This Special Report by The Heritage Foundation Emergency Preparedness Working Group focuses on the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. FEMA must no longer be made to respond to all manner of routine disasters, so that when truly catastrophic disasters stike, such as Hurricane Sandy, FEMA and its pocketbook are prepared. Where FEMA failed in its response efforts and overall preparedness, the National Guard and Coast Guard excelled. Particularly for disaster response, State Defense Forces offer their states important, low-cost force multipliers. More responsibility should be returned to the states in terms of disaster response and recovery. These lessons should have been learned before—from Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf oil spill—yet the nation continues to fall short in terms of planning for catastrophic disaster response and recovery. Hurricane Sandy lived up to expectations in October 2012, delivering a powerful punch with heavy rains, strong winds, and significant storm surges. Amid the disaster, however, Americans came together to help family, friends, and neighbors.
The American Red Cross initially mobilized more than 1,000 disaster workers in communities up and down the East Coast.
In addition to the Red Cross and Salvation Army, local faith-based and community organizations played vital roles in the emergency response to Sandy.[4] Sandy was certainly a severe storm that will not soon be forgotten. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the federal government responded by doling out more than $60 billion in total emergency spending, an appropriation process driven strongly by politics. Nothing typifies the extent to which states rely on the federal government for disaster spending like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s (R) demand that the federal government essentially give him a blank check to deal with Hurricane Sandy.[8] With his charge that Congress’s refusal to give him that blank check was a “dereliction of duty,” Governor Christie fails to appreciate that Congress has an obligation to ensure that precious taxpayers funds are appropriated responsibly.
In some ways, it is hard to criticize Governor Christie too much for his expectation that the federal government should pick up the tab for Hurricane Sandy. Yet, with the federal government’s increasing fiscal crisis, including the $17 trillion national debt, the ability of FEMA to continue to pay for routine disasters across the United States will become harder to justify. Without a return of responsibility to the states, the federalization of routine disasters will continue to require FEMA to become involved with a new disaster somewhere in the United States at the current pace of every 2.5 days. The fact is that FEMA spends too much time responding to routine natural disasters, such as small-scale tornadoes and snowstorms, and not enough time preparing for catastrophic natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, which have wide regional impacts. FEMA’s operational tempo and lack of preparedness can be contrasted with that of the National Guard and Coast Guard before and after Sandy made landfall. Having learned in recent catastrophes, such as Hurricane Katrina, the value of “dual-status commanders”—generals that can have both state and federal authority—they were appointed by the governors of Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, and New Jersey prior to Sandy’s landfall. The initiative for dual-status commanders emerged after insufficient direction and coordination between state and federal forces during Hurricane Katrina hampered response efforts.
This command structure, as well as the general state of readiness of the National Guard, allowed it to put 60,000 guardsmen on alert status nationwide as Hurricane Sandy approached the U.S. In Massachusetts, for example, a National Guard Civil Support Team (CST), a unit for emergency preparedness support, was activated to respond to a possible hazardous material threat, but local response forces determined that they had control of the situation.[27] CSTs do not solely respond to hazardous material threats, however. Like the National Guard, the Coast Guard also served a number of critical roles in restoring order and security during and after Hurricane Sandy. While the Spencer, Willow, Elm, and Gallatin performed admirably during Sandy, these cutters cannot remain in the fleet forever.
The National Guard should continue building on lessons learned from Sandy and previous natural disasters. It is the person whose family is safe and secure who is able to volunteer at a disaster relief center. When it comes to natural disasters, geography largely determines the relative risk to a community. One of the biggest issues arising after Hurricane Sandy was that many individuals who failed to evacuate did not have enough supplies on hand to survive[33] It did not help that, as was the case during Hurricane Katrina, the evacuation order for New York City came very late in the process. Change the current American mindset of disaster response and relief from overfederalization to civil society. Like the National Guard, State Defense Forces (SDFs) played an important role in the response to Hurricane Sandy.
While not authorized to deploy outside their home states except under special circumstances, SDFs in some of the hardest-hit states, such as Maryland, New York, Virginia, and Connecticut, were activated to assist in the Sandy recovery efforts. The Maryland Defense Force (MDDF) deployed one Disaster Assessment Team (DAT) in Salisbury ahead of the storm, and had two more DATs and four medical teams on standby that were never required to activate. Another key lesson that can be learned from Hurricane Sandy is the importance of a vibrant civil society to disaster relief efforts.
Similarly, churches and faith-based organizations have a unique role to play in disaster relief. Heroism and generosity from individuals, NGOs, and religious organizations indicate all too clearly the importance of civil society in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Incorporate NGOs, faith-based organizations, and businesses into federal and local disaster plans before disaster strikes.
The nuclear facilities in Hurricane Sandy’s path were designed and built to withstand floods above predicted storm surges and other natural disasters long before Sandy was ever a threat.
