FEMA and the federal government’s role in responding to Hurricane Sandy

The massive “Frankenstorm” Hurricane Sandy has caused severe damage to thousands of homes and businesses up and down the eastern United States.  

Thousands have been forced from their homes as FEMA, state, and local governments work feverishly to bring back power, restore public transit and damaged roads, fix and clean up flooded areas, evacuate neighborhoods, hospitals, and nursing homes severely damaged by the storm, shelter and feed evacuees, and other assistance to prevent further fatalities, injuries, and property losses.

Read more: Analysis: FEMA & federal disaster assistance funding threatened by sequestration, GOP budget cuts

Some of the hardest-hit states include New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia, affecting millions of Americans.

Here’s a brief overview to help readers understand the role of the federal government in disaster response.

First of all, state and local governments typically take the lead in responding to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, blizzards, floods, wildfires, and earthquakes.

However, if the disaster causes damage that would overwhelm the capabilities and capacities of state and local agencies, the Governor in each affected state may ask for federal disaster assistance to prevent loss of lives and properties.

FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is responsible for coordinating all the federal agencies’ responses to natural disasters. In short, Governors in the affected states can call FEMA, tell them what they need, and FEMA will work with them to direct the federal agencies and relief efforts to the places where state and local governments need more help.

In addition, states that are declared “major disaster areas” by the President can apply for federal reimbursements of up to 75% of costs incurred to remove debris from public areas and emergency measures “taken to save lives and protect property and public health”. 

“We’ve been doing what we’re designed to do, which is to facilitate on behalf of the federal family the resources to the Governors as they need them so that states are not having to go through all the federal agencies to determine what assistance that is available and also coordinating the assistance that they’re going to need for the recovery,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate at a press briefing call on Tuesday.

In the case of Hurricane Sandy, numerous federal agencies are involved in the response and the recovery efforts. Here’s a sample:

  • The Department of Energy is leading the efforts to help utility companies restore power to affected communities;
  • The Department of Transportation is providing emergency funding and support to help states fix damaged roads, tunnels, bridges, and restore public transit;
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assisting in severely flooded areas;
  • The U.S. Coast Guard is perfuming search and rescue missions and helping re-open damaged sea ports and canals so commerce can flow again;
  • The Department of Health and Human Services is providing support for hospitals and nursing home evacuations;
  • The Center for Disease Control is dealing with public health threats from the storm and the flooding;
  • About 10,000 Army and Air National Guards are deployed to help state and local governments in their disaster response and evacuations.

In addition to overseeing the federal agencies’ response to Hurricane Sandy, FEMA is also coordinating the distribution of power generators, food, drinking water, critical supplies, and temporary shelters with organizations such as the Red Cross in 16 states.

FEMA is also federal disaster assistance to individuals and businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy. The federal assistance include rental payments or temporary housing for people displaced from their homes due to storm-related damages; grants for home repair not covered by insurance; and low-interest loans for small businesses adversely impacted by the natural disaster.

To apply for assistance, visit DisasterAssistance.gov or m.fema.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).


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