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Sandy Response Evaluated

​A SHORTAGE OF TRAINED, experienced personnel and the inability to integrate approaches established by the National Response Framework (NRF) were just a few of the problems the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it experienced in its response to Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in October of 2012. But the agency’s use of information technology to coordinate relief efforts and assist survivors was a notable success.

Sandy left more than 8.5 million customers without power, caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, and killed at least 162 people. The agency’s administrator, Craig Fugate, directed the Sandy Analysis Team to evaluate its performance in preparing for and responding to the storm, the results of which were published in July of this year in the Hurricane Sandy FEMA After-Action Report.

The report outlines a number of areas in which FEMA demonstrated strengths in preparation for Sandy, including its predeployment of more than 900 FEMA personnel before the storm hit, activating the National Response Coordination Center, and deploying its six Mobile Emergency Response System detachments to key states on the East Coast.

FEMA’s use of an online crisis management system, which is called WebEOC, also proved to be one of the agency’s strong points during Sandy. This online platform helped to coordinate response efforts by facilitating information sharing among FEMA and other federal personnel involved in disaster response.

Despite predeployment of staff, when Sandy made landfall, personnel issues quickly rose to the surface as one of the biggest challenges for the agency. The report points out that Sandy “revealed challenges in FEMA’s ability to deploy sufficient numbers of credentialed personnel for a large incident.” For example, more than 1,700 community relations specialists were sent to affected communities, but a lack of training led to confusion about responsibilities and proper procedures.

Several steps have already been taken to improve FEMA response, including the establishment of a Continuous Improvement Working Group, which first met in February of this year, and an update to FEMA’s Incident Management Handbook in January.

Additionally, Congress passed the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 in January, and FEMA is working to implement the changes outlined by the legislation.