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One Month In: Jersey’s Road to Recovery from Sandy

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It’s hard to believe I have been working alongside our disaster relief team in New Jersey for more than a month.  Thirty-five days have passed since Hurricane Sandy first made landfall on the New Jersey coast on October 29th.  This marked one of the most damaging disasters in state history – battering the coastline with greater than 14-foot waves and wind gusts up to 88 mph.  Even more unsettling were the 122,000 structures affected across 21 New Jersey counties – many of them damaged or destroyed.  I’ve traveled to these hardest hit neighborhoods, met with the heartbroken of those who lost their homes, talked to children who were out of school, and  committed to working with state and local officials to aid in the recovery efforts.  As we move past this one month milestone, my primary focus remains on these people – the survivors of the storm.

When families and businesses begin to recover, whole communities begin to recover, and that is how New Jersey will revive and become stronger than ever.  More than $730 million in federal disaster recovery money has been disbursed to start rebuilding the Garden State.  Today we have more than 2,600 federal specialists working to support recovery in New Jersey, and our work is far from done.

State and federal disaster response teams were standing by with supplies even before Hurricane Sandy hit.  As Sandy made its way up the east coast, FEMA and the Department of Defense established Incident Support Bases at Westover, Mass. and Lakehurst, New Jersey to position supplies and other resources close to areas in the hurricane’s path. Following the storm, more than 1.7 million meals and 2.6 million snacks have been served to survivors and first responders. 

The New Jersey National Guard responded with a force of over 2,200 guardsmen.  In addition, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) facilitated the deployment of 440 personnel and equipment from 12 states to support New Jersey. This included law enforcement teams who provided security and emergency medical services, partnering with us and other agencies to carry out critical life-saving and sustaining operations in the immediate aftermath.  The National Weather Service was vital in predicting and tracking the storm, the U.S. Coast Guard for search and rescue, the U.S. Public Health Service to support shelter operations, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for emergency generators, among others.  Our operations to the response of the storm began aggressive and dynamic, and we will continue this same posture throughout the recovery process.

american flag

CAPTION: Seaside Heights, N.J., Nov. 28, 2012 -- The American Flag raised by Seaside Heights resident in New Jersey.

It was clear one of the first steps was to support power restoration efforts to over 2.6 million homes, businesses and government customers.  For this we needed the whole community to come together.  The Department of Energy worked closely with the state Board of Public Utilities to bring together more than 23,000 utility professionals from New Jersey who, aided by companies across the country, worked to restore service across the state.  The Department of Defense actually airlifted crews and vehicles to New Jersey from the west coast.  The weather didn’t wait on our behalf to bring cold temperatures or wintry conditions to the region.  A week after Sandy, the nor’easter deposited enough wet snow to break more trees, and down more power lines to delay cleanup efforts for another day.  This meant that tens of thousands of residents were still waiting for their lights to come back on.  By Nov. 14, electricity was restored to every home and business that was in condition to receive electrical power. 

Access to fuel presented another challenge, and early on President Obama authorized the release of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel from federal reserves to power government-owned and other vehicles being used in responding to the disaster.  We set up six fueling stations for first responders accordingly.

One of the most heartwarming parts of disaster work is the opportunity to work with our voluntary agencies.  These groups played a vital role in giving people needed shelter, a major lifeline for families displaced from their homes.

  • At the peak 107 shelters were open with 4,370 people.  Within three weeks, all shelters were able to close as displaced residents were assisted with finding lodging. 
  • By the time feeding sites were no longer needed, more than 1.7 million meals had been served, plus 2.6 million snacks.
  • More than 31,000 cleanup kits had been issued and more than 23,000 comfort kits. Voluntary organizations served thousands of households doing clean-up and muck-outs and provided goods and services to hundreds of thousands of people – and pets - in need. 
  • These Organizations have clocked in over 600,000 recorded hours valued at $12.8 million dollars. 

I extend my heartfelt thanks to them for their vital contributions to the Hurricane Sandy survivors.

american red cross volunteer
CAPTION: Ortley Beach, N.J., Nov. 28, 2012 -- Sharon Meyers, a Red Cross volunteer, offers a hot meal to a resident in Ortley Beach, NJ. The Red Cross is providing disaster relief, from hot meals to cleaning supplies and clothing to residents affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Alongside our partners we plan to tackle the housing issues to provide options for individuals and families.  As survivors cope with the remains of their homes and belongings, we need to continue to help people find a safe place to stay.  FEMA employed its Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program to allow nearly 3,000 individuals and families to lodge in 340 hotels during the first four-week period.  We met this critical need in the short-term, but in the long-term I want folks back into their homes.  Last week Gov. Christie approved New Jersey’s five-point long-range housing solution.  It calls for the maximized use of existing rental properties; implementing our Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power program to render habitable dwellings that lack only minor fixes; using state and federally-owned real property; using FEMA Direct Housing Assistance in the form of HUD-certified manufactured housing; and rehabilitation of existing structures.  Yet I know that these programs are only useful if people know about them.

