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After Actions Report on Hurricane Sandy, 2012

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The purpose of this report is to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of disaster management and response strategies to Hurricane Sandy. The report aims to identify these factors so that positive aspects can be built upon and limitations can be improved on in the future. Hurricane Sandy, a Category 3 Hurricane, was categorized as the deadliest, most destructive, as well as the strongest, hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season. In the United States, the hurricane affected 24 states, with the most severe damage in New Jersey and New York.

Recommendations for improvement on pre- and post-disaster management include: strengthening the relationships between public and private sectors, more funding for research in disaster prevention measures so that national and local governments will be able to respond faster and more appropriately in the event of a disaster, educating local communities and families about disaster prevention so that they will be better prepared for future events, and retrofitting weak infrastructure so that they will be able to withstand any natural disasters.

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Hurricanes are massive storm systems that form over warm bodies of water, usually at temperature of 79F or warmer, and with wind speeds 74 mph or higher. These large rotating storms pull moisture from the surface of warm water bodies, specifically over the Atlantic and eastern Pacific Ocean, and move toward land. Hurricane Sandy formed in the Caribbean Sea on October 22, 2012. It was considered a Category 3 Hurricane, with windspeeds reaching up to 115 mph when it reached its height over Cuba. A trio of physical and social factors contributed to the severity of the storm. First, the waters were abnormally warmer and air moisture content higher than usual in the Atlantic Ocean. This may be attributed to climate change, which has increased ocean surface temperatures by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0.5 degrees Celsius, in the past century (Pappas, 2012). In addition to lunar high tides that contributed to higher sea levels, the rapidly melting Arctic sea ice and unusual weather patterns in the Atlantic Ocean field Sandy. The warming of the Arctic also created an usually shaped dip that steered the storm from East to West, creating conditions that were ripe for the formation of Hurricane Sandy and contributed to the magnitude and intensity of the storm (The City University of New York, 2012).

Before making landfall on the eastern coast of the United States, Hurricane Sandy struck the Caribbean region, affecting millions of people across several countries including the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. In Haiti, at least 1.8 million residents were affected by the hurricane. More than 18,000 homes were flooded, and thousands of roads, schools, and hospitals damaged. In Cuba, power cuts and floods from the hurricane affected more than 890,000 people and damaged at least 200,000 homes (UNDP, 2012). When Sandy struck the U.S., intense winds, storm surge, and flooding affected 24 states on the East Coast, with the most severe damage occurring in the coast of New York and New Jersey. Sandy caused widespread power outages across 21 states, affecting at least 8 million U.S. residents for days and even weeks. Transportation systems, including commercial flights, in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington D.C., came to a halt (Fugate, 2017). 285 people lost their lives, and at least 650,000 homes and properties were damaged due to severe winds and floods from storm surges. This inflicted nearly $70 billion in damage, making Sandy the second-costliest hurricane in the United States in 2012 until it was surpassed by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria in 2017. This was also the first time since 1888 that the New York Stock Exchange was closed for two days due to a natural disaster (Toro, 2013). As the hurricane moved North, Sandy began flooding streets and toppling trees and powerlines through Southern Ontario, Quebec, and parts of the Maritimes. The winds and rain were so severe that it left at least 145,000 Canadians without power (Mehta, 2012).

Disaster risk management, including pre-disaster protection and post-disaster recovery, is important in avoiding disasters, reducing its impacts, and recovering from its losses. Pre-disaster protection is the process that can minimize the human and property losses caused by a disaster. This encompasses risk assessment, mitigation, preparedness, and the development of emergency plans. The process of risk assessment includes hazard identification, database assembly, vulnerability mapping, and loss estimation. Mitigation includes protective structures, insurance, and land planning. Preparedness includes implementing forecast and warning systems, safe refuges, and stockpile aid. Emergency plans include evacuation routes, practice drills, and first aid supplies.

