We are well into the fourth week of Sandy operations and the Joint Field Offices (JFO) in the affected states are fully engaged in efforts to support recovery from this massive storm. The Federal Coordinating Officers (FCO) appointed to each state, together with their staff, continue to demonstrate tremendous commitment to the survivors. Alongside interagency, state, local, and volunteer partners, we are working long hours each day to ensure that we are identifying and addressing the needs of communities affected by Sandy.
While visiting impacted areas, I have seen your dedication first hand -- from the services and information you are providing to survivors in the more than 60 Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) across the region and by going door to door as members of community relations teams, to working side by side with our state and local partners in the JFOs, to supporting the field and maintaining steady state operations in our regional and headquarters offices. I have had the opportunity to meet many of you or hear from you through email, and am proud of the work that you are doing each and every day.
As a result of this dedication, more than 450,000 applicants have registered for FEMA assistance, which has led to shelter for more than 4,700 applicants under our temporary shelters assistance program, nearly 200,000 home inspections, and the distribution of over $844 million to survivors.
And, our whole communities partners also remain committed to survivors -- I have met the Southern Baptists that drove into NY to cook and distribute thousands of meals every day; the American Red Cross that has set up distribution points in heavily impacted areas, providing everything from blankets, to medical kits, to food and water; members of Team Rubicon, Samaritan’s Purse, and other voluntary organizations doing the labor intensive work of mucking out houses; the Sikh, Jewish, and Catholic communities, to name a few, that are providing hot meals and opening their doors as shelters, food kitchens, and location for DRCs; and individuals from all over the country that are sending donations—clothing, diapers, blankets, food—and taking time out of their personal lives to organize, distribute, and manage these donations.
However, there are still many needs that the entire team is working diligently to address. An estimated 68,000 customers remain without electricity due to damage to their homes. Many of these customers will not be able to receive service until their internal electrical equipment is repaired, tested, and certified by an electrician as ready for service. In addition, there are many residents who are unable to receive heat and hot water. In order to expedite the repairs that are necessary and essential to allow survivors to stay in their homes, FEMA has been working with the states, local and tribal governments to implement the Shelter and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program. Representatives from Individual Assistance and Public Assistance within Recovery, the Office of Chief Counsel, the JFO, and the State have been working nonstop to fully develop this program to assist disaster survivors. Within the New York JFO, the cross-sectional STEP taskforce was formed to track progress on the program implementation.
The purpose of the STEP program is 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 and can help residents safely shelter-in-place in their homes pending more permanent repairs. The three options available under this program are:
- Residential Electrical Meter Repairs – For those whose homes can be used to shelter-in-place, and repairing the electric meter is all that’s needed to have power restored. This might include repairs to the weather head, service cable or the meter socket.
- Shelter Essential Measures – For those whose homes can be used to shelter-in-place, STEP will provide temporary electricity, heat and hot water to meet basic life sustaining needs while permanent repairs are made.
- Rapid Temporary Exterior Repairs – These are necessary and essential repairs to protect storm-damaged residences from further damage that may present an immediate threat to life and property, and where appropriate, facilitate sheltering-in-place pending more permanent repairs. This may include securing broken windows, covering damaged exterior walls and roofs, and patching and securing damaged exterior doors.
We continue to amplify the President’s message that “FEMA will be there for the long haul.” On Sunday, FEMA’s Assistant Administrator for Response, Bob Fenton, New Jersey FCO Mike Hall, and I traveled with Vice President Joe Biden to impacted areas in New Jersey. While there, the Vice President reiterated the message that we're not going anywhere, adding “this is a national responsibility, not a local responsibility. I promise you, President (Barack) Obama and I are committed to helping."
I know that for many of you this commitment means time away from your family and loved ones. We currently have 7,600 DHS employees deployed to six states in support of Sandy operations. In addition, we have staff deployed to the nine other JFO’s around the country. I would like to reiterate the Administrator’s Thanksgiving message recognizing your commitment to the service of disaster survivors, and share in his appreciation of your dedication and expertise. Thank you for everything you are doing to support survivors.