FEMA’s Community Relations specialists and FEMA Corps members, totaling more than 650, met 86,000 people by going door-to-door to share vital information about applying for FEMA Disaster Assistance as well as other assistance programs.  More than 46,000 New Jersey families have benefitted from that assistance so far.

fema corps members talk with survivor

CAPTION: Sea Bright, N.J., Nov. 11, 2012 -- FEMA Corps team members Amy Butterfield and Sergio Tundo talked with volunteer Jason Young to ensure the owner of the residence was getting the needed assistance after Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of the island.

In addition, our 33 currently open Disaster Recovery Centers are located at convenient public locations in each county.  At these Centers you can get help registering for assistance and get answers to questions – nearly 25,000 have already visited.  The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Customer Service Representatives are there as well, receiving applications for low-interest disaster loans.  SBA Business Recovery Centers are also open at 10 locations throughout New Jersey to assist eligible business owners in applying for disaster business loans for their physical damage loss and disaster-related working capital needs.  Under SBA’s disaster assistance program, low-interest loans are available to homeowners, renters and businesses of all sizes. To date, the SBA has approved 321 disaster home and business loans totaling more than $21 million.

fema staff talks with disaster survivor

CAPTION: Jersey City, N.J., Nov. 21, 2012 -- At the Hudson County FEMA Disaster Recovery Center at the Jersey City Museum, a Hurricane Sandy survivor receives information from FEMA Mitigation Specialists Doris Maldonado and Tony Hathcock.

At the same time, our Public Assistance division is meeting with local government officials all over the state to receive their requests for money to cover their disaster costs.  That can include things from overtime costs all the way to the replacement of public buildings destroyed by the hurricane.  We’re partnering with the state of New Jersey to anticipate and help meet needs.  Moving forward, we have to work together closely as the situation changes and new challenges arise.  Not only has FEMA worked with our federal, state, local, and voluntary partners, we’ve also teamed up with the private sector and academia to get Jersey back on its feet after Sandy.  Look for our FEMA Mitigation staff at your local home repair stores for advice about rebuilding stronger, safer and smarter. 

fema staff at home depot

CAPTION: West Long Branch, N.J., Nov. 28, 2012 -- Hazard Mitigation Specialists are available at various Home Depot locations to answer questions regarding building techniques that reduce potential for damage from future disasters

To our “Jersey Strong” communities: You have weathered possibly the most devastating storm in your state’s history.  Yet the feeling of hope and restoration prevails in New Jersey.  You inspire me every day with your spirit of unity and pride, your hours donated to voluntary organizations, your donations to local survivors, and above all, your neighborliness.  Thank you for all that you do.  I am confident that you will recover, you will restore – and that together we will rebuild your communities stronger than ever.

This story isn’t over.  FEMA remains present to address the challenges that remain and to meet the challenges to come, but it will take the whole community to restore New Jersey. 

Together we are cleaning up neighborhoods and getting kids back to school.  New Jersey’s state and local leaders stand committed to the promise of a recovery for coastal New Jersey.

And I’m standing with you. 

Let us look back to remember what has been lost, but not forget what we’ve done together to restore New Jersey.  Stay Jersey Strong.

-Mike

 

New York, One Month After Sandy

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I am a native New Yorker. 

I was born in New York City.  I grew up in the city’s Public Housing developments in East Harlem and my Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters still live here.  I worked for the New York Fire Department for 20 years, eventually serving as a Captain.  I worked at the New York Office of Emergency Management and then I joined FEMA. 

I’m a proud New Yorker and today, I’m honored to be part of the federal team that is working hard to assist my home city and state. 

Coney Island, N.Y., Nov. 12, 2012 -- Aerial view of damage and debris on Coney Island, New York. Storm surge from Hurricane Sandy caused flooding ...

Coney Island, N.Y., Nov. 12, 2012 -- Aerial view of damage and debris on Coney Island, New York. Storm surge from Hurricane Sandy caused flooding and power outages throughout the island.

Long Beach, N.Y., Nov. 7, 2012 -- Cars were buried in sand from Hurricane Sandy. The storm surge created widespread flooding, power outages and devastation on Long Beach, New York. FEMA is working with state and local officials to assist residents who were affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Long Beach, N.Y., Nov. 7, 2012 -- Cars were buried in sand from Hurricane Sandy. The storm surge created widespread flooding, power outages and devastation on Long Beach, New York. FEMA is working with state and local officials to assist residents who were affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Even before the storm, FEMA was preparing. We prepositioned food, water and blankets at two incident support bases in New York. FEMA Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT), trained to quickly coordinate federal resources to support the state were on the ground days before landfall.  We also started calling in the cavalry, everyone from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We even had the Marines land on the beach in the Rockaways.

