Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 30, 2012

West Coast Bombarded

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on November 30, 2012

The National Weather Service forecast for Friday to Sunday opens with:


Who needs aliens — or even North Koreans — when you have computer-enhanced atmospheric energy waves!

The weather channel explains,

Meteorologists use the term “atmospheric river” to describe a long, narrow plume piping deep moisture from the tropics into the mid-latitudes. One type of atmospheric river you may have heard of is the “Pineapple Express”, a pronounced plume tapping moisture from the Hawaiian Islands to the U.S. West Coast. Amazingly, according to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), a strong atmospheric river can transport as water vapor up to 15 times the average flow of liquid water at the mouth of the Mississippi River! Suffice to say, if an atmospheric river stalls over a particular area, significant flooding can be the result.

Right now the immediate forecast suggests local challenges but nothing catastrophic.  For those outside the Pacific northwest: mostly guilt-free storm porn.  But just as one man’s porn may be another’s sex education (I too was once a thirteen-year-old boy), what unfolds this weekend could — even should — influence our expectations.

In early 2011 the US Geological Survey, CALEMA, and others conducted a multi-hazard demonstration project they called ARkStorm:

The hypothetical storm depicted here would strike the U.S. West Coast and be similar to the intense California winter storms of 1861 and 1862 that left the central valley of California impassible… The Central Valley experiences hypothetical flooding 300 miles long and 20 or more miles wide. Serious flooding also occurs in Orange County, Los Angeles County, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay area, and other coastal communities. Windspeeds in some places reach 125 miles per hour, hurricane-force winds. Across wider areas of the state, winds reach 60 miles per hour. Hundreds of landslides damage roads, highways, and homes. Property damage exceeds $300 billion, most from flooding.

Demand surge (an increase in labor rates and other repair costs after major natural disasters) could increase property losses by 20 percent. Agricultural losses and other costs to repair lifelines, dewater (drain) flooded islands, and repair damage from landslides, brings the total direct property loss to nearly $400 billion, of which $20 to $30 billion would be recoverable through public and commercial insurance. Power, water, sewer, and other lifelines experience damage that takes weeks or months to restore. Flooding evacuation could involve 1.5 million residents in the inland region and delta counties. Business interruption costs reach $325 billion in addition to the $400 billion property repair costs…

As we saw with Sandy and Katrina and the Tohoku Quake and Mississippi flooding and profound drought in the Great Plains (and more) this is not a wild-eyed Mayan prediction of the future.   This is merely the projection onto the present of a previous and recurring natural event.

November 29, 2012

Learning from Sandy

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector — by Philip J. Palin on November 29, 2012

It’s too late for a hot wash and there’s not been sufficient time for a serious after-action, but a few impressions — hypotheses, perhaps — that might productively frame follow-on information gathering and analysis.

(Below I focus mostly on a forty-mile radius from the Empire State Building.  I have not addressed electricity because I perceive we need to assume power outages and discover how we can still water, feed, and otherwise serve those in need.  I have not addressed telecommunications because, so far, this is for me mostly a dark hole. A reminder:  Sandy began seriously impacting the mid-Atlantic during the afternoon and evening of Monday, October 29.)

Water and Wastewater Systems: Most did better than I had expected, given the extended period without electric power.  In the handful of cases (well, two handfuls and a few toes) where there were  problems it mostly resulted from the loss of pumping capability. For example the Middlesex Water Company serving 450,000 in Central New Jersey lost primary power to its New Brunswick intake facility and this was not restored until late on Tuesday, November 6.  As water pressure fell contaminants entered the system requiring boiling or bleaching.   The non-operation of water treatment facilities, caused by both power outages and physical damage, and the resulting release of untreated sewage into the region’s rivers could still threaten the safety of water drawn from these sources.  The current status of waste water treatment facilities is tough to assess. (Thursday afternoon update: Today’s NYT has an extended report) Private sector sources of water were a helpful input in the immediate response period.  For example, Anheuser-Busch donated 1 million cans of water.

Food Supply: A few grocery stores — notably in Hoboken, Red Hook, the Rockaways and other barrier islands —  were totally washed out.  Of about fifty ShopRite stores in the New York metro region  27 were still closed on Thursday morning November 1, mostly due to power outages. Out of 30 Stop & Shop stores, ten were closed because of no electricity.  All have since reopened and most grocery and convenience food stores were back in business within 72 hours. Sources of food supply were mostly not impacted.  The fuel problems (see below) did not seem to have a serious impact on making grocery deliveries after the event.  Food shortages were evidently less the result of disruption in the food supply chain and much more the result of  impediments to consumer mobility. (Special Note: In Connecticut on October 29 the Governor ordered all large trucks off state highways as of 1PM.  It is not clear to me — yet — what impact that might have had on food, pharma, or other supplies.)

Pharmaceutical and Medical Goods: There have been several media reports of individual survivors of Sandy running low on prescriptions.  I have not seen or heard suggestions of systemic problems.   There was, apparently, some challenge in distributing pharmaceuticals as a result of fuel distribution problems.  On November 5 Drug Store News reported:

A key focal point in the discussions between Rx Response and government agencies has been addressing challenges in getting fuel to delivery trucks re-supplying hospitals and pharmacies, and helping to secure fuel for pharmacies and other healthcare facilities operating on generator power. Efforts are currently underway to help ensure access to fuel for both delivery fleets and healthcare facilities powered by generators.  Rx Response is also working with local law enforcement to help delivery vehicles gain access to areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

I have no idea why pharma distribution would have more problems with fuel than food distribution.  In any case, it is a distinction worth resolving.

Since Katrina the pharma industry has developed a proactive approach to disaster preparedness and response.   This process is coordinated through an industry-wide collaborative called RxResponse.   The entire effort is designed to help the full pharma supply chain flex when under stress from an event like Sandy.  For consumers and emergency managers an online pharmacy status update may be especially helpful.

Transportation Fuel: As was the case in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 tsunami-and-earthquake in Japan (and elsewhere), the disruption of the fuel distribution system seriously complicated the immediate response to Sandy.  HLSWatch has already given considerable attention to this issue here, here and here.  Yesterday Joshua Schneyer and Selam Gebrekidan with Reuters filed an excellent overview that I strongly recommend reading.

