 — Cars were buried in sand from Hurricane Sandy. The storm surge created widespread flooding, power outages and devastation on Long Beach, New York. FEMA is working with state and local officials to assist residents who were affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Even before the storm, FEMA was preparing. We prepositioned food, water and blankets at two incident support bases in New York. FEMA Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT), trained to quickly coordinate federal resources to support the state were on the ground days before landfall. We also started calling in the cavalry, everyone from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We even had the Marines land on the beach in the Rockaways.
In the response phase of a disaster like this, it is critical that we focus on what I like to call the “four Ps” – “People, Power, Pumping and Pick-it-up.”
People always come first. The very first thing we did was get life-saving commodities out to the people. Within 24 hours we supplied more than a million liters of water and more than a million shelf ready meals to the New York National Guard and Voluntary Agencies throughout the city – who quickly distributed them to the New Yorkers in need. The third day after the storm, we were set up in all the affected areas.
New York is an amazing place, made up of different people from all over the world. Every neighborhood is distinctly unique, with different traditions, dialects and sense of community. But most of all, New York is made up of neighborhoods.
For example, you look on a map and see the Rockaways. But there are really four different Rockaways. You have Far Rock, Rockaway Beach, Belle Harbor and Breezy Point. Each neighborhood is different.
We set up Disaster Recovery Centers, where people can meet and talk about assistance face-to-face. I was out at the center in Rockaway Beach and there were tons of people waiting to be seen. Everyone had a number and I talked to a guy that had number 245. The center was on number 150. I told him we had heated buses that would take people to the Breezy Point center, but he wanted to stay with his neighbors and wait. That’s New York.
Today, we have 34 centers throughout damaged areas, covering the neighborhoods that have had the most damage. Over 56,000 New Yorkers have visited these centers. And we plan to open more.
Far Rockaway, N.Y., Nov. 10, 2012 –FEMA Corps personnel assist disaster survivors at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Far Rockaway, New York. FEMA and the State set up the center to assist the needs of hurricane survivors.
Far Rockaway, N.Y., Nov. 10, 2012 — FEMA Community Relations specialist, Teisha Jeeter draws pictures with young disaster survivor, Luna Natalia Voss at a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in Far Rockaway, New York. The center was set up to assist the needs of Hurricane Sandy survivors.
The New York metropolitan area has over 15 million people and this is a city that is built vertically. We knew immediately that having enough people would be a huge challenge. We had over 1200 people out in the field, going door-to-door in the damaged areas. We had to activate the Department of Homeland Security surge capacity force to have enough people to do these sweeps. This “surge force” consisted of over 1,100 employees from the agencies that make up DHS, such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard. They are spending the nights on Merchant Marine training ships so we don’t take hotel rooms from survivors. I have been out to the ships and the sleeping conditions are austere, but the food is good.
A little over a week after the storm, on Nov. 6th, FEMA had received over 135,000 applications and approved almost $ 185 million in housing assistance to disaster survivors. We also had over 1,000 housing inspectors in the field who had completed over 17,000 inspections.
Long Beach, N.Y., Nov. 9, 2012 — FEMA Housing Inspector, Bill Gay inspects a home in Long Beach for Hurricane Sandy related damages. The FEMA Individual Assistance program provides financial assistance for temporary housing and minor housing repairs.
In addition, we have employed a diverse outreach approach to make sure the word gets out amidst New York’s multicultural mosaic. When our community relations members come in contact with people who are have limited English proficiency, we have translators and materials in 21 different languages to ensure they get assistance.
Coney Island, N.Y., Nov. 25, 2012 — FEMA Community Relations Limited English Proficiency (LEP) specialists, Eric Phillipson and Rossy Rey assist Russian hurricane survivor, Knana Letner with her special disaster related needs. The LEP strategic strike team was assigned to the Russian community in Coney Island, New York in response to Hurricane Sandy.
As for power, FEMA established a National Power Restoration Taskforce to cut through the red tape, increase federal, state, tribal, local and private sector coordination and restore power and fuel to people as quickly as possible. The Defense Logistics Agency delivered more than 2.3 million gallons of fuel to distribution points in New York and New Jersey. The U.S. Air Force transported equipment and supplies for power restoration efforts, including 69 vehicles belonging to the Southern California Edison utility company. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installed 177 generators to sites throughout New York including apartment buildings managed by the New York City Housing Authority.
Pumping was a modern technological miracle. We had subway tunnels full of water. The Hugh Carey Tunnel (it will always be the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to me) was full to the roof. I was there and saw it, and I will tell you, I thought it would take months to get those tunnels pumped out. The Army Corps pumped out over 470 million gallons of water in less than two weeks.
The final P is “pick-it-up”. I’m talking about debris. A storm like this one generates a ton of debris and picking it up is always a challenge. The President signed an order saying we could pay for straight time for 30 days for debris pickup. Normally, we just pay for overtime, but being able to pay for all of the hours worked is a huge incentive to get the debris picked up and puts much needed money back into jurisdictions. It also incentivizes them to pick up the debris fast, because we only do this for 30 days. So far, we have picked up over 1.4 million cubic yards of debris.
We’ve done a lot, but, as long as there are people without power and in need of shelter, I am not satisfied. That’s why we came up with an innovative housing program called Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP). This program is designed for people who have power to the street, but cannot connect it to their houses. These are temporary repairs that are designed to let a family “shelter-in-place” while permanent repairs are made to their homes. We do this by making minor repairs to meters and panels to restore temporary power. The program also pays for other temporary housing repairs, such as covering windows, roofs and exterior doors. These repairs are meant to allow residents to return to safe and livable homes.
If you live in the five boroughs of New York City, call 311 to access information about the program. For those in Nassau County, call 1-888-684-4267 and if you live in Suffolk County, call 2-11. Your county or city will decide what elements of the STEP Program are available for your residence.
Long Beach, N.Y., Nov. 24, 2012 — Electricians installing a heat register as part of the FEMA STEP Program. FEMA in conjunction with state, local and tribal partners, is implementing a Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) Program to help people get back into their homes quickly and safely. STEP assists State, local and tribal governments in performing work and services essential to saving lives, protecting public health and safety, and protecting property. The program funds certain necessary and essential measures to help restore power, heat and hot water to primary residences that could regain power through necessary and essential repairs. STEP can help residents safely shelter-in-place in their homes pending more permanent repairs. FEMA is working with many partners including federal, state, local and tribal governments, voluntary faith-based and community-based organizations along with the private sector to assist residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
We have more work to do. When President Obama visited New York and toured the damaged areas, he looked directly in my eyes and said “stay on it.”
We’d like the New York Hurricane Sandy page to inform survivors of our future plans. I have over 3,000 staff here and I am working hard to hire locals – New Yorkers – to help with the recovery.
We plan to share stories and updates as the rebuilding process continues. And, of course, you will hear from me. I love to tell stories and I think this recovery might be one of the greatest stories of our time.