Beyond plant design, federal law also requires nuclear plants to have preparedness and emergency response plans with local, state, and federal groups approved by FEMA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) before an operating license is granted. The week prior to Sandy’s landfall on the evening of October 29, nuclear facilities were entirely re-inspected and tested. Before and during the storm, the NRC monitored Sandy’s progress from the Incident Response Center from its Region I office in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, as well as from the Operations Center at headquarters in Rockville, Maryland. As part of standard NRC policy, reactors must shut down two hours before hurricane winds are forecast to reach the plants, though operators have the prerogative to shut down the reactors earlier as a precaution.

The successful weathering of Sandy is yet one more addition to the American nuclear industry’s proven track record to prepare and withstand severe weather. Of the Atlantic states in Sandy’s path, nuclear energy provides the majority of electricity in South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, and Vermont and a close second in North Carolina, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.[70] The nuclear facilities in these states were prepared and proved resilient against Sandy’s force.
As with most hurricanes, the largest cause of outages from Sandy was due to damage to distribution systems. With this in mind, a common reaction to outages caused by hurricanes is often to call for burying distribution lines underground.
After a hurricane, power restoration requires clearing away debris, rebuilding distribution circuits, and replacing faulty equipment.
Sustainable Long Island will survey whether the area is more prepared post-Sandy and create a pilot program to educate the public about disaster preparedness. Hurricane Sandy created widespread flooding, power outages and devastation on Long Island, N.Y. Sustainable Long Island, a nonprofit organization that promotes economic development, social equity and the environment, said a State Farm insurance grant awarded last month will develop and launch a Disaster Preparedness Program. She hopes the study will identify gaps in preparedness, from lack of emergency kits to evacuation strategies.
Given this fact, and building on the success seen during Hurricane Sandy, more states at high risk of natural disaster should look to establish these forces. Part of the problem driving the need for emergency spending is the increasing volume of disaster declarations issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) over the past two decades. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 (Stafford Act), the controlling federal statute for disasters. As the litmus test for federal disaster dollars, the Stafford Act fails to clearly establish which disasters meet the federal requirements and which do not. He has watched for years as FEMA paid for disasters all over America that were far less damaging than what New Jersey experienced after Hurricane Sandy. That means that states must begin planning for disasters as they once did from 1787 to 1992, before federal disaster declarations skyrocketed. This high operational tempo is affecting FEMA’s overall preparedness because it keeps FEMA perpetually in a response mode, leaving little time and few resources for catastrophic preparedness. This increases the likelihood that the federal response to catastrophic events will be insufficient, as once again demonstrated by the response to Hurricane Sandy. This way at least three-fourths of the costs of a disaster are borne by the taxpayers living in the state or states where the disaster took place.
However, due to the nature of the incident, and the evidently robust state force responses from New York and New Jersey, only 12,000 of the 60,000 guard personnel were activated for Hurricane Sandy. The Coast Guard’s aging fleet can no longer keep up with the increased mission-set of the service, including disaster response and recovery. When it comes to preparing for disasters like Hurricane Sandy, it takes on profound importance. Over the past 57 years, FEMA has compiled data on all of the larger natural disasters that have occurred in the United States. The information communicated should be as specific as possible and tailored to the particular disaster. As Hurricane Sandy showed, America’s communities are far from prepared to deal with the major events. Presently, 28 states have chosen not to authorize an SDF, including several states at high risk of natural disasters or terror attacks.
Any disaster response must include such organizations, since they are often the greatest source of relief in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Both organizations are still working to meet the ongoing material needs of Sandy’s victims. Perhaps one of the most important elements to restoring a community after a disaster is ensuring business involvement. It is quite clear from the emergency spending doled out after both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy that the absolute worst time for Congress to appropriate funds is right after a disaster has occurred. Nevertheless, politicians and pundits took advantage of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation to advance global warming policies and projects.[55] Their proclamations captured much media attention and helped mobilize the passage of a relief package laced with global warming gestures.
As with those who blamed global warming for Hurricane Sandy, many infrastructure concerns turned out to be misguided. Of the 34 reactors expected to be in Sandy’s path, 18 continued to operate at 100 percent power, six reduced power output at the request of regional grid operators or in response to the storm, seven were previously shut down for refueling or maintenance, and three successfully shut down manually in response to the storm.
Although Hurricane Sandy damaged much of the Northeast’s coastal infrastructure, the nuclear non-event attests to what those in the industry already knew: that America has the best nuclear safety system in the world. Hurricanes generally cause widespread power outages, particularly in highly populated areas. Having contingency plans in place in the event of a hurricane is a low-cost, straightforward exercise. Although it might be possible to build an electric system that is hurricane-proof, the cost would be prohibitive. Indeed, FEMA’s lack of preparedness will come as a surprise to no one, nor will the sometimes-tenuous nature of the U.S.
Each declaration issued by FEMA drains the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), a fund intended for emergencies that overwhelm state resources.[5] The more declarations issued, the faster the DRF needs replenishing. Under this act, the federal government pays 75 percent to 100 percent of disaster response bills as long as FEMA has issued a disaster declaration. The first step is for states to allocate money to disaster relief funds that will give them the ability to fund their own disaster response and recovery operations directly.

Through the use of relatively new command structures, streamlining direction and information gathering, and use of specialized units, the National Guard, in conjunction with other state forces as well as active duty military personnel, was poised to respond to Hurricane Sandy well in advance.