In the response phase of a disaster like this, it is critical that we focus on what I like to call the “four Ps” – “People, Power, Pumping and Pick-it-up.”

People always come first. The very first thing we did was get life-saving commodities out to the people.  Within 24 hours we supplied more than a million liters of water and more than a million shelf ready meals  to the New York National Guard and Voluntary Agencies throughout the city - who quickly distributed them to the New Yorkers in need.  The third day after the storm, we were set up in all the affected areas. 

New York is an amazing place, made up of different people from all over the world. Every neighborhood is distinctly unique, with different traditions, dialects and sense of community. But most of all, New York is made up of neighborhoods.

For example, you look on a map and see the Rockaways.  But there are really four different Rockaways.  You have Far Rock, Rockaway Beach, Belle Harbor and Breezy Point.  Each neighborhood is different.

We set up Disaster Recovery Centers, where people can meet and talk about assistance face-to-face.  I was out at the center in Rockaway Beach and there were tons of people waiting to be seen.  Everyone had a number and I talked to a guy that had number 245.  The center was on number 150.  I told him we had heated buses that would take people to the Breezy Point center, but he wanted to stay with his neighbors and wait.  That’s New York.

Today, we have 34 centers throughout damaged areas, covering the neighborhoods that have had the most damage.  Over 56,000 New Yorkers have visited these centers.  And we plan to open more.

Far Rockaway, N.Y., Nov. 10, 2012 --FEMA Corps personnel assist disaster survivors at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Far Rockaway, New York. FEMA and the State set up the center to assist the needs of hurricane survivors.

Far Rockaway, N.Y., Nov. 10, 2012 --FEMA Corps personnel assist disaster survivors at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Far Rockaway, New York. FEMA and the State set up the center to assist the needs of hurricane survivors.

Far Rockaway, N.Y., Nov. 10, 2012 -- FEMA Community Relations specialist, Teisha Jeeter draws pictures with young disaster survivor, Luna Natalia Voss at a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in Far Rockaway, New York. The center was set up to assist the needs of Hurricane Sandy survivors.

Far Rockaway, N.Y., Nov. 10, 2012 -- FEMA Community Relations specialist, Teisha Jeeter draws pictures with young disaster survivor, Luna Natalia Voss at a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in Far Rockaway, New York. The center was set up to assist the needs of Hurricane Sandy survivors.

The New York metropolitan area has over 15 million people and this is a city that is built vertically.  We knew immediately that having enough people would be a huge challenge. We had over 1200 people out in the field, going door-to-door in the damaged areas.  We had to activate the Department of Homeland Security surge capacity force to have enough people to do these sweeps.   This “surge force” consisted of over 1,100 employees from the agencies that make up DHS, such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard.   They are spending the nights on Merchant Marine training ships so we don’t take hotel rooms from survivors. I have been out to the ships and the sleeping conditions are austere, but the food is good.

A little over a week after the storm, on Nov. 6th, FEMA had received over 135,000 applications and approved almost $185 million in housing assistance to disaster survivors. We also had over 1,000 housing inspectors in the field who had completed over 17,000 inspections.

 Long Beach, N.Y., Nov. 9, 2012 -- FEMA Housing Inspector, Bill Gay inspects a home in Long Beach for Hurricane Sandy related damages. The FEMA Individual Assistance program provides financial assistance for temporary housing and minor housing repairs.

Long Beach, N.Y., Nov. 9, 2012 -- FEMA Housing Inspector, Bill Gay inspects a home in Long Beach for Hurricane Sandy related damages. The FEMA Individual Assistance program provides financial assistance for temporary housing and minor housing repairs.

In addition, we have employed a diverse outreach approach to make sure the word gets out amidst New York’s multicultural mosaic. When our community relations members come in contact with people who are have limited English proficiency, we have translators and materials in 21 different languages to ensure they get assistance.

Coney Island, N.Y., Nov. 25, 2012 -- FEMA Community Relations Limited English Proficiency (LEP) specialists, Eric Phillipson and Rossy Rey assist Russian hurricane survivor, Knana Letner with her special disaster related needs. The LEP strategic strike team was assigned to the Russian community in Coney Island, New York in response to Hurricane Sandy.

Coney Island, N.Y., Nov. 25, 2012 -- FEMA Community Relations Limited English Proficiency (LEP) specialists, Eric Phillipson and Rossy Rey assist Russian hurricane survivor, Knana Letner with her special disaster related needs. The LEP strategic strike team was assigned to the Russian community in Coney Island, New York in response to Hurricane Sandy.

