This page provides the biographies for the Executive Director and Deputy Director of the Sandy Recovery Office and includes their responsibilities, background and mission.
Laura A. Phillips
Laura Phillips, Executive Director of the Sandy Recovery Office, is responsible for the activities, planning, programs and procedures that support New Jersey and New York recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Phillips implements recommendations of the Sandy Task Force and the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act as she directs the comprehensive Sandy recovery effort in the two states.
Phillips has more than 30 years in public sector experience managing technical, emergency and support services for state and local government in California. In addition to her public sector experience, Phillips served two years in the private sector in government relations for a large telecommunications firm.
Prior to joining the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort in New Jersey and New York, Phillips served the San Francisco Bay Area as the Executive Director of the City & County of San Francisco Department of Emergency Management and as General Manager of the Urban Area Security Initiative Program. Her efforts included coordination and collaboration among hundreds of state and regional agencies, the private sector and nonprofits. She directed the strategic planning efforts that guided multi-year investments to reduce risks and threats while leveraging multiple sources of funding.
Phillips was honored as the most accomplished Executive Director for DEM by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She was awarded the Pillar of Inspiration Award for leadership for collaborative efforts towards interagency/regional interoperability.
Phillips earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice Management from St. Joseph's College of Maine and holds other key certifications in program management areas.
John Covell, Deputy Director of the Sandy Recovery Office, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the field offices located in Eatontown, N.J. and Forest Hills, N.Y. He supports Laura Phillips, Executive Director of the Sandy Recovery Office, who is responsible for overall policy and direction of operations in New Jersey and New York.
Covell joined FEMA after completing 29 years of naval service and two years as a professor in the College of Operational and Strategic Leadership at the U.S. Naval War College. A graduate of Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., he attended Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla., receiving his commission in 1983.
Upon completing Hawkeye Naval Flight Officer (NFO) training, Covell reported to Carrier Early Warning Squadron (VAW-123) onboard the USS America. Subsequent flying tours included the E-2C (Hawkeye Early Warning Aircraft) Training Squadron, as an instructor, operational tours with VAW-122, VAW-125 and a command tour with the Black Eagles of VAW-113. During these tours, Covell participated in Libyan operations, Operation Provide Comfort, Operation Southern Watch and operations over the former republic of Yugoslavia, amassing more than 3,500 flight hours and more than 550 arrested landings.
Staff assignments included Supreme Allied Command Atlantic (SACLANT) as a staff communications officer, Navy Warfare Development Command as a Fleet Battle Experiment Director, and Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) as N5 and again as the liaison officer to Central Command. Covell commanded Airborne Command Control and Logistics Wing, the E-2 C-2 Type Wing and was the director of the U.S. Navy Command Leadership School.
Covell earned a Master of Science degree in Human Resource Management from Troy University and is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Air Command and Staff College. He was the 2002 recipient of the James Bond Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership.
Kurt Weirich is responsible for the day-to-day activities of the Individual Assistance branch for the NYSRFO. In this role he has overseen the delivery of over $1.2 billion in financial assistance to disaster survivors in New York, and the continuing individual and household recovery support programs.
Weirich joined FEMA after 24 years of service with the American Red Cross in a variety of leadership positions within the organization’s Disaster Services unit. A subject matter expert in mass care and managing disaster response operations, he has led the Red Cross response to floods, hurricanes, tornados and other incidents. After 9/11 Weirich coordinated the development of an innovative web-based case management system and data-sharing project for the Red Cross. This cross-functional project involved other relief providers and led to the development of the national Client Assistance Network system. Weirich is an experienced adult educator and has developed both instructor-led and distance learning classes.
Weirich is a graduate of Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa. and is pursuing a master’s in public administration.