Housing Repairs and Replacements:  On Monday New York Governor Cuomo reported that 305,000 housing units had been damaged or destroyed by Sandy in New York alone and this number is expected to increase.  FEMA has reported 71,770 homes damaged or destroyed in New Jersey.  This total is much larger than I anticipated.  According to FEMA, more than 450,000 New York metro-area residents have registered for assistance.  Over $888 million in emergency housing assistance has already been approved.  During the Monday event — clearly designed to set the stage for a special Congressional appropriation — Governor Cuomo estimated needing $9.67 billion just focused on housing.  Wednesday afternoon the New York Federal Reserve “Beige Book” summary included the following overview:

Residential real estate markets in the (NY Federal Reserve) District were mixed but generally firm prior to the storm, and its effects on the market remain unclear at this point. Manhattan’s rental market remained on a positive trajectory in October, with rents up roughly 5 percent from a year earlier and vacancy rates continuing to decrease. Sales markets in both Manhattan and the outer boroughs were fairly active in October, with prices steady and the inventory of available homes characterized as low… An expert on New Jersey’s housing sector notes that conditions were improving gradually prior to Sandy and expects that post-storm rebuilding will boost multi-family construction. The storm caused a noticeable slowdown in sales activity throughout the New York City metropolitan region, but this is expected to be temporary. With many homes along the New York City, Long Island and New Jersey shorelines severely damaged or destroyed, the lean housing inventory is a concern, as displaced residents seek short-term rentals. There is some concern as to how much of the shore communities will be rebuilt and how quickly, but one industry expert anticipates that residents in the severely-damaged areas will be strongly motivated to return and rebuild. Some of the biggest potential challenges are likely to be shortages of construction equipment and materials, and steeper prices for insurance.

(Might be worth reviewing the National Disaster Housing Strategy. Especially in the immediate context of Post-Sandy, it sets out a a very restrained strategic concept.  This is not necessarily a criticism.)

Some emerging impressions:

  • Supply of consumables (water, food, pharma)  was not seriously impacted.  There were problems with distribution, most dramatically with fuel.  There was widespread lack of understanding about how distribution systems work and as a result early efforts to address problems were misdirected.  Lots of mitigation opportunities were exposed.
  • The most serious human consequences seem to have emerged from an inability to express or actuate demand.  People who could not easily communicate with or travel to nearby sources of supply were those most affected by the event.  Physical separation and social isolation are amplified by disaster (hardly a new finding).
  • I’m surprised we’re not hearing more horror stories about housing.  Maybe I spent too much time in Japan, but sometimes silence is the most important part of the message.
  • Sandy was a serious event, but considerably less than a “worst case”.  She was subtropical by landfall.  She was certainly big but might have been badder.  A repeat of the Great White Hurricane of 1888 would have much more serious and sustained impacts on electricity and distribution networks with considerably greater consequences for supply chains, critical infrastructure, and the population.

Given what we experienced with Sandy what can we do now to deal more effectively with the next really bad day?

November 28, 2012

I am in the midst of a major disaster

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on November 28, 2012

On Monday a “Major Disaster Declaration” was approved for the Virginia county in which I reside. According to FEMA, “The President’s action makes federal funding available to the commonwealth and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by Hurricane Sandy.”  Hazard mitigation funding is also available.

My wife and I were without power for 25 hours.  We live at the end of a line and were one of the last restored. Down the mountain, a 1970s trailer-home had its roof pealed off.  Sustained winds exceeding 60 mph blew off some exterior panels at the middle school gym.  After the storm passed, the county sheriff told the local paper, “We had some strong winds and trees down on houses, but it could have been a lot worse. We were expecting flooding and thankfully we didn’t get any of that reported to us.”

The Governor requested a Major Disaster be declared by the President.  This maximizes the amount of federal assistance available.  Twenty-five Virginia counties are included in the declaration.

According to the Congressional Research Service:

44 C.F.R. § 206.47 regarding cost-share adjustments. The federal share of essential assistance shall not be less than 75% of the eligible costs of such assistance. 42 U.S.C. §5170b(b), (c)(4). For hazard mitigation under 42 U.S.C. § 5170c(a), the federal share is upto 75% of the cost of hazard mitigation measures the President has determined are cost effective and which substantially reduce the risk of future damage, hardship, loss, or suffering in any area affected by a major disaster. For repair, restoration and replacement of damaged facilities under 42 U.S.C. § 5172(b)(1) the federal share is not less than 75 percent, but this amount may be reduced to not less than 25% under § 5172(b)(2) in the case of repair, restoration, reconstruction or replacement of any eligible public facility or private nonprofit facility following an event associated with a major disaster that has been damage don more than one occasion in the last 10 years by a similar event and with respect to which the owner has failed to implement appropriate mitigation measures to address the hazard which caused the damage to the facility. For debris removal under 42 U.S.C. § 5173(d), the federal share of assistance is not less than 75 percent of the eligible cost. The federal share for assistance to individuals and households under 42 U.S.C. § 5174 is 100% of eligible costs generally, except that it is 75% for financial assistance for other needs, the non-federal share to be paid from state funds. The maximum financial assistance that an individual or household can receive under this program is $25,000 with respect to a single disaster, with the limit subject to annual adjustment to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers published by the Department of Labor.

Section 501 of the Stafford Act requires that a Governor’s request for a declaration, “shall be based on a finding that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and the affected local governments and that Federal assistance is necessary.”

Clearly, there are localities where this criterion has been more than met.

I have drafted and deleted several more sentences.  I seem trapped in a tone that is cynical, acrid, churlish, peevish, and — well, I guess — unrealistic.  Until I can offer something more constructive,  I’ll leave it there.

November 27, 2012

Resilience, generational style

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Dan OConnor on November 27, 2012

Last week I was able to speak with one of my cousins.  A lifelong resident of Broad Channel, New York, she and her adult children were directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  To be blunt, they stared down the barrel of it.  Her kids, both adult children live in Rockaway and Broad Channel as well.

Their houses were all but destroyed.