As for power, FEMA established a National Power Restoration Taskforce to cut through the red tape, increase federal, state, tribal, local and private sector coordination and restore power and fuel to people as quickly as possible.  The Defense Logistics Agency delivered more than 2.3 million gallons of fuel to distribution points in New York and New Jersey. The U.S. Air Force transported equipment and supplies for power restoration efforts, including 69 vehicles belonging to the Southern California Edison utility company. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installed 177 generators to sites throughout New York including apartment buildings managed by the New York City Housing Authority.

Pumping was a modern technological miracle.  We had subway tunnels full of water.  The Hugh Carey Tunnel (it will always be the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to me) was full to the roof.  I was there and saw it, and I will tell you, I thought it would take months to get those tunnels pumped out.   The Army Corps pumped out over 470 million gallons of water in less than two weeks. 

The final P is “pick-it-up”.  I’m talking about debris.  A storm like this one generates a ton of debris and picking it up is always a challenge.  The President signed an order saying we could pay for straight time for 30 days for debris pickup. Normally, we just pay for overtime, but being able to pay for all of the hours worked is a huge incentive to get the debris picked up and puts much needed money back into jurisdictions.  It also incentivizes them to pick up the debris fast, because we only do this for 30 days.  So far, we have picked up over 1.4 million cubic yards of debris.

We’ve done a lot, but, as long as there are people without power and in need of shelter, I am not satisfied. That’s why we came up with an innovative housing program called Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP).  This program is designed for people who have power to the street, but cannot connect it to their houses.  These are temporary repairs that are designed to let a family “shelter-in-place” while permanent repairs are made to their homes.  We do this by making minor repairs to meters and panels to restore temporary power. The program also pays for other temporary housing repairs, such as covering windows, roofs and exterior doors. These repairs are meant to allow residents to return to safe and livable homes. 

If you live in the five boroughs of New York City, call 311 to access information about the program. For those in Nassau County, call 1-888-684-4267 and if you live in Suffolk County, call 2-11. Your county or city will decide what elements of the STEP Program are available for your residence.

Long Beach, N.Y., Nov. 24, 2012 -- Electricians installing a heat register as part of the FEMA STEP Program. FEMA in conjunction with state, local and tribal partners, is implementing a Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) Program to help people get back into their homes quickly and safely. STEP assists State, local and tribal governments in performing work and services essential to saving lives, protecting public health and safety, and protecting property. The program funds certain necessary and essential measures to help restore power, heat and hot water to primary residences that could regain power through necessary and essential repairs. STEP can help residents safely shelter-in-place in their homes pending more permanent repairs. FEMA is working with many partners including federal, state, local and tribal governments, voluntary faith-based and community-based organizations along with the private sector to assist residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Long Beach, N.Y., Nov. 24, 2012 -- Electricians installing a heat register as part of the FEMA STEP Program. FEMA in conjunction with state, local and tribal partners, is implementing a Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) Program to help people get back into their homes quickly and safely. STEP assists State, local and tribal governments in performing work and services essential to saving lives, protecting public health and safety, and protecting property. The program funds certain necessary and essential measures to help restore power, heat and hot water to primary residences that could regain power through necessary and essential repairs. STEP can help residents safely shelter-in-place in their homes pending more permanent repairs. FEMA is working with many partners including federal, state, local and tribal governments, voluntary faith-based and community-based organizations along with the private sector to assist residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

We have more work to do. When President Obama visited New York and toured the damaged areas, he looked directly in my eyes and said “stay on it.”

We’d like the New York Hurricane Sandy page to inform survivors of our future plans. I have over 3,000 staff here and I am working hard to hire locals – New Yorkers – to help with the recovery.  

We plan to share stories and updates as the rebuilding process continues. And, of course, you will hear from me.  I love to tell stories and I think this recovery might be one of the greatest stories of our time.

Telling the Recovery Story with Crayons and Construction Paper

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Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Official Blog.

A month after Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast, hundreds of families continue their daily struggle to put their lives back together. Many of their homes destroyed, these families face living in temporary dwellings like area hotels and relatives’ homes. Their children are staying far away from their schools and some families are facing a decision whether they can move back to their old neighborhoods or whether they may have to relocate permanently.

Children's letters at a Disaster Recovery Center in New Jersey.

Here at the Disaster Recovery Center in Union Beach, New Jersey, letters from school children adorn the walls as reminder that some families still need help.  These letters help raise the energy level, already running extremely high, as many of us are not only helping people, we’re helping our neighbors.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continue to work tirelessly so that every one of these families has a roof over their heads during this transition. HUD and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) are cutting red tape in an effort to help families by:

  1. Instructing all FHA-approved lenders to release insurance proceeds to homeowners as quickly as possible to accelerate the rebuilding process;
  2. Granting a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and forbearance on foreclosures for FHA-insured households whose homes were damaged or destroyed; and
  3. Issuing guidance to help families with FHA-insured mortgages struggling to repair or rebuild their homes in the wake of a major disaster, plus directing lenders to release insurance proceeds to borrowing rather than to apply those payments to bring delinquent mortgages current.

