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Mayors, Emergency Managers Discuss Response to Hurricane Sandy

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
December 3, 2012


How to prepare for and cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and how to navigate federal and state bureaucracy in responding to it dominated the discussions in five conference calls convened by Conference of Mayors President Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter before and after the “Superstorm” ravaged portions of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in late October. Key officials from the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA participated in the calls and with Conference leaders stressed the importance of working through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) system to provide and receive assistance.

Sunday, October 28

During the mayors’ first call, held October 28 shortly before the storm hit, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate briefed mayors on storm preparation and response. They warned of the dangers expected as a result of combined flooding and high winds and that destruction could continue over several days. Secretary Napolitano told the mayors that emergency coordination goes through the states; Fugate said that FEMA has been coordinating with the states to preposition resources.

Saturday, November 3

Nutter and Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran hosted a special November 3 conference call with New Jersey mayors to provide them an opportunity to talk to each other and with colleagues from other states who have had extensive experience in disaster response: Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr.; New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown; and Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach.

Riley stressed the importance of staying calm, reminding people that things will get better, and being in constant communication with the public. Landrieu commented that electricity is king. Piscataway Mayor Brian Wahler reported that power and fuel were the two biggest issues in his city. Patterson Mayor Jeffrey Jones commented that Patterson is the third largest city in the state, but that supplies have been slow in coming from the state.

Monday, November 5

Nutter led a November 5 call with FEMA Assistant Administrator of the National Continuity Programs Directorate Damon Penn and National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) Executive Director Trina Sheets to discuss the EMAC system with mayors and emergency managers from more than 40 cities. Penn and Sheets described the EMAC system, an interstate mutual aid agreement that allows state and local governments to assist one another in responding to all kinds of natural and manmade disasters administered by NEMA. They stressed that all requests for and offers of assistance must go through the states in order to provide legal assurances relating to reimbursement, liability, credentialing, licensing, and certification.

Riley expressed his concern about the speed at which resources are getting to the affected areas: “Our people are ready to go, but we haven’t gotten the call yet.” Other mayors expressed concern about their inability to send help to the affected areas. Penn urged the mayors to contact their states and to work through the EMAC system to provide assistance.

Thursday, November 8

Cochran and Philadelphia’s emergency manager, Deputy Managing Director Samantha Phillips, led a November 8 call of more than 40 city emergency managers and several mayors which focused on donations. Julie Blanciak, a Voluntary Agency and Donations Specialist at FEMA, briefed the city officials on what cities can do to make donations as effective as possible. She commented that cash is always best and asked the officials to help get that word out in their communities. Blanciak also stressed the importance of identifying and confirming needs before items are sent and of identifying recipient organizations before items are even collected. For people who want to volunteer their services, she encouraged them to affiliate with organizations in affected areas before heading to them.

Friday November 9

Cochran conducted a call November 9 with several New Jersey mayors which focused on the situation communities in their state are facing. Among the issues discussed were the importance of restoring power as quickly as possible in the areas where it was still out, facilitating clean-up and debris removal, the need for first responders to provide respite to those working long hours since the storm hit, and managing the receipt and distribution of needed items, such as food and clothing. They also discussed the long-term restoration needs of the shore communities decimated by the storm.

Other Conference Activities in Response to Hurricane Sandy

  • On November 1, Cochran sent an alert to mayors forwarding a request for help from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office in New York City that detailed some of the equipment and personnel needed. Cochran reported that Nutter had spoken directly to Bloomberg, the staff had reached out to affected New Jersey mayors, and that many mayors from around the country had contacted the Conference wanting to help their colleagues in affected communities with their response and recovery efforts.

  • On November 7 the Conference of Mayors established a Hurricane Sandy Recovery Information Center on its Web site: www.usmayors.org.