The home that is near the Shore Front Parkway had the boardwalk driven through the front of the house and flooded.  The other house was filled with upwards of six feet of water and everything inside lost to water damage.

The oldest house was stripped to its studs.

This house in particular is one of two houses that my great grandfather was able to purchase by cobbling together a down payment with a combination of glue factory, church sexton, and gambling earnings.   He was a laborer in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century.

The house I grew up in also had its roots planted the same way.

My great grandfather was a first generation American.  His father, my great great grandfather, survived the potato famine in Ireland and sailed across the Atlantic for 39 days in steerage.

My mother, brothers, and I went to this house every year,  every summer.  From the  late 1930s through the 21st century, we all made it there.  It was not much of a house.  It was a bungalow really and probably had no business being built, but it was a building, that became a house, that became a home.

That house has survived floods, hurricanes, fires, and a host of other meteorological activity.

But it’s still there.

Stripped to its core, it still stands, naked so to speak but not completely yielding to its challenges.  It has been in the family, this bungalow has,  for nearly a hundred years and it will not yield.

My cousin has survived losing both parents in a fire, countless hurricanes over the last 5 decades, and other calamities.  But she knows her people manage.

When we spoke, she said “I have no expectation for sympathy or assistance.  I chose to live here and this is where I am from.”

She also said, “We will make it.  What are you gonna do?  We’ll rebuild.  That’s what we do.  Uncle Larry did it, Grandma did it, my sister did it. What am I gonna do, go somewhere else?”

Tough broad, as my mother would say.

I am keenly aware how I came to be a New Yorker and then an American.

I know when and where my relatives landed in Lower Manhattan and made their way to Brooklyn.  And I know how that bungalow came to be.

The house was ravaged by the sea and still stands.  What a great metaphor for all those who did the same thing to build our Nation.

My cousin is tough as nails.  Like many who live around her, they will rebuild.

They know no other way.

Stubborn, prideful, tough … resilient.

Don’t count them out.

What are they gonna do?



November 22, 2012

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 22, 2012

A community Thanksgiving meal served by volunteers on Staten Island. (More from Reuters)

November 21, 2012

Giving thanks

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 21, 2012

In 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.  It is now estimated that in the Civil War 750,000 Americans were killed by other Americans  or the direct effects of the conflict.  Yet the President offered explicit cause to give thanks and praise and invited others — including those in rebellion — to join with him.

In the closing paragraph of the Presidential Proclamation (below), Mr. Lincoln encouraged his fellow citizens to several actions — including seeking humble penitence for our national perverseness.

I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.  And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

We are again engaged in “lamentable civil strife” that, in my judgment, exceeds necessity or good cause.    The recent election has, I am afraid, served mostly to deepen the divide.

It is a division founded in pride and perpetuated by denial: I am right.  You are wrong.  My motives are pure.  Your motives are either confused or conspiratorial.  You must be persuaded or at least dissuaded.  I listen only for weakness in your argument.

This is a habit unfriendly to peace, harmony, tranquility, and union. This is the stance that unleashed the civil war.  This is the dehumanizing at the source of our most inhuman behavior.

On the screened porch beside his favorite chair my grandfather hung two sayings, the first in needlepoint, the other written in his own hand, both framed:

Come Let Us Reason Together.

A man who hasn’t made a mistake hasn’t made anything.

Effective reasoning requires a sense of personal limitation.  Humility is not just a virtue, it is a helpful embrace of reality.

Lincoln explained, “When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.”  On occasion this interior reasoning and careful consideration of alternatives caused Lincoln to adjust his own judgment before the other had uttered a word.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, judgments, and opinions.  Thank you for encouraging me to step outside my predilections and prejudices.  Thank you for causing me to actively consider alternatives. Thank you for opening and changing my mind. I hope to occasionally return the favor.

November 20, 2012

Wanted: Dangerous Homeland Security ideas. $500 reward.

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on November 20, 2012

Do you have a dangerous idea about homeland security?

Why is it dangerous?

You could receive $500 if you write a compelling response to those questions.

The Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security is running its sixth annual essay contest through January 20th, 2013. You can see the contest rules and the essay evaluation criteria at http://www.chds.us/?essay/overview.

The contest is open to anyone interested in homeland security — anyone except for Center for Homeland Defense and Security faculty, staff, students and graduates.

The winning essay will be announced around May 31, 2013.

Here are the essay questions from previous years:

2008 — “What single aspect of Homeland Security has been most successful, and what single aspect will be most critical to Homeland Security success?”

2009 — “What advice concerning Homeland Security would you give the next presidential administration and why?”

2010 — “How can, or should, the United States make homeland security a more layered, networked, and resilient endeavor involving all citizens?”

2011 — “Claude Debussy said “Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” How might this idea be applied to how we approach homeland defense and security?”

2012 — “Identify a theory or insight from a field outside homeland security that has not been applied to homeland security but should be.”

You can see the finalists’ essays for those questions at this link.

November 16, 2012

The times they are a-changin

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 16, 2012

From: Protecting New York City, Before Next Time (NYT, November 2, 2012)

Mayor Bloomberg was explicit:

The floods and fires that swept through our city left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding work. And in the short term, our subway system remains partially shut down, and many city residents and businesses still have no power. In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods — something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable. Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.

Governor Cuomo too:

Extreme weather is the new normal. In the past two years, we have had two storms, each with the odds of a 100-year occurrence. Debating why does not lead to solutions — it leads to gridlock. The denial and deliberation from extremists on both sides about the causes of climate change are distracting us from addressing its inarguable effects. Recent events demand that we get serious once and for all.

Even before Sandy hit, New Jersey Governor Christie was clear.  According to an August 19, 2011 report in  the Star-Ledger, “The governor said, “climate change is real.” He added that “human activity plays a role in these changes” and that climate change is “impacting our state.”

During his Wednesday press conference the President said:

I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it… The temperature around the globe is increasing faster than was predicted even 10 years ago. We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted even five years ago. We do know that there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the globe.