Pennsylvania Recovery Continues, One Month Out

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It’s been one month since President Obama issued an emergency declaration on Oct. 29 for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to support those impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  Here’s an update on FEMA and the state’s efforts in Pennsylvania thus far:

Assessing damages

During the damage assessment process, 11 teams conducted boots-on-the-ground assessments in eight counties. In Franklin County, the Civil Air Patrol provided officials with a bird’s eye view of damages, flying over Hurricane Sandy-impacted homes and businesses there.

assessing damages

CAPTION: FEMA Individual Assistance Specialist Cynthia Lavigne and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Project Specialist Diane Nestler assess Hurricane Sandy damage in Lehigh County. Photo by FEMA/Elizabeth Stands

Ensuring power in critical facilities

Additionally, at the request of the Commonwealth, FEMA began coordinating the installation of generators before Hurricane Sandy swept through. FEMA tasked a specialized U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Emergency Power Planning and Response Team to install generators in locations such as medical facilities, emergency operation centers and emergency shelters.
 

fema generator awaits use

CAPTION: In response to a critical power shortfall resulting from Hurricane Sandy, FEMA tasked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Emergency Planning and Response Team to install a 365-kilowatt generator at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa. Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

One example was at St. Luke’s Hospital where personnel feared the main generator was in danger of failing. The team installed an additional generator and planned to switch to backup power when they were asked to stand down until a critical brain surgery operation could be completed without the possibility of a power interruption.  Once the operation was complete, the additional generator was installed to ensure a constant supply of power to the hospital.

 

Reaching out to disaster survivors

FEMA community relations specialists, at the request of the Commonwealth, assisted storm-impacted residents at an American Red Cross shelter in Bucks County at Palisades High School in Kintnersville. For three days, five FEMA specialists helped to distribute water, meals and other necessary supplies at the shelter, where hundreds of Hurricane Sandy-impacted residents sought assistance.

They worked with about 50 local volunteers, ranging in age from 10 to 88 years old, and helped more than 600 residents on the first day (Nov. 1), more than 900 residents the next day, and more than 1,000 on the third day.

FEMA community relations specialists also loaded clean-up kits, rakes, shovels, gloves, flashlights, blue tarps and other items into the American Red Cross emergency response vehicle to distribute to residents impacted by the hurricane who were not physically able to access the emergency shelter.

 

red cross meals distributed

CAPTION: FEMA Community Relations team member Mary Dawson, American Red Cross Volunteer Stan Dunn, and school volunteer Tony Weiss load a Red Cross emergency response vehicle at the Bucks County Red Cross Shelter in Palisades High School in Kintnersville, Pa. Photo by FEMA/George Armstrong

In comparison to the full-scale recovery efforts happening in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island – the amount of work in Pennsylvania may seem small.  However, I’m proud of FEMA’s work and close partnership with other members of the emergency management team in Pennsylvania, and we will continue to support the state as needed.

An Important Part of the Team and Sandy Recovery: the Department of Housing and Urban Development

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secretary donovan press conference
CAPTION: Lincroft, N.J., Nov. 16, 2012 -- Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan speaks at a press conference concerning Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and Senator stand in the background.

As we often say at FEMA, successful emergency management requires a team effort.  Without question, the importance of teamwork has never been more evident as the recovery to Hurricane Sandy continues.  At the direction of President Obama, FEMA continues to coordinate the federal government’s efforts in a coordinated way that reaches disaster survivors.  Whether it’s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helping with debris removal, the Environmental Protection Agency advising survivors on mold removal, or the Small Business Administration helping affected business owners get their doors open quickly – FEMA continues to leverage the expertise of our federal partners to make a lasting impact.

Another important partner on the team is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  After many disasters, FEMA works closely with HUD to ensure those impacted by the disaster have safe housing options if their residence was damaged or destroyed.

Last week, President Obama announced that he asked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to continue to work closely with Governors, mayors and local officials of New Jersey and New York as they begin the process of identifying redevelopment plans for affected communities.  This announcement further links FEMA’s role in disaster recovery with HUD’s role in redevelopment, ensuring the two agencies will continue to work closely together.  As long term recovery needs are identified, HUD will lend expertise in translating those needs into solutions that work for disaster survivors. 

If you’re a disaster survivor, the President’s announcement does not change the process of applying for assistance from the federal government.  FEMA will continue to administer federal disaster assistance, so it’s important to apply through FEMA if you have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  You can apply for assistance by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 (FEMA). 

Again, FEMA will continue to lead the federal government’s recovery efforts in response to Hurricane Sandy, and a great way to keep up with the progress is through this blog, the FEMA Sandy Facebook and Twitter accounts, or at www.fema.gov/sandy.  You can also follow HUD’s Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts on their website.

meeting at FEMA office in new jersey
CAPTION: Lincroft, N.J., Nov. 16, 2012 -- Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Shaun Donovan, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with members of Congress, greet FEMA employees at the Joint Field Office where Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts are coordinated.

