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Membership Committee Discusses Responding to and Recovering from Hurricane Sandy, Other Major Disasters

By Katie Pirolt
January 28, 2013

Membership Standing Committee Chair Piscataway Mayor Brian C. Wahler led an interactive discussion on disaster preparedness at the January 18 Membership Standing Committee during the Conference of Mayors 81st Winter Meeting. The session, titled “Responding to and Recovering from Superstorm Sandy and other Major Disasters,” reviewed effective strategies in dealing with the immediate aftermath and longer-term problems resulting from these major disasters.

The mayoral panel included Des Moines Mayor T.M. Franklin Cownie, Hempstead Mayor Wayne J. Hall, Fairfield Mayor Michael C. Tetreau, Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, and Hope Mayor Timothy McDonough. Also joining the mayoral panel were Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Intergovernmental Affairs Director Gwen Camp, FEMA Intergovernmental Affairs Specialist Robert Nadeau, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Senior Advisor Frederick Tombar and HUD Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force Intergovernmental Affairs Director Adria Crutchfield.

“These extreme weather events are becoming the new normal. Mayors are on the front lines of efforts to mitigate, respond to, and recover from these disasters,” said Wahler during his opening remarks. “The Conference of Mayors has been directly involved in calling for disaster relief funding and will continue its push to have a bill before the President as soon as possible,” he added.

Highlighting the important role that social media played in getting vital messages out to his citizens, Tetreau said, “We sent out two Code Red messages per day that were consistent among Facebook, our website, and Twitter, which allowed two-way communication and reduced panic.” Fairfield city staff also manned non-emergency lines in order to keep the 911 lines open the mayor reported.

McDonough touched on the importance of public-private partnerships and praised Wal-Mart for their quick response in providing water. He also emphasized the need for mayors to put pressure on the board of public utilities as “…the communication between mayors and public utilities: cable, telephone, and electricity; needs to be improved and is vital in effectively responding to these disasters.”

“In Freeport there are still 3,000 homes in danger, five empty co-ops, and thousands of vehicles destroyed as a result of Hurricane sandy. It has taken Congress too long to vote and unless there is direct funding to cities, the effort is fruitless,” said Hardwick.

Officials from FEMA and HUD discussed agency guidelines and responded to participants’ questions. Camp stated, “It is extremely important for mayors to understand their state and local statutes, what their role is during a natural disaster, and how to utilize resources in the private sector, churches, and schools.”

Tombar explained the work that HUD has done in response to Hurricane Sandy and their efforts to remove obstacles among and across departments. He expressed concern for mayors and stated, “Mayors should register with and apply directly to FEMA, rather than through contractors who may be fraudulent.”

Jones told Administration officials that, “Because there are multiple tracks that have to be addressed during an emergency, we need a matrix.”

Cownie, who serves as Vice Chair for Emergency Management of the Conference of Mayors Criminal and Social Justice Committee, commented that in some of the conference calls the organization had in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it became clear that there are some policy issues that need to be examined. “We heard a lot of frustration from mayors and other city officials who tried to provide help to the communities affected by Sandy and were unable to,” Cownie commented. “Clearly, we need to take a hard look at the EMAC (Emergency Management Assistance Compact) system which routes all help through the states and make recommendations for its improvement.”