All the way back in 2010 a study by the think-tank CNAWhy the Emergency Management Community Should be Concerned about Climate Change — and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation found that in regard to climate change,

These changes may impact the location, frequency, and occurrence of natural hazards such as tropical cyclones, wildfires, floods,and winter storms. Thus, the historical data that are typically the basis of hazard identification and risk assessment may not accurately forecast future events. Consequently, we need to begin to evaluate and better understand how climate change could affect the identification and selection of disaster mitigation strategies, the types of preparedness activities that jurisdictions undertake,the execution of response operations, and the implementation of long-term recovery strategies.

The CNA report offers a set of policy recommendations.  All are important.  I would argue the results of Sandy (and the Japanese triple header, June’s Derecho, last year’s Irene, Katrina, and more) especially highlight the criticality of mitigation and preparedness.  For too long these have been the weak sisters of the emergency management and homeland security family.

Mitigation and preparedness are given less money and attention because:

1.  Decision-makers at almost every level over-estimate their understanding of future challenges based on their personal experience with past challenges.

2.  Mitigation and preparedness require research, thinking, communication, collaboration, and crafting decisions without the benefit of an immediate crisis to clarify priorities and when no one is “in charge”.

3.  Mitigation and (real) preparedness seldom involve buying big-boy toys or nifty gadgets.  They are less about playing war and much more about playing house.

Mitigation and preparedness are about building smart for the long-term, not just picking up the pieces.

November 15, 2012

Response-to-recovery: The housing crisis

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on November 15, 2012

Photo by Alan Ziebel, AFP-Getty

THURSDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: While in New York, the President announced that Shaun Donovan, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will serve as the “federal government point-person for Washington’s involvement in New York’s Hurricane Sandy recovery.”  I assume this means he will be the Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator (FDRC), but that may be a silly supposition.  Donovan’s appointment certainly confirms the key role that housing will play in the recovery.  See more at Politico and The Daily News.

According to the Daily News, the White House release (don’t see it yet at the WH website, includes, “Secretary Donovan will be working closely with FEMA and other agencies working under the National Disaster Recovery Framework, a construct developed in the first term of the Obama Administration to improve long term recovery. FEMA continues to lead response and recovery efforts in the region.”


The power grid has been mostly — though not fully — restored across the region pummeled by Sandy.  But thousands of flooded residences require safety inspections before they can be reconnected.  On Monday in Brick Township, New Jersey 462 homes were inspected, out of which 105 were determined to be unsafe, requiring substantial electrical repairs.

On Wednesday morning FEMA estimated, 89,400 customers in New York and New Jersey are unable to receive power due to storm damage and/or damaged equipment.

The time needed to conduct inspections will be multiplied by the time needed to do repairs. Owners are trying to “camp out” to expedite inspections, repairs, and restoration.  How long will the camping continue?  Probably depends alot on weather.

It is the same story up and down the Jersey shore, Staten Island, Lower Manhattan, Long Island, and even on the Connecticut coast.  Whatever the final number of homes needing electrical and other repairs, the regional housing market is in a sudden state of flux.

Late Wednesday afternoon Governor Cuomo announced,

FEMA will bring in contractors in order to perform basic repairs so that residents can return to their homes while more long term repairs are in progress. Only residents in the federally-declared counties are eligible to participate in this program… FEMA has developed a two-step approach to helping individuals make necessary repairs to their homes. They will use the newly developed Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program in conjunction with the existing Individuals and Households Program (IHP) in order to keep individuals in their homes, therefore avoiding the need to find long term sheltering or housing solutions. These programs can be accessed by individuals at the same time; participation in one does not preclude individuals from participating in the other.

Some insist current housing supply will be sufficient once electrical repairs are made.  According to the Staten Island Advance,  Borough President James Malinaro told DHS Secretary Napolitano,

“We don’t need, we don’t need mobile houses,” Molinaro told Ms. Napolitano. “We have it under control and we have a meeting tomorrow with the city. We have sufficient apartments for people that have to go in for temporary housing, for temporary housing. And most of the people that we’ve spoken to on the South Shore have said, ‘You get me back my energy, I don’t need to go any place, we’re staying here… My biggest concern right now, my biggest problem right now is returning electric to almost 10,000 homes. And we can’t do that until these homes are inspected, to make sure that they weren’t violated by salt water.”

Meanwhile, according to the New York Daily News:

Thousands of New Jersey residents displaced by Superstorm Sandy are frantically calling real estate offices, looking to rent a home or apartment while they figure out what to do about their storm-ravaged homes. Others are joining waiting lists at hotels filled with evacuees and out-of-state utility workers. Demand, real estate agents said, far outstripped supply. Much of the region’s copious summer rental stock is not listed this time of year, and properties on the beach may be damaged or inaccessible. The winter housing stock is much smaller, and months-long rentals of vacation homes are virtually unheard of. And the prices of rentals changes with each season. “The number of people who need homes now is much greater than what all of the companies have combined is available,” said John Meechan, a broker with Diane Turton Realtors in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. The company has 16 offices in Monmouth and Ocean counties.

The number of property owners having flood insurance is not yet known.  According to the Consumer Federation of America:

Payments by private insurers for wind damage to homes and business properties from Hurricane Sandy will likely exceed $10 billion dollars.  Flood claims paid by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will be at least $8 billion dollars and will likely exceed $10 billion, exhausting the NFIP’s existing $4 billion in payment authority.

In a front page story on Tuesday the New York Times outlined,

The federal government’s flood insurance program, which fell $18 billion into debt after Hurricane Katrina, is once again at risk of running out of money as the daunting reconstruction from Hurricane Sandy gets under way… the cost could reach $7 billion at a time when the program is allowed, by law, to add only an additional $3 billion to its onerous debt.

Some are pushing for government “insurance payments” even to flood victims not enrolled in the low-cost program.  This was done after Katrina.  But for both fiscal and policy reasons such a step may not be repeated this time.  “We are now just throwing money to support something that is going to end up creating more victims and costing more money in the future,” Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, said.

What is being paid out is FEMA housing assistance.  Residents in areas covered by a declared disaster have sixty days to register for FEMA housing assistance.  Individuals can be awarded up to $31,900, depending on losses demonstrated.  As of November 14, 403,798 residents of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut have registered, 94,142 applicants have been approved to receive housing assistance, and $539,822,274 has been approved for dispersal, (though not necessarily dispersed).  This housing assistance is often used for temporary shelter (e.g. hotels or rentals) and repairs.  Much more will be spent.