What to Expect During the FEMA Housing Inspection Process

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fema inspector
Hoboken, N.J., Nov. 1, 2012 -- FEMA Inspector Richard Martin inspects a basement apartment in Hoboken two days after the residents applied for FEMA assistance. FEMA is working with many partners and organizations to provide assistance to residents affected by Hurricane Sandy.

So far, more than 444,100 Hurricane Sandy survivors from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island have applied for federal disaster assistance and more than $782 million in assistance has been approved.  As Sandy survivors continue to apply for assistance, many may find themselves asking what’s next after registering with FEMA. Often times, a housing inspection is needed to verify and assess damage claims made during registration, which is normal after any disaster.

After you register, one of the more than 2,000 FEMA Housing Inspectors on the ground will contact you to schedule an appointment to come see the damaged property if it is accessible. The inspection generally takes 30-40 minutes but can be shorter, and consists of a general inspection of damaged areas of your home and a review of your records. This is important: there is no fee for the inspection.

When a FEMA housing inspector comes to visit your home, be sure they show you proper identification. If they do not show you photo identification, then do not proceed with the inspection. Unfortunately, disasters often bring out criminals who prey on the needs of disaster survivors – so beware of scams and scam artists. 

It’s important to note that throughout the recovery process, applicants may receive a visit from more than one inspector. In addition to FEMA housing inspectors, representatives from the Small Business Administration (SBA), as well as state and local officials could also visit neighborhoods in affected areas, so don’t be alarmed if you receive a visit from more than one inspector.

If you suspect someone of posing as a FEMA inspector, call our toll-free Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721, or your local law enforcement officials.

When a FEMA Housing Inspector visits your home, someone 18 years of age or older who lived in the household prior to the disaster must be present for the scheduled appointment. The inspector will ask to see:

  • Photo Identification.
  • Proof of Ownership/Occupancy of damaged residence (Structural Insurance, Tax Bill, Mortgage Payment Book/Utility Bill).
  • Insurance documents: Home and/or Auto (Structural Insurance/Auto Declaration Sheet).
  • List of household occupants living in residence at time of disaster.
  • All disaster related damages to both real and personal property.

Once the inspection process is complete, your case will be reviewed by FEMA and you will receive a letter, or email if you signed up for E-Correspondence, outlining the decision:

  • If you qualify for a FEMA grant, FEMA will send you a check by mail or deposit it directly into your bank account. You will also receive a letter describing how you are to use the money.  You should only use the money given to you as explained in the letter and save receipts on how you spent the money.
  • If you do not qualify for a FEMA grant, you will receive a letter explaining why you were turned down and will be given a chance to appeal the decision. Your appeal rights will be described in this letter. Appeals must be in writing and mailed within 60 days of FEMA’s decision.
  • If you’re referred to the Small Business Administration, you will receive a SBA application. The application must be completed and returned in order to be considered for a loan as well as certain types of grant assistance. SBA representatives are available to help you with the application at local Disaster Recovery Centers. Completing and returning the loan application does not mean that you must accept the loan.

Again, the first step in receiving assistance is registering for assistance with FEMA.  So if you’re a Hurricane Sandy survivor and you haven’t registered yet, we encourage you to take advantage of our many ways to register for assistance:

  • Over the phone by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Disaster assistance applicants, who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585 directly; for those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. 
  • Online at www.disasterassistance.gov
  • On your mobile device at m.fema.gov
  • Or by visiting a disaster recovery center

If you’re a disaster survivor or know someone affected by Hurricane Sandy, please share this information with them.

For Hurricane Sandy recovery updates, visit www.fema.gov/sandy and follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @FEMASandy & www.facebook.com/FEMASandy


fema inspector
Monmouth Beach, N.J., Nov. 12, 2012 -- A FEMA housing inspector records damages to a home in Monmouth Beach, NJ that was impacted by Hurricane Sandy. FEMA is providing housing inspection to residents who have registered and are seeking assistance in rebuilding their homes.

Avoiding Scam Artists during Sandy Recovery

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As Sandy survivors continue to register for disaster assistance with FEMA and many others begin the process of cleaning and repairing their homes, we wanted to remind everyone that as you look for contractors and companies to assist you with your recovery process, be mindful of scams and scam artists. 

Although many businesses, voluntary, faith-based, and community-based organizations, government agencies and committed citizens come together to try and meet the needs of the affected individuals and communities, disasters  can also bring out criminals looking to prey on survivors by offering fraudulent services.