Post-disaster recovery is the response to a disaster to help communities achieve early recovery and rehabilitation, as well as to be better prepared for similar events in the future. This includes relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and learning review. Relief includes search and rescue teams, medical aid, and food and shelter. Rehabilitation includes debris removal, the restoration of public services such as transportation, and temporary housing for victims of the hurricane. Reconstruction, which can take longer than other post-disaster actions such as emergency evacuation, includes permanent rebuilding of damaged urban infrastructure, improved design of buildings so that they will be sturdier and less susceptible to the negative effects of natural disasters and reconstructing away from hazard. Zones. Learning review includes educating teachers and builders, training volunteers, and informing politicians on disaster management.

Before Hurricane Sandy hit the United States, President Obama and the entire federal government took pre-disaster actions by mobilizing the state and local response teams to prepare for the storm. On October 28, 2012, the President declared a state of emergency in over a dozen states on the East Coast, including Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York (Ladislaw, 2013). In doing so, federal financial assistance was made available to victims of Sandy, allowing them to prepare for the storm. In less than a week, over 230,000 victims of the hurricane registered for financial assistance, and over $210 million was provided to survivors (Fugate, 2017). In addition, as many as 45,000 National Guard and U.S. Air Force personnel were deployed in the hardest hit states to support citizens in preparations and aftermath of the hurricane (Beachapedia, 2015). The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) initiated local response efforts; federal emergency aid, including resources and commodities (food, water, blankets), were pre-positioned in states expected to be hit by the hurricane (FEMA, 2018). FEMA also deployed urban search and rescue teams to support state and local emergency response efforts (Fugate, 2017). On October 30th, President Obama ordered FEMA to create the National Power Restoration Taskforce, which increased coordination among government agencies and the private sector to rapidly restore fuel and power in affected areas.

After Hurricane Sandy hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deployed Mitigation Assessment Teams (MATs) to assess damage to structures including government facilities, homes, and businesses. By conducting engineering analyses, MATs determined structures that were able to successfully withstand the hurricane, and the causes of structural failures of those that were unable to. In doing so, MATs were able to determine how to revise and improve on building practices, local construction requirements, and building materials of houses and critical facilities (FEMA, 2018). These recommendations were outlined in the Hurricane Sandy MAT Report: stronger building codes from the International Code Council (ICC) and at the local level, updated or new FEMA technical guidance, stronger standards and technical guidance for partner organizations, and improvements in or contributed to FEMA’s disaster-resistant policies and programs (FEMA, 2018).

In the months that followed Hurricane Sandy, the Federal government initiated legislative reforms and innovations, as well as increased public-private partnerships. Two important legislative reforms included the H.R. 41 (Public Law 113-1) and the Disaster Relief Appropriates Act (Public Law 113-2). H.R. 41 increased the authority FEMA had to borrow money for emergencies by almost $10 billion; in doing so, agencies could continue to pay flood-insurance. The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act funded $50 billion to help rebuild areas impacted by the Hurricane (Ladislaw, 2013). President Obama also created a Rebuilding Task Force, which released a Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy to work with impacted communities and provide recommendations to help them rebuild and better prepare for future natural disaster events. Recommendations included promoting resilient approaches to infrastructure investment and rebuilding, providing safe and affordable housing options and protections to families, supporting small businesses to revitalize local economics, and increasing the capacity of local governments to plan for long-term rebuilding and preparations for future disasters (Ladislaw, 2013). The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy also addressed insurance challenges and ways to secure energy infrastructure so that fuel shortages and disruptions in power and cellular services are minimized during a disaster (Ladislaw, 2013).

