In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall on Oct. 29, 2012, the nation experienced one of its largest and costliest natural disasters since Hurricane Katrina. With extensive damage caused by the historic storm, and many people’s homes and businesses damaged or destroyed, the devastation was far-reaching. Through FEMA, the Department led the federal government’s efforts in coordinating and supporting the response operation. Every component of DHS pitched in to help residents in affected regions prepare for, respond to and recover from this storm.
In order to meet the needs of communities impacted by this storm, we activated — for the first time — the DHS Surge Capacity Force. The Surge Capacity Force was formed in response to recommendations following Hurricane Katrina, and is made up of DHS employees who have volunteered to be deployed to disaster areas when the need arises. Because of the extent of the storm’s damage, Surge Capacity Force volunteers assisted FEMA in getting information out and helping survivors apply for Individual Assistance and financial assistance to help repair or replace damaged property. In addition, Surge Capacity Force personnel supported logistical operations, operating forklifts to move pallets of food, water and supplies or helping with inventory management.
More than 1,100 DHS employees comprised the inaugural class of the DHS Surge Capacity Force. They were trained in Emmittsburg, Md. and then deployed to New York and New Jersey, where most were housed on Department of Transportation training ships. Led by FEMA staff and working with FEMA reservists and FEMA Corps members, the Surge Capacity Force teams were sent to impacted neighborhoods where they went house-to-house distributing information and answering survivors’ questions.
TSA’s Randy Wiggins, who worked in Breezy Point, N.Y., said this was the first time he had ever done anything like this. “I watched Breezy Point burn down to the ground on TV. Now I’m here helping,” he said. “They tell us their stories. They’ve lost everything. I just feel for them.”
USCIS’ Kathleen Gagnon first learned of the Surge Capacity Force from her component’s newsletter. Inspired by a documentary she worked on about Katrina, she was immediately interested in becoming a Surge Capacity Force volunteer and wanted to be “part of the story.” Stories from these, and other employees who volunteered, are available on the Surge Capacity Force page on Connect, and additional interviews with volunteers and survivors are featured in The Surge, a TSA-produced video.
These employees and many others represent the best of what we stand for as a Department. They sacrificed time with their families during Thanksgiving and the holidays to help fellow Americans in need. From my own experiences on the ground and from talking to grateful survivors, I’d like to extend my personal thanks for everything the first class of the DHS Surge Capacity Force did to help the people of New York and New Jersey in their recovery.
Following the example set by our colleagues, the Surge Capacity Force program is expected to be introduced in other agencies throughout the federal government. If you are interested in volunteering, information on how to do so is available on the Connect Surge Capacity Force page.
Yours very truly,