The dual-status structure of the National Guard during Hurricane Sandy, however, enabled state and federal military responders to receive the instructions from the same personnel and operate in a more streamlined fashion.
It is the big-box retailer whose employees are accounted for and whose stores are assessed for damage that can donate bottled water and clothing to the victims of a disaster and reopen rapidly to serve its battered community. For most businesses, money spent on preparing for disasters directly impacts their profits. The information is publicly available, searchable by state or year, and contains details, such as impacted counties, and news articles related to the disaster. Many members, therefore, have high levels of training and professionalism stemming from past experience that makes them invaluable for high-risk states, acting as force multipliers for response efforts in the aftermath of natural disasters or domestic attacks. Further, emergency management plans and exercises will provide the SDF with greater guidance on its role in state response in the event of a disaster.
Due to the bureaucratic nature of government responses, these organizations play a crucial role in reaching out to the victims of disaster in a rapid, responsive, and adaptive manner. While basic supplies can be provided by government and nonprofits in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, only businesses can efficiently meet the various needs and demands of a community.
Specifically, the roles, responsibilities, and resources of all stakeholders need to be established before a disaster strikes. After a disaster, the government should make it easier for homes, businesses, and infrastructure to be rebuilt by temporarily suspending requirements like those in the Davis–Bacon statute, which effectively mandates wage premiums for those hired to work on federal construction projects.
Some, however, have incorrectly blamed global warming for an increase in disasters like Sandy, as well as the resulting increase in emergency declarations. Before Hurricane Sandy made landfall, nuclear skeptics and opponents were already likening the storm to the Fukushima disaster in Japan and raising alarm about flooding, power outages, and overheating spent fuel pools. For example, had Sandy’s landfall taken place several hours later or earlier, at low tide, rather than at high tide, the storm surge and subsequent flood damage to lower Manhattan would have been much less. Utilities can, however, undertake cost-effective actions to reduce potential outages and speed up power restoration in the event of catastrophic disasters, such as performing rigorous testing and analysis of aging transmission and distribution system assets to determine when various assets should be repaired or replaced, and the lowest-cost approaches for doing so. State and local governments took a leading role to prepare their communities for the disaster and mobilize once the storm hit. If FEMA reserved the DRF and its resources for nationally catastrophic disasters, the need for emergency spending would drop significantly. After two decades of an increasingly active and generous FEMA, governors have slashed preparedness budgets and drained any disaster rainy day funds over the past 13 years. Congress should continue to make sure that this and other modernization programs mature consistently and efficiently to ensure that the fleet remains capable and competent in future disaster relief. As was demonstrated during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, a society fails when it fails those most in need. Community members can use this actuarial data to develop a better understanding of the natural disasters likely to occur in their area and, therefore, make better decisions about how to prepare. It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides.”[35] This includes in the aftermath of a disaster. The United Way Hurricane Sandy Recovery Fund continues to provide essential supplies to those affected by Sandy. Instead of stimulus spending, the government can encourage these investments by suspending and streamlining unnecessary regulations following a disaster. These offices, together with state and local agencies, should work closely with civil society organizations to create disaster response plans that assign roles and responsibilities to best take advantage of all the resources and capabilities that civil society possesses. Additionally, Congress should repeal or waive environmental regulations that allow various environmental organizations to block or delay rebuilding efforts or much-needed improvements that could help mitigate disasters in the future. The storm that hit the Northeast was an infamous combination of a hurricane and a cold front coming across Canada during high tide—a horrendous storm, but according to historical tables not an unprecedented one.[51] Science cannot yet show a connection between Hurricane Sandy (and other severe weather events) and global warming.
However, the feared impact of Sandy on the 34 nuclear reactors in its path turned out to be a non-event. Staff at nuclear facilities in Sandy’s path went through routine preparations for severe weather and plants were overstaffed around the clock.[60] The NRC also notified potentially affected reactors and augmented personnel at plants to verify that proper precautions were being made. The widespread outages caused by Hurricane Sandy along the New Jersey coast and Long Island impacted all three parts of the power system—generation, transmission, and local distribution. Thus, when a hurricane like Sandy causes significant flooding, underground distribution systems can suffer extensive damage. Some of the more than eight million homes that lost power as a result of Sandy remained in the dark for weeks. From Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf oil spill Americans have been taught these lessons before, yet the nation continues to fall short in terms of planning for catastrophic disaster response and recovery. One way to accomplish this is to align declarations with the various scales used for disasters (such as the Saffir–Simpson Scale, the Richter Scale, and the Fujita Scale). Unfortunately, politicians often feel that they and the federal government must be seen in control after a disaster, even if government control is ultimately detrimental to true relief. This was only aggravated by the fact that Hurricane Sandy made landfall at high tide, causing its particularly destructive storm surge, and resulting in even more significant flooding.
Doubling the per capita threshold to a minimum of $5 million (and a maximum threshold of $50 million) would significantly reduce the number of events that would warrant a federal disaster declaration.

Risk assessment methodology
Radiological device
Nat geographic live


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