How much will be spent rebuilding on vulnerable beach-front and other flood-prone property?  In other words, how much will we invest in recreating our pre-existing vulnerabilities?

Tuesday New York City Council Speaker (and presumed Mayoral candidate) Chris Quinn told the Association of a Better New York:

“My grandfather came over on a boat from Ireland with a third grade education and worked his way up through the ranks of the Fire Department. Rockaway Beach offered him a chance to rent a bungalow in the summer, to afford a little place on the ocean just like the rich people he saw in the magazines. It was his own piece of  the American Dream… Millions of New Yorkers have stories just like mine. We will make sure our children and our grandchildren have those stories too–not of a Rockaway destroyed, but of a Rockaway reborn.”

On November 8 economist Sam Chandon wrote,

From an analysis of historical behaviors, we can infer that investors believe the cost of flood protection will be borne across all property owners, or that government will offset the cost of serious events. Individual actors and investors are also myopic. When hyperbolic discounting of a presumably rare event leaves them underwater a second or third time, even detractors of big government will seek out disaster assistance. Premiums will not reflect risk-taking and the value of risky assets will be propped up by moral hazard.

I have no doubt Ms. Quinn’s rhetoric is more compelling that Mr. Chandon’s.   Will that decide the issue?

November 14, 2012

Resistance is futile?

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 14, 2012

Seasonal flooding is expected in Venice.  But this autumn —  for the fourth time since 2000 — the  high water has substantially exceeded historic norms.

The Venetian experience and response offers analogies for decisions unfolding from Sandy:  In particular should our strategy lean toward absorbing or resisting?

Over the centuries Venice has made choices across this continuum.  Some islands have been largely abandoned.  Architectural, infrastructural, and economic adaptations have anticipated flooding.  Large-scale engineering projects are underway to protect the city from flooding.

Much will depend, I expect, on the experience of the next two-to-five years.   If Sandy is framed as an anomaly, choices will default to status-quo-ante.  The 1821 flooding of the Battery is barely remembered.  The Long Island Express of 1938 was an even worse storm and did not seriously dent post-war development.  But if last year’s experience with Irene and this year’s with Sandy is followed in short order by a third perceived calamity: policy, strategy, and behavior will shift.

It is worth remembering that until the Portuguese, Dutch, and English began sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, Venice was the great European trading center and a significant Mediterranean power.  The decline of Venice was mostly a matter of shifting trade patterns, but  a series of powerful storms and floods  in the year 1600 and afterwards accelerated the decline.

…Thus did Venice rise,
Thus flourish, till the unwelcome tidings came,
That in the Tagus had arrived a fleet
From India, from the region of the Sun,
Fragrant with spices — that a way was found,
A channel opened, and the golden stream
Turned to enrich another. Then she felt
Her strength departing, yet awhile maintained
Her state, her splendour; till a tempest shook
All things most held in honour among men…

Samuel Rogers

November 13, 2012

Failure, “Generally” speaking.

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Homeland Defense — by Dan OConnor on November 13, 2012

It’s difficult not to be cynical.

It is also difficult imagining what I am about to write and wondering if I am being disloyal. That’s a powerful emotion.

But then I imagine a Navy having nearly more Admirals than ships. I imagine having more Generals now than 20 years ago. I imagine how is it possible to have increases of 25% in flag officer promotions while the rest of the force is being reduced.

Then I realize it may not be my imagination at all.

I happen to know several brilliant Colonels, studs by euphemism and reputation who chose to leave the military instead of pursuing the rank of General because… “if that is what a General is I want no part of it.”

Wow, what’s going on?

A recent article in the Atlantic had some interesting points of view to share about Generalship and the state of affairs within the flag officer ranks.

Did you know that General Officers were fired in World War 2? I believe the count was 16.

How many have been fired for their performance in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?  ZERO.  (Well, maybe one, if you count General McCrystal.)

It’s so easy to blame the civilian leadership and retort ad infinitum that “they” need to mind their business. However, left unchecked as we now see, the all volunteer force has an unintended consequence: mediocre politically correct officers become powers unto themselves and are moved along. Those who rock the boat are kicked to the curb.


Because — generally speaking — the Generals of today may not be of the ilk and cloth of yesterday.

Generals accused of misconduct, rape, adultery, misappropriation, and other crimes have been in the news of late. But how many were fired for being incompetent?

Again, ZERO.

Are all General Officers bad? Of course not and to present such a proposition is ludicrous. There are some exceptional performers who combine intellect, presence, and dogmatic determination in leading our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines with aplomb. They inspire.

Are there some unspectacular, mediocre and merely politically appointed Generals? Absolutely and to assume they are all spectacular is equally ludicrous.

Are there simply too many Generals?

In 1991, there were 157 three and four Star Generals. By April 2011 there were 194—an increase of 24%.  Since 1991, no DoD personnel group has grown at a faster rate than that of General Officers.

From 1991 through April 2011, officer ranks shrank by more than 56,000 (19%) and enlisted personnel decreased by nearly half a million (30%).  The overall number of active duty personnel has declined to some 1.5 million from 2.2 million in 1985.   According to the Pentagon, there are now 963 generals and admirals leading the armed forces, about 100 more than on Sept. 11, 2001.

That’s a lot of “leadership.”

What could they possibly be doing?

I can tell you what they are not doing: taking care of soldiers and their awards.

Generals are promoted and they and their staffs are sitting on awards boards and deciding what is valorous and what is not. When I came into the Marine Corps, the vast majority…the overwhelming majority of General Officer’s had been awarded Medals of Honor, Navy Crosses, and Silver Stars. These guys fought as young officers and as a result, I think may have had a better perspective on what it takes to kill, lose youngsters, fight, and recognize valor.

I think it is different now. I know it is.

The process for “high-level awards” (including the Silver Star, Navy Cross, and Medal of Honor) begins in the operational theater, ends in Washington, and contains layers of iterative decision making in the form of review along the way, which needlessly delays the ultimate decision.

