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New York City relief: Day six

The response to a disaster invariably moves in phases. Whether a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, flood, wildfire… each has several distinct steps that follow one another as sure as the Sun rises in the east every morning. They are:

Preparation. Response. Recovery. Mitigation. 

Preparation for Hurricane Sandy here in New York City was given a boost, especially after last year’s Hurricane Irene targeted the area. Many plans were established here and given a workout as that storm threatened the city. The fact that Irene’s impact wasn’t as large as expected, many residents believed that the warnings were overblown, and they stayed in their vulnerable homes. 

Evacuating New York City hospitals

The city’s response to the effort was massive. You are talking about the largest city in the United States - with a population of more than eight million inside the city alone - a Herculean undertaking. Again, going through the requests for resources quickly point out how enormous the undertaking was. 

Debris removal after Sandy

The city is now transitioning from response to recovery. We are still sending generators, National Guard troops, light towers, cranes and other resources into the field for response, but the office has also sent items into the field to create disaster relief centers. It’s amazing to see just how quickly these facilities can be set up - one on Staten Island was totally rebuilt in about a day, including paint, carpet, restrooms and showers for residents to use. 

The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel flooding during Sandy

The real challenge for New York City is going to be mitigation. How do you plan for future events with an impact like Sandy? You can’t move the enormous population away from the coastline - there is no place to move them. You can’t easily make the subways and tunnels waterproof - they are below ground level. How do you rebuild many historical structures to remove the threat of surge flooding? 

Let’s just say they have their work cut out for them. 

By the way, for those who are reading this and wondering what the fuss is about with this storm - after all, it was only a category 1 storm when it made landfall - these images are for you. 

Damage in Coney Island

Staten Island damage

The threat is real and serious - regardless of the strength of the system. Know your risks. Have a plan. Be prepared. 

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New York City relief: Day five

There is one constant when it comes to disasters - the weather continues. And New York City is no exception. Yesterday, the sun was shining and the mercury flirted with 70 degrees. The snow we saw on the ground when we arrived on the first day has long since melted away.

The rain passing through the New York metro area at 8 a.m.

But, that warm weather changed dramatically today as a cold front swept through the area. The crews working up in the state command center in Albany told us that yes, snow was falling. A cold rain fell in the morning.

Besides changing the mood of the relief workers, this also presented a real challenge for emergency response. Plunging temperatures presented a risk Sandy’s survivors, so plans had to be put into place for those who didn’t have power or are in shelters.

Transit buses pressed into service for storm response

To help residents stay warm, New York City transit deployed a number of buses around the city to serve as warming centers. Even some brief relief from the rain and cold is a welcome comfort for those trying to rebuild their lives.

Another critical need is to push supplies from the city’s storehouse. This massive facility holds critical supplies for distribution to shelters, public housing and other facilities. The warehouse is huge, and stuffed to the rafters with supplies. The blankets, water, first aid kits and tons of other supplies were tagged to be pushed out quickly to address the needs of the hardest hit residents.

Tom Iovino trying to inventory supplies

Hurricane Sandy’s effects have put regular life on hold for so many New Yorkers, including Craig, one of the city’s logistics specialists. His new baby was born just days before Hurricane Sandy made landfall, keeping him from his newborn child and wife. I can’t help but think of the stories he will have to tell his son as he grows up.

Craig from Logistics working in the warehouse

While it may seem like the impact of the storm has passed, there are still many areas of the city that are suffering greatly. One of the most heartbreaking stories of the entire tragedy was reported by the New York Times. You can read the article by clicking here.

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New York City relief: Day four

The day shift crew from the Tampa Bay crew have been gathering for breakfast at the coffee shop in the lobby of our hotel. And, every morning, as we look out into the street, there is an assembly of people who appear to look out of place in

The power workers assembling before the day begins

trendy midtown Manhattan.

But, they are some of the most appreciated folks here in the city. They are power line crews that have come from places far and wide to help restore power in the heavily damaged areas. Crews from Oregon, Washington state, Idaho, Georgia and Alabama are in our hotel, and they gather on the sidewalk in the early morning to get a jump on the day’s work. For many of them, they are now in their third week on assignment, having been deployed in advance of Hurricane Sandy.

The valets who handle parking pull a fleet of large pickup trucks to the curbside, and the crews line up to get in, ready for another day of stringing line.

The Colonel from Boston working the latest situation

At the logistics center, we are sharing space with the New York City employees and crew from the city of Boston. The Boston crew is pulled from the city’s office of emergency management and the Boston Center for Youth and Families. Initially sent to help with shelter operations, they have seamlessly taken to logistics tracking. The crew is led by the city’s director of planning, a retired Army Lt. Colonel with a quick wit and an exceptional sense of duty. He’s been here for nearly two weeks now, working with a second dispatched crew from the city.

I guess it only make sense that in such a huge city that has been a melting pot for centuries that the relief crew comes from around the country.

The damage in the Rockaways, Queens (photo: New York Daily News)

We had a few of the Tampa Bay area staff start to move around to different assignments. Some are helping with well-being checkups in the hard-hit borough of Staten Island, while others went out to warehouse facilities to move supplies pouring into the city.

Since I’m talking supplies - many people have asked how they can help with the relief effort. While items such as blankets and coats are appreciated, they do cause logistical issues with storage, sorting and delivery. Contributions to agencies which are providing direct relief are the best option. Find a list of these organizations by clicking on this link.

