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 Superstorm 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 establishment of 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 44-page document outlines a number of areas in which FEMA demonstrated strengths in preparation for Sandy, including its pre-deployment of over 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. As the paper points out, “prior regional catastrophic planning coordination between FEMA and the impacted states facilitated these decisions.” The agency also positioned 165 ambulances and medical teams and deployed nine National Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces.
FEMA’s use of an online crisis management system, 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 federal personnel involved in disaster response. WebEOC was used for “multiple activities, including supporting resource requests from the field, coordinating Energy Restoration Task Force activities, maintaining situational awareness, monitoring and tracking national hurricane plan tasks, and tracking assistance delivered to survivors.” The report says that Sandy was one of the first implementations of the WebEOC system, and that more than 60 percent of personnel using the system rated it as “effective” or “very effective.”