The vast majority of the flag officers we have now do not have valor awards. And the days of Chesty Puller awarding a Navy Cross and Silver Star on the beaches of Pelileu or  Chosin Reservoir are so over. Many contemporary flag officers and their staffs are an abomination to morale and esprit. They make decisions with little to lose, and they are quite arbitrary about it. They did not fight and do not have that collective experience of being “blooded” in battle.

Does it matter?

Here’s why I think it does: a young officer I know was put in for 2 Silver Stars for valorous conduct in Afghanistan. This guy is a lion.

A general’s staff in the rear or administratively attached, reduced one recommendation to a bronze star after sitting on it for almost a year and simply dismissed another.   It is as if the valor and the lives saved did not take place. This is the unintended consequences of paper tigers, perfumed princes, or as the Atlantic article points out, mediocre general officers.

Maybe someone should look at this as a reason young officers and NCOs are leaving the military in droves.

Having seen this unfold over the last 30 years and having read hyper inflated biographies and fitness reports of their exploits, it is no wonder that we have more Generals than we know what to do with. Staffs continue to get too heavy and over time each rank is diminished of its significance and impact.  It is kind of like IBM in camouflage uniforms.

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, was the recipient of two medals of honor and is one of two Marines with that distinction. His famous retort that “…War is a racket…” rings true now more than ever. It’s easy to take volunteers and grind their asses into dust. They volunteered.

Perhaps if the current crop of Generals had fought a bit more and weren’t so politically correct, worried about acquisitions, and really cared about their young fighters, the Atlantic article would lionize their performance instead of punk them out.

[Note: this essay was written on October 28th]

November 11, 2012

Appreciation for aid against adversaries and in adversity

Filed under: Homeland Defense — by Philip J. Palin on November 11, 2012

Since 9/11 a new generation of veterans has earned our thanks.   This year’s Presidential Proclamation for Veterans Day reads in part:

On days like this, we are called to reflect on immeasurable burdens that have been borne by so few. We pay tribute to our wounded, our missing, our fallen, and their families—men and women who have known the true costs of conflict and deserve our deepest respect, now and forever. We also remember that our commitments to those who have served are commitments we must honor not only on Veterans Day, but every day. As we do so, let us reaffirm our promise that when our troops finish their tours of duty, they come home to an America that gives them the benefits they have earned, the care they deserve, and the fullest opportunity to keep their families strong and our country moving forward.

In the last two weeks over 6000 troops of the New Jersey and New York National Guard have been involved in the response to Hurricane Sandy.   Federal military assets have also been deployed.  Here’s a quick overview of only a few NORTHCOM assignments:

  • Navy Expeditionary Combat Command units conducted an assessment at the Hoboken Ferry Terminal to determine the feasibility of increasing existing capabilities.
  • The Defense Logistics Agency delivered meals, fuel and disaster blankets. Over 1.5 million meals were delivered to West Virginia; 40,000 gallons of fuel were delivered to five Verizon sites in New Jersey and New York in order to assist in the effort to restore phone lines; and 150,000 disaster blankets were delivered to New York City.
  • U.S. Transportation Command, via Air Mobility Command provided C-5s and C-17s heavy airlift aircraft support to move 61 power restoration vehicles, associated equipment, non-medical personnel and cargo from Travis and March Air Force Bases, Cal., to Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York. U.S. Transportation Command also transported 63 utility vehicles and 132 passengers from Phoenix, Arizona to Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York.
  • Air Mobility Command moved 120 people into the New York City area that are a part of the Department of Health and Human Services Disaster Medical Assistance Teams. As part of that movement, the 305th Air Mobility Wing from McGuire Air Force, N.J., moved approximately 50 passengers on a C-17 from Columbus, Ohio, and the 436th Airlift Wing from Dover Air Force Base, Del., moved approximately 70 passengers from Dallas-Fort Worth, also on a C-17 to John F. Kennedy International Airport.
  • Another 15 power restoration vehicles, 1 helicopter and 32 operators were flown from McChord Air Force Base in Washington to Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York.
  • DOD has provided 100 high-volume water pumps (350 gallons per minute and greater) with qualified teams to support the operation and maintenance of the equipment.

In many Christian churches this is also the day set aside to remember Martin of Tours who — as a non-Christian soldier — is most often recalled for dividing his military cloak to share with a beggar in need, an act of particular charity and humility.  Later as a Bishop Martin persuaded Roman authorities to treat prisoners with dignity and defended heretics from capital punishment.

I do not have a militant personality.  But I honor the courage,  compassion, commitment, restraint and initiative of those who follow in Martin of Tours footsteps.

November 10, 2012

Prior knowledge as a cause of blindness

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on November 10, 2012

The fuel situation has improved markedly in New Jersey… as I expected, predicted in prior posts, and just about when I projected.  The fuel situation has not improved — and probably gotten worse — in New York City and Long Island.  Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Below is an excerpt from today’s New York Times.  It blames the difference between NJ and NY mostly on a delay in gas rationing.   This is part of the story.  I don’t think it is the main part.  Rather, I perceive — I am no longer in the region and not able to check-in-person — the key problem is a set of broken connections between the big Linden terminals with smaller terminals beyond the East River.

If this is confirmed as the problem I will have committed the same error that Karl Rove demonstrated in election projections: Mistaking a prior paradigm for current reality.   I mistook my (modest) familiarity with the fuel distribution network in the Washington DC region as functionally analogous to the NYC metro market.  I was looking for one or two really big nodes to restore.  Given the layered density and geographic challenges of the NYC metro fuel market it absolutely makes sense there would be much more inter-mediation in the marketspace.   Not looking for it was a serious mistake.

Please read the final paragraph in the excerpt.  This is why preparedness and mitigation is so very important.  What can be worked out in advance is much more difficult in the midst of a crisis.

The center of the problem was Linden, N.J., oil industry executives said, the heart of the metropolitan supply chain and a place where New York officials have no jurisdiction. It is where the Colonial pipeline ends, bringing petroleum products up from the Gulf of Mexico, and where the Buckeye pipeline begins taking petroleum products to Long Island and other areas.