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New York City relief: Day three

There is an expression people use when they are trying to understand a tremendous amount of information coming at them at a very high rate of speed - it’s like trying to take a drink from a fire hose.

That’s exactly what life is like in the Logistics center. A disaster in the country’s most populous city requires a tremendous amount of resources to respond to - and, often in a very short amount of time.

A status update of gasoline outages in Brookly and Queens

My job for the past few days has been in tracking. Basically, all of the requests for stuff come in to the logistics center, and those request are entered into a computer database which allows for easy tracking and the ability to assign the task quickly. I have been tasked with going through the thousands of request that came in to determine which job tickets have been completed and need to be closed.

Gary, the fuel Czar, sourcing diesel for operations

When Hurricane Sandy was coming in to the city, the records recorded a flurry of activity - the Fire Department needed high-water vehicles for command and response in each of the city’s five boroughs. Shelters needed the essentials to house residents who had to evacuate. Computers. Skilled staff members. And pumps. Lots and lots of pumps.

A crack team of emergency managers dispatched from Boston

In New York, many of the most-traveled paths are underground - the subway, commuter trains and the tunnels across the Hudson River and between boroughs. All of those throughfares had to be dewatered - pumped out, as it were. A monumental undertaking.

But, it’s not an unfamiliar situation to many of the people working in the center who were at their desks the morning of September 11, 2001.

The Empire State Building off in the distance, as seen from Brooklyn

Another thing that I can’t get over is the view of the New York skyline through the window over my shoulder. The New Yorkers are used to it, but there’s something to be said working in the line of sight of the Empire State Building.

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New York City Relief: Day Two

Today,we hit the ground running in the city that never sleeps. It took some time for the day shift to get the rental cars and navigate the congested city roads, but after a longer-than-it-should-have-been drive, we arrived at the logistics command post - a warehouse in Brooklyn. 

A nosh for you, a nosh for me

Sure, we were ready to jump right into things, but what’s a trip to New York City without a few signature bagels to get the day started off on the right foot?

Working hard at the Logistics command center

After some tasty treats, the day began in earnest. The crew working at the city’s office of emergency management had been at their posts since the threat of Hurricane Sandy - nearly three weeks. Many of these folks have seen power outages, damage and have had to leave their loved ones behind. But, there is a job to be done, and they do it with a smile. 

Dispatchers fielding incoming requests

The requests for assets come in first to the dispatchers. They process a mountain of calls for all types of things needed for the storm recovery. Generators. Clothing. Medical supplies. Scaffolding. The works.

Processing generator requests

Once the requests come in, they are forwarded to work groups to fill the orders. Sometimes, a simple call gets the job done. Sometimes, you quickly realize you are trying to recover from a disaster the city that never sleeps. One of the city’s employees told me the disaster is kind of like trying to fix a car’s motor while the someone is still revving the engine…

 Johanna calling the shots

Fortunately, though we have a team of talented and seasoned emergency managers helping us get accustomed to the pace of operations. Johanna was calling the shots today, ensuring we kept the priorities where they belonged. 

The shift change briefing

After a long 12-hour day in the center, we had a shift change briefing in order to get the night crew ready for the next 12-hour operational period. We drove back to the hotel and I think the entire crew called it an early night. 

After all, that 5 a.m. alarm comes very early in the morning. 

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New York City relief: Day one

We were at Tampa International Airport early for our flight up to New York City for the Hurricane Sandy relief effort. Media interest for the event was extensive.

Media at Tampa International

The team, consisting of members from Pinellas, Polk, Pasco and Citrus counties assembled for a few words before departure. The whole focus of the mission is to assist the emergency operations people in the city and to document the storm’s impact. 

The flight was a quick two and a half hours, and as we started our descent into New York’s JFK airport, we got our first view of the battered Jersey shore. While the beach looked OK from 20,000 feet, the damage became more evident as we descended.

The view of the New Jersey shoreline from 20,000 feet

Our first stop was New York City’s logistics command center - set up in a city warehouse in Queens. We had an extensive briefing from the commander on scene who painted the scene for us - a situation that was improving, but still needed a lot of attention.

Getting a briefing at the Logistics Center

We were also given a tour of the logistics ops center after the briefing. This will be home for us for the next ten days.

An overview of the Logistics Center

More work tomorrow…

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Tampa Bay area emergency team deploying to New York City

A team of emergency managers is deploying to New York City on Friday, Nov. 9, to assist in the relief effort in response to Hurricane Sandy. The team will assemble in the terminal in front of Airside A at 8:30 a.m. at Tampa International Airport to fly to their assignment.

The storm, which made landfall on Oct. 29, has become the second costliest hurricane in American history - passing 2008’s Hurricane Ike. The difficult situation was compounded by a Nor’Easter, which dumped additional rain and snow on the New York City metropolitan area.

The team is expected to return to Florida on Tuesday, Nov. 20.

Updates from NYC will be posted to http://pinellasem.tumblr.com.

For more information on Pinellas County services and programs, visit www.pinellascounty.org, now with LiveChat, or create a shortcut to www.pinellascounty.org/mobile on any smartphone. Pinellas County government is on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Pinellas County complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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The relief trip to New York City

Well, we just got the word. New York City has officially requested assistance in recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

A team is being assembled from the greater Tampa Bay area, and we should be leaving for the affected area sometime this Friday morning.

I will be posting from the road on this account. I’m not sure what I will be seeing, but stay tuned as we get an idea of what the recovery effort will be like.