To help you spot fraud, here is a list of consumer safety tips to keep in mind when applying for disaster assistance and working with contractors:

  1. There is never a fee to apply for FEMA disaster assistance or to receive it. 
  2. There is no fee for FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration property damage inspections. 
  3. The only ways to register for FEMA help are to: call 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585), visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov or m.fema.gov from a smartphone or Web-enabled device, speak to a FEMA employee at a Disaster Recovery Center.
  4. Government workers will never ask for a fee or payment. They wear an official government photo ID.  Watch out for middle men who promise you will receive money, especially if they ask for an up-front payment.
  5. Get three written estimates for repair work. Then check credentials and contact your local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce to learn about any complaints against the contractor or business.
  6. Before work begins, make sure you get a written contract detailing all the work to be performed, the costs, a projected completion date, and how to negotiate changes and settle disputes. 
  7. Make sure the contract clearly states who will obtain the necessary permits. Consider having a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved. Keep a copy of the signed contract. 
  8. If the contractor provides any guarantees, they should be written into the contract clearly, stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid. 
  9. Pay only by check or a credit card. A reasonable down payment may be required to buy materials for some projects, but don't pay anything without a signed contract. 

If you suspect anyone – an inspector, disaster survivor, or someone posing as one of these – of fraudulent activities, call our toll-free Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721, or your local law enforcement officials.

If you’re a survivor and haven’t registered for assistance yet, please see #3 above, because registering for assistance is the first step. 

While we’re discussing scams, we wanted to address a few rumors and potential scams that have recently been reported and mentioned on many social media channels:

  • FEMA is providing $300 for food assistance - This is FALSE.
  • FEMA is hiring for cleanup crews and inspectors - This is FALSE.
  • FEMA is giving out cash cards to disaster survivors - This is FALSE.

None of the rumors are true, so if you see or hear people discussing or passing these rumors along, please help us spread the message that they are false. For more information on these and other rumors floating around, visit our Hurricane Sandy Rumor Control Page.

Assisting Survivors Through our Disaster Recovery Centers & Community Relations Specialists

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Since Hurricane Sandy made landfall, FEMA has been working hard to make sure disaster survivors receive the information and help they need to apply for disaster assistance with us and our partners, as well as other organizations that provide assistance.

One of the ways we’re reaching out to survivors is through our Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs). At these centers, disaster survivors can meet one-on-one with officials from voluntary and non-profit agencies, local communities, and state and federal agencies such as FEMA and the Small Business Administration.  Personnel staffing the DRCs are there to answer questions from survivors about the types of assistance available, how to apply for assistance and details about how exactly the recovery process works.  It is important to note that survivors do not need to visit DRCs to apply for assistance. The centers are simply another resource that FEMA is using to get everyone the help they need. 

As of today, 30 Disaster Recovery Centers are open in New York, 23 in New Jersey and seven in Connecticut and more continue to open.  FEMA is working closely with state and local officials in the hardest hit areas to identify future DRC sites that are accessible to those who need help and are large enough to handle the full suite of services.

In addition to our Recovery Centers, we are also out in the communities working to assist survivors through our Community Relations (CR) specialists who are going door-to-door in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to help explain the types of assistance that are available through the federal government and to help residents register. Having these teams on the ground allow us to reach survivors in their homes and communities as quickly and effectively as possible. The Community Relations teams also help to dispel rumors in the community, identify if survivors need translated information, and coordinate and assist those with functional or access needs.

As many people across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic continue to recover from Hurricane Sandy, members of the entire emergency management team, including the federal, state, tribal, and local governments, the faith based and non-profit communities, and the public, are working together to support those across the impacted area. If you need help applying for assistance, please visit a DRC or speak to a Community Relations specialist.

There are four ways you can find a disaster recovery center location,

  1. Search on your computer
  2. Search on your mobile phone at m.fema.gov
  3. Text DRC and your Zip Code to 43362 (4FEMA) For example, if you lived in Atlantic City, NJ you would text: DRC 08401 (standard data rates apply)
  4. Use the FEMA smartphone app and locate one on the map

The content is updated regularly, so be sure to check for updates, changes and new locations. 

Veterans Helping Survivors on the Road to Recovery

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With so many New Yorkers facing the overwhelming and exhausting task of cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy, a group of former veterans known as Team Rubicon have become very popular. And rightly so.

“We were exhausted after the first few days,” said Rockaway homeowner Barbara Millet, “but they just showed up. My mother-in-law calls them angels.”

Founded by two former Marines following the Haitian earthquake in 2010, members of Team Rubicon use skills acquired in the military to assist people affected by disasters.  In the past 10 days, the team has deployed hundreds of volunteers to the Northeast to help Sandy survivors clean houses, remove trees, repair roofs and manage debris as they begin their road to recovery. 