The actual actions taken prior to and response after Hurricane Sandy followed the stages of disaster risk management. Disaster mitigation, preparedness strategies, and the development of emergency plans were facilitated prior the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. However, as seen by the effects that flooding had on many structures in Houston, Texas, stronger risk assessment can be done to better prepare communities before disasters strike (Pappas, 2012). In addition to identifying hazards, risk assessment strategies such as database assembly, vulnerability mapping, and loss estimation can be implemented prior to a disaster to reduce the impacts of the hazard. The response to Hurricane Sandy included relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction teams to help communities achieve early recovery. However, more action must be taken to educate teachers and builders, train volunteers, and inform politicians on disaster risk management.

Lessons can be learned from Hurricane Sandy to mitigate future hazards and reduce the impacts that natural disasters can have on humans, their properties, and their environment. The actions taken in response to Hurricane Sandy demonstrated a significant improvement from Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 hurricane that struck the United Stated seven years prior to Sandy. Under President Obama’s orders, the work done by FEMA demonstrated a change in the way authorities handle such large-scale national disasters. Compared to the actions taken in Hurricane Katrina, FEMA was proactive rather than reactive in response to Hurricane Sandy. By restructuring FEMA after Hurricane Katrina, FEMA was able to gain quicker access to federal resources and increased communication between federal, state, and local response agencies (Ladislaw, 2013). However, work can still be done to make disaster risk management more effective and efficient. Governments can improve on relationships between public and private sectors, including increased partnerships between states and community-based, philanthropic, and media organizations. These relationships must be formed before disasters strike so that staff, first responders, and other disaster relief workers will be able to work with volunteer organizations and use disaster grants to initiate immediate response and recover efforts when disasters strike. In addition, more funding for research in disaster prevention measures can increase the knowledge that authorities, local communities, and families have about disaster mitigation so that they will be better prepared for future events. Governments can also work to retrofit weak infrastructure so that buildings will be able to withstand strong winds, floods, and soft grounds. By adopting these changes, authorities will become more efficient in responding to disasters, and communities and infrastructures will become more resilient and prepared in the face of natural disasters.

References

  1. Beachapedia. (2015, August 23). Hurricane Sandy – The Response. Retrieved from http://www.beachapedia.org/Hurricane_Sandy_-_The_Response.
  2. Fugate, C. (2017, June 2). Hurricane Sandy Recovery Efforts. Retrieved from https://www.fema.gov/blog/2012-11-05/hurricane-sandy-recovery-efforts.
  3. Hurricane Sandy kills around 80 in the Caribbean, 1.8 million affected in Haiti. (2012, November 2). Retrieved from https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/articles/2012/11/02/hurricane-sandy-kills-around-80-in-the-caribbean-1-8-million-affected-in-haiti.html.
  4. Mehta, D. (2012, October 30). Hurricane Sandy: Vicious winds, rain hits Ontario, Quebec and Maritimes as Sandy churns north. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2012/10/30/hurricane_sandy_vicious_winds_rain_hits_ontario_quebec_and_maritimes_as_sandy_churns_north.html.
  5. Ladislaw, S. (2013, November 4). Hurricane Sandy: Evaluating the Response One Year Later. Retrieved from https://www.csis.org/analysis/hurricane-sandy-evaluating-response-one-year-later.
  6. Olsen, M. C. (2012, October 30). Aftermath. photograph, New Jersey. Retrieved from https://www.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2000098970/
  7. Pappas, S. (2012, October 29). Weather or Climate: What Caused Hurricane Sandy? Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/24377-weather-climate-hurricane-sandy.html.
  8. President Obama Signs New York Emergency Declaration. (2018, January 3). Retrieved from https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2012/10/28/president-obama-signs-new-york-emergency-declaration
  9. Skidds, D. (2015, September 4). FGDC Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata. FGDC Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata. Retrieved from https://arcg.is/1zOXP8
  10. The City University of New York. (2012, December 13). Hurricane Sandy: What caused the recent superstorm and how to prepare for the next one. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2012-12-hurricane-sandy-superstorm.html.
  11. Toro, R. (2013, October 29). Hurricane Sandy’s Impact (Infographic). Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/40774-hurricane-sandy-s-impact-infographic.html.

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