Six- to eight-foot waves surged through the area, crashing into a Phillips 66 refinery and into a cluster of terminals on or close to the Arthur Kill waterway that receives refined products from the Colonial pipeline and local refineries for shipment throughout the region.

In addition, while the main pipelines have recovered power, 20 or so terminals in and around Linden will take more time to build to normal operations. Eight to 14 are in various stages of repair and limited operations, while 6 are still out of commission. Docks were flooded and damaged, along with equipment that lifts refined product to the barges from pipelines and tanks. The surge blew out control-room windows and lifted and damaged marine docks and lifting equipment essential for putting the products on the barges.

“Hurricane Sandy gave us a major shot to our distribution network,” said James Benton, the director of the New Jersey Petroleum Council, a trade organization. He said the northeaster was a blow, as well, since “it delayed damage assessments for the larger facilities and recoveries for some of the smaller facilities.”

The extent of the damage to the gas-distribution network was not fully understood by state and city officials, said Ralph Bombardiere, executive director of the New York State Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops.

A New York State energy office created amid gas shortages in the 1970s was dissolved in the 1990s. And, Mr. Bombardier said, there was little if any coordination or monitoring of the entire distribution network before the hurricane. “There’s more damage than anybody knew,” he said. “There was no plan or diagram of how this industry worked or who you can call to find out what’s happening. ”

The full NYT story is available at “Behind New York Gas Shortage, Missed Opportunities and Miscalculations“.   I contributed my share.



Good overview in today’s NYT: Gas Crisis Abates


November 9, 2012

NDRF: Weekend Reading

Filed under: Catastrophes,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 9, 2012

While not exactly scintillating, a very timely read might be the National Disaster Recovery Framework (September 2011).

From the document’s Executive Summary:

Experience with recent disaster recovery efforts highlights the need for additional guidance, structure and support to improve how we as a Nation address recovery challenges. This experience prompts us to better understand the obstacles to disaster recovery and the challenges faced by communities that seek disaster assistance.The National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF)is a guide to promote effective recovery, particularly for those incidents that are large scale or catastrophic.The NDRF provides guidance that enables effective recovery support to disaster-impacted States, Tribes and local jurisdictions. It provides a flexible structure that enables disaster recovery managers to operate in a unified and collaborative manner. It also focuses on how best to restore, redevelop and revitalize the health,social, economic, natural and environmental fabric of the community and build a more resilient Nation. The NDRF defines:

• Core recovery principles

• Roles and responsibilities of recoverycoordinators and other stakeholders

• A coordinating structure that facilitates communication and collaboration among all stakeholders

• Guidance for pre- and post-disaster recovery planning

• The overall process by which communities can capitalize on opportunities to rebuild stronger, smarter and safer

These elements improve recovery support and expedite recovery of disaster-impacted individuals, families, businesses and communities. While the NDRF speaks to all who are impacted or otherwise involved in disaster recovery, it concentrates on support to individuals and communities.

“The villain in this case is Hurricane Sandy”

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on November 9, 2012

In the twelve days since Sandy rolled up the Jersey shore and her winds tore across New York harbor people have died, families have lost their homes, and whole neighborhoods have been destroyed.  The vulnerabilities of systems on which modern life depends — especially power, communications, and fuel — have been dramatically exposed.

Mistakes have been made in responding to the crisis.  There has been delay, confusion, and bad judgment.  I have seen some of these problems up close and personal.  I have made my own contributions.  I have read of many more errors.  Several examples have been sent to me by readers.

I have also seen — and heard reports of  — kindness, courage, and generosity.   I have seen planning assumptions and preparedness exercises confirmed.  I have seen professionals giving fully of their energy and intelligence to serve those in need.   One night in New Jersey a huge caravan of  enormous utility trucks passed me heading north.    It occurred to me that the Interstate and Defense Highway System has never been needed to move tanks against an enemy, but it’s sure helpful to move mutual aid… and food, pharma, and much more.

At the very end of the caravan was a Red Cross ambulance with Texas plates.  As traffic slowed, I read a sign on its side explaining it was a gift from the people of Kuwait to a community in Texas (Killeen maybe, I don’t remember).  That’s really long-distance mutual aid.

Thursday afternoon Governors Christie (NJ) and Cuomo  (NY) each gave separate media briefings.   One of my mistakes was yesterday’s post worrying that the true cost of Sandy was not yet being recognized.  Cuomo’s remarks suggest there is a full realization of what the winds have wrought and the implications for recovery.

Governor Christie mostly provided an update on various public services and thanked those who have been involved in the response.   Chris Christie is certainly not shy to call someone an idiot or worse when he thinks it is deserved.  Especially in that context, I was struck yesterday by his defense of those who were doing their best to respond.  Even while 400,000 New Jersey residents remain without power (150,000 new or repeat outages from the nor’easter), the Governor commended the utility companies and especially their crews, who “worked right through the snowstorm. They are doing a good job.”

When a reporter asked a question inviting the Governor to pound-the-utilities, he responded instead,  “The villain in this case is Sandy.” (Governor Cuomo did not need to be invited to pound away.)

The storm is exposing systemic vulnerabilities and bad judgment that could reasonably be blamed on two or three generations of private and public officials and many survivors and victims of the storm.    I suggest it is helpful to look for lessons-learned and unhelpful to seek who to blame.

On a really great day about 80 percent of my plans make some progress.  On most days, without much interference, I only hit sixty-to-seventy percent of my targets.  Under stress, complication, and confusion the percentage further declines.   A quarter-century ago I had some venture capital experience; about two-thirds of investments were expected to fail.

Failure is not a villain.  Failure can be a really good friend.  Friendship is much more likely when — instead of punishing failure — we embrace it, ask it questions, and listen to it teach us.

