Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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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Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 8, 2012 @ 6:00 am

To be fair, there is a piece in today’s NYT that gives some attention to continued problems in the fuel distribution network. There is also a report on the possible use of sea gates for future protection. Given what has happened and is happening and is unfolding from what was exposed by Sandy, my puzzlement persists regarding reporting priorities.

The fuel story can be accessed at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/08/nyregion/gas-shortage-persists-in-nyc-and-nassau-county.html

The sea gates are at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/08/nyregion/after-hurricane-sandy-debating-costly-sea-barriers-in-new-york-area.html?ref=nyregion&gwh=F9F28DBAD71FAD195A55990A7FE21620

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

November 8, 2012 @ 6:06 am

In my view the planning for long-term recovery is either not happening or is going on in places the media does not know about.

I have made some suggestions about improving the process in my blog — http://recoverydiva.com/2012/11/03/recovery-planning-for-ny-and-nj-some-ideas/

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 8, 2012 @ 6:41 am

Claire, Thank you for the link and for your persistent attention to this crucial issue. You’ve been making a case for a thoughtful approach to long-term recovery since the early hours after Sandy’s landfall… and well-before.

I do not have anything close to a complete inside-view on recovery planning. It is my impression that good work pre-exists this event. I know there are top-notch professionals in the region who have given serious attention to recovery pre-planning. Many of those same professionals are still immersed in response and, I perceive, the key political judgments are still emerging regarding what is possible and where to place priority.

Comment by Willaim R. Cumming

November 8, 2012 @ 8:12 am

Yes Phil this post is appropriate. Housing was one reason after Tropical Storm Agnes’ devastation in the Wyoming Valley of PA and the Wilkes-Barre area that President Nixon’s man on the scence Frank Carlucci then a OMB official and the first real Presidential FCO ended up getting Nixon to fire Secretary of Housing and Urban Development George Romney, father of a recent candidate for President in the USA.

In Presidential Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1974, with Congressional approval, Nixon broke up the Office of Emergency

Comment by Willaim R. Cumming

November 8, 2012 @ 8:30 am

Correction and continuation of comment:
In Presidential Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1973, with Congressional approval, Nixon broke up the Office of Emergency Preparedness and sent disaster relief and its disaster housing programs to HUD wherein they became the Federal Disaster Assistance Adminstration later incorporated into FEMA in Carter’s Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978.

Nixon recognized that housing was the lynchpin of long term recovery and in fact the RENT CONROL effort was the first portion of the RENT, PRICE, WAGE FREEZE imposed by Nixon for purposes of Economic Stablilization in 1971.

HUD leadership was not happy to get this mission and fully supported FEMA formation in order to get rid of the disaster housing mission but in fact Nixon was right in putting that mission in HUD. It is a tough one and will be a much bigger problem in the Hurricane Sandy impact areas.

Hurricane Katrina of course largely solved its refugee problem [a word not used by Administration officials] by having one of the largest permanent evacuations of a disaster area in USA history. Still largely undocumented. Some indications that over 100,000 left NOLA permanently for Houston and other parts of Texas.

So here is my estimate, that the permanent reputations of President Obama, Administrator Fugate, Governor Christie, and Mayor Bloomberg will be savaged because of woeful underestimates of Hurricane Sandy’s damages both short and long term.

Again I am guestimating $125B minimum. To start with fuel and energy costs cannot remain privatized and probably the SPR should be tapped now for the Hurricane Sandy effort. Watch for skyrocketing energy cost ripoffs in the impact area and other contractor fraud.

Comment by Willaim R. Cumming

November 8, 2012 @ 8:36 am


Comment by William R. Cumming

November 8, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

While unconfirmed some indication that Brennan and the HSC and NSS did a Pontius Pilate after arriving in 2009 with respect to disaster housing issues as part of long-term recovery. That policy and operational skill set off-loaded on the Domestic Policy Council [by the way a Nixon creation originally in 1970].

New Yorkers might just have lucked out in having a Governor once Secretary HUD since he knows how to manipulate the levers of power in that Department.

Comment by A Dangerous Time

November 8, 2012 @ 10:47 pm

At this very moment, many people are w/o electricity and are freezing with such cold and absurd conditionings continuing with Chriustie at home nice and cozy as well as the NYc Mayor and Barry Obama who looked so presidential – give us a break….as we wave from our destruction to Barry Obama – a dangerous man – enroute to Burma far away from NYC and New Jersey.

Last week before elections, an int’l incident went unreported and the Wh could have been questioned. A full “Benghazi Congressional Hearing” will hopefully nab Barry Obama and Hillary Clinton for intentional breach in faith, treason on the American People –

“Treason I Shout and Shame on You I Say” –

Comment by Willaim R. Cumming

November 12, 2012 @ 11:30 am

NYTimes reporting that Governor Cuoumo will be requesting $30B in federal disaster assistance for NY State!

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 20, 2012 @ 8:14 am

FEMA has $12B in disaster funding [the DRF] available. Already I hear noise that NO MORE will be provided without major oversight and hears by both HOUSES in Congress and this almost automatic gravy train may have to really justify itself for the first time in several decades.

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