LINCROFT, N.J. -- As Deputy Coordinator of the Oceanport, N.J. Office of Emergency Management, Chris Baggot has weathered a lot of storms.
But nothing so profoundly altered the landscape of his community like Hurricane Sandy.
The 3.7 square mile town on the Shrewsbury River was devastated by the storm. Five hundred of the 2000 homes in this close-knit community were substantially damaged or destroyed. Oceanport also lost its police station, its borough hall, its ambulance squad building, its library and its courthouse.
Some 18 months after the Oct. 29, 2012 hurricane, 71 families were still unable to return home.
The Baggot family is among them. The Baggots have been renting a one-bedroom apartment in the nearby community of Eatontown while they await the demolition and reconstruction of their home on Blackberry Bay.
While they were approved for an RREM grant of $150,000 to underwrite the rebuilding, a rough winter delayed the start of construction on their replacement home. Once the weather improves and contractors break ground, it will be another six to nine months before Chris, his wife, Wendy, and college-age son, Zachary, will be able to enjoy life in Oceanport once again.
“I’m a Sandy survivor. We don’t use the word ‘victim,’’’ he says.
He carries that perspective into his role at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s New Jersey Sandy Recovery Office, where he recently became a CORE employee after joining FEMA as a Local Hire in December of 2012.
It was his second time assisting his fellow New Jerseyans as a FEMA employee: Baggot was also recruited as a Local Hire in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011.
Hired initially as a project specialist for Public Assistance, Baggot moved on to become a Cost Estimating Format reviewer, Quality Assurance lead, Operations task force lead and finally, CORE Operations Task Force Lead.
In that capacity, he explains, “I oversee the life cycle of a Public Assistance project from the writing stage all the way through to obligation.”
Baggot’s personal experience with the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy has underlined his understanding of the importance of the FEMA mission in helping communities rebuild and become more resilient.
“It sure is nice when people say to you, ‘Look, we need this; we need that,’ and you can give it to them in a reasonable way,” says Baggot, “and it’s nice when you can manage expectations when people ask for the moon and stars. That’s not really what we’re there to provide. We’re there to get them back to pre-disaster conditions.”
He has plenty of praise for his colleagues at FEMA, who came here in the immediate aftermath of the storm to help the hard-hit residents of New Jersey get back on their feet.
“The FEMA people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with have really been great.” He’s also enjoyed observing their surprise at how different New Jersey is from its “What exit?” stereotype.
“They talk about how beautiful it is – they thought it was all blacktop,” Baggot says with a laugh.
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