FEMA partners with numerous voluntary agencies to provide a wide range of crucial assistance to survivors who may have needs beyond what the state or federal assistance can provide. And this Veterans Day the agency would like to salute Team Rubicon, FEMA’s nearly 3,000 veteran employees, the thousands of veterans in the other federal agencies supporting the response and the more than 12,000 active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel who have been a part of Sandy response operations.

In honor of Veterans Day, Team Rubicon has been joined by volunteers from other veteran groups who have come together for a day of service. Some 1,000 veterans traveled to New York to support survivors as they recover from Sandy.  Representatives from Give an Hour, the 6th Branch, The Mission Continues, the Pat Tillman Foundation, the Headstrong Project, Got Your 6, Student Veterans of America, and Team Red, White, & Blue will be participating.

“A lot of times, people will see us out in the community and they will ask us how they can volunteer” says Andrew Stevens, Team Rubicon’s National Director of Field Operations. “Because of our organizational skills and experience in disaster relief, we’re able to put them to work right away.”

FEMA’s Voluntary Agency Liaison (VAL) works with state and local governments to establish volunteer reception centers. Unaffiliated volunteers who come to the centers are directed to one of the many voluntary organizations active in disaster relief efforts.  Other groups currently working with Sandy survivors in New York include the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptists, Adventist Community Services and other national and local voluntary organizations. 

In addition to these organizations, individuals interested in volunteering time or donating money to help New Yorkers recover from Sandy can contact New York Cares at 212-228-5000 or NYC Service.

Housing Options for Hurricane Sandy Survivors

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FEMA is one part of a large team that is working together to support New Jersey and New York in meeting the housing needs of survivors of Hurricane Sandy.

As we begin to focus on longer-term recovery from the storm, the affected states are taking the lead to identify their local needs and resources by convening State-led Disaster Housing Task Forces.  The State-led Disaster Housing Task Forces in New York and New Jersey involve a collaborative approach to addressing the temporary housing and long-term needs of the disaster survivors, including the collection of available rental resources, projecting housing needs and exploring other options.   Task Forces include representatives from state, local, and voluntary agencies, and federal partners including FEMA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The teams are working together to ensure they are making the greatest use of existing housing resources (such as apartments and rental units), enlisting voluntary agencies to make minor repairs so survivors can remain in their homes, and investigating other temporary housing options suitable for the area. 

In coordination with the State-Led Housing Task Forces, FEMA has several temporary housing assistance options that can help to ensure survivors have access to safe, secure housing in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The types of housing assistance used will depend on the needs of each individual community and can include:

  • Transitional Housing Assistance: 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.
  • Housing Rental Assistance: If a home cannot be repaired easily to safe and sanitary conditions, then local rental resources are the preferred first choice for housing disaster survivors as they recover. FEMA authorized funds to increase the amount of rental assistance that it may provide eligible disaster survivors in New York and New Jersey to 125 percent.  This increase will be implemented when a survivor is recertified for a continued need for temporary housing assistance.  The approved increase is expected to make an additional 1,800 rental resources available for temporary housing of disaster-impacted families in New York, and an additional 1,200 rental resources available for similar families in New Jersey.

Families and individuals in eligible counties within New York and New Jersey, who are registered for federal disaster assistance and seeking rental resources can search through hundreds of listings on the FEMA Housing Portal. The FEMA Housing Portal consolidates rental resources identified and provided by a variety of federal agencies, including HUD, USDA, and VA, and also lists rental properties provided by private organizations and property owners willing to help their neighbors during these difficult times.

To ensure FEMA is able to meet the housing needs of all survivors, FEMA is also pre-staging Temporary Housing Units (THUs) for possible use in New York and New Jersey, in the event that the units are requested by the states. Manufactured housing (i.e. temporary housing units) may be provided, at the request of the state, as the option of last resort in areas with limited available rental resources.  These manufactured homes are regulated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and are built to the same strong standards as millions of manufactured housing units being lived in across the nation and that consumers across the country can purchase.  FEMA is not a manufacturer of housing units; rather, it is a purchaser of manufactured homes.  Manufacturers are required, at a minimum, to meet the standards identified in the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Standard, 24 CFR 3280 Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards. To date, State-led Housing Task Forces continue to review various housing options, and there have been no requests by New Jersey or New York for use of manufactured housing (temporary housing units).

The first step to receive housing assistance is by registering for disaster assistance. To register for assistance by phone, please call toll-free at 1-800-621-FEMA, or 1-800-621-3362.  Disaster applicants who have a hearing or speech disability and use voice relay telecommunications services can also contact FEMA through the main toll-free number at 1-800-621-3362. Disaster applicants with a speech disability or hearing loss but use a TTY device, should instead call 1-800-462-7585 directly. An easy, online registration process also remains available anytime at www.disasterassistance.gov, or by using your web-enabled mobile device at m.fema.gov.  You can also visit a disaster recovery center, where you can talk with someone who can help determine the best course of action for recovery and available assistance programs.

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