November 8, 2012

Sandy’s hurt, harm, and expense still emerging and likely to grow quickly

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 8, 2012

Yesterday FEMA said that at least 95,000 residents of New York and New Jersey are eligible for some form of emergency housing assistance.  This is an increase from an earlier estimate of 34,000.  Some details on the Disaster Assistance Housing Program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development:

In response to those needs, and at the request of New York and New Jersey, FEMA has activated its Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program, which allows eligible survivors who are in shelters and cannot return to their homes due to storm-related damages to stay in participating hotels or motels until more suitable housing accommodations are available. FEMA’s contracted vendor, Corporate Lodging Consultants, is maintaining a list of participating hotels and motels, and working to bring on more hotels to ensure that the needs of all survivors are being met. Hotel and motel owners who wish to become a participating hotel can sign up at https://ela.corplodging.com/

HUD is coordinating with FEMA, and affected States, to identify housing providers who may have available housing units, including public housing agencies and multi-family owners.  HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME programs give State and communities the flexibility to redirect millions of dollars to address critical needs, including housing and services for disaster survivors. HUD’s Section 203(k) loan program enables those who have lost their homes to finance the purchase or refinance of a house along with its repair through a single mortgage. It also allows homeowners who have damaged houses to finance the rehabilitation of their existing single-family home.

There has been discussion of using FEMA trailers in Staten Island, Breezy Point, Seaside Heights and other less dense neighborhoods.  But last week FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said trailers were unlikely to be used.

“Given the rental market and the availability of hotels and motels,” FEMA expects to be able to put all displaced residents of the storm-hit East Coast in existing housing, Fugate said in a conference call with reporters. Some 9,000 people are currently in temporary housing, he added. “That number is fluctuating, but in some areas it’s going up as people go home and discover their homes are flooded and they can’t stay there,” Fugate said. “So we’re working directly to provide people with assistance to get into hotels and motels, and then assess who’s going to need longer-term assistance.”

In New York by Executive Order of the Mayor (November 5)  “Owners, residents, employees of businesses, and other members of the public (other than authorized government personnel and essential emergency personnel) may re-occupy buildings in Zone A only upon determination by the Department of Buildings that the occupation is permitted.”  Zone A is the most flood-prone area of New York and was designated for mandatory evacuation as Sandy approached.  Roughly 375,000 people reside in Zone A.

Many displaced survivors and evacuees are currently staying with family or friends, but when it becomes clear that original housing will not be available in a timely way, many more will avail themselves of Transitional Sheltering Assistance.   FEMA pays participating hotels and motels the “government rate” established for the city. Hotel stays for Hurricane Katrina survivors reached a peak of roughly 85,000 participants about eight weeks after landfall.  This would be around Christmas for Sandy.

Both quality-of-life and financial incentives exist to move as many as possible as quickly as possible from hotels and motels into rental housing.   As was the case after Katrina, this could be difficult post-Sandy.  “We don’t have a lot of empty housing in the city, so it’s hard to find it when we need it,” Mayor Bloomberg has said.

For example, the exact number of long-term displaced on Staten Island has not yet been established.  But it is estimated to be a few thousand and potentially many more.  Checking the FEMA  Housing Portal on Wednesday there were 112 rental units available on Staten Island.  The housing portal almost certainly does not encompass the entire market, but it is unlikely that most of those who have been displaced can be relocated proximate to their previous neighborhoods. This has implications for employment, educational continuity, healthcare, family support and much more.

Replacement housing is going to be expensive, messy, and the problem is going to persist well into the New Year.

From: Wave of Death Hit New York Enclave, Wall Street Journal, November 5

This may just be blogger-bluster and I don’t want to suggest it is more than that, but it seems more and more likely we are — I am, many in New York, Trenton, and Washington DC  are  —  not yet acknowledging the huge long-term financial implications of Sandy.  This is especially dangerous if we inappropriately frame the problem during its genesis.  This is the moment when our judgments, whatever they may be, will have the greatest influence.

1836 deaths are blamed on Katrina. No matter how many more victims are found Sandy’s death toll will remain at less than ten percent that number.  Despite several serious problems, the evacuation for and response to Sandy was handled with much more competence and effectiveness than for Katrina.

But the “good news” of preparedness and response — and an election — has obscured profound issues of recovery that are just unfolding. The pre-Katrina population of New Orleans was 484,674.  The population of Staten Island a bit more than 468,000. The population of coastal New Jersey, the Rockaways, and other areas affected by Sandy is much higher than that directly impacted by Katrina.  Building inspectors are just beginning to access areas that have been without electricity.   Certainly the scale of damage at Breezy Point or Midland Beach or Seaside Heights, New Jersey is analogous to the Lower Ninth Ward or Lakeview or Long Beach, Mississippi.

In my experience media often over-play disaster coverage.   In this case, I wonder if even the hyper-competitive NYC media are missing a major story muffled (temporarily) by a combination of competence, complexity, and presidential politics. (The Thursday NYT has reduced front-page coverage to a lower-right corner photo of snow falling on ruins.)  I am not suggesting shouts and hand-wringing or more TV interviews with survivors about their feelings, but  reports on electricity, fuel, other supply chains, port restoration, housing, and analysis of implications would be helpful.  I expect — hope — some future Sunday Times will have a major analytical feature.  But the sudden reduction in regular reporting in the hometown paper seems way strange.  The Post and Daily News may be giving marginally more attention to the Nor’easter, but otherwise not much different.  Weirdly the New York Observer is, at least proportionally, focusing more on Sandy’s implications than her big brash brothers.  (See a collection of the NYO’s “recovery” focus.)

There are social, economic, and geographic differences that may make recovery from Sandy less fraught than that from Katrina.   Nearly 300,000 homes were destroyed by Katrina and the levee failures.  The final accounting for Sandy will not get anywhere close. But there are also issues of population density, infrastructure vulnerability, economic priority, and political power that could make Sandy a disaster that keeps on giving… and expecting to receive.

As I write this another Nor’easter is descending on the the Tri-State.   Record snowfall of between 4 and more than 7 inches with strong winds is reported. Winter officially begins on December 21.  Snow and ice was not a problem in post-Katrina recovery.


Several developments on replacement housing just today.  The following details are from an Associated Press report filed at 6:40PM ET.

  • The federal government is moving manufactured housing into areas in New York and New Jersey that were hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday.
  • In New York and New Jersey, FEMA has determined that more than 101,000 people are eligible for temporary housing at hotels or motels in the region but it’s unclear exactly how many people are taking advantage of that option.
  • More than 56,000 people have also been ruled eligible for FEMA’s individual and households program, which provides money for renting a new place or housing repairs.
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