After major disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will deploy Mitigation Assessment Teams (MATs) to conduct engineering analyses to assess damage to government facilities, homes, businesses and other structures, and to determine the causes of structural failures and successes. Based on a comprehensive analysis of data, MATs prepare recommendations for construction codes and standards, building design issues and best practices.
Working in collaboration with state and local governments and a wide range of technical expertise from the private sector, the Hurricane Sandy MATs helped building science research be implemented into practice to make New Jersey, New York, and the entire nation stronger and safer through forensic analysis of the damages.
Hurricane Sandy Background:
Hurricane Sandy formed deep in the Caribbean and affected a large swath of countries including Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas before making landfall at Brigantine, NJ, north of Atlantic City on October 29, 2012. At landfall, it was a Category 2 hurricane with a wind span of over 1,150 miles across.
Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard. States from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin were impacted.
New Jersey and New York were hit the hardest. Storm surge flooded the New York City streets, tunnels and subway lines and cut power in and around the City. In New Jersey, more than 346,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and more than two million people lost power.
In addition to damages from flood and wind, extensive snowfall caused roof failures and power outages in several northern states inland.
At an estimated cost of $70.2 billion, Hurricane Sandy is the second costliest storm behind only Hurricane Katrina as cited on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information website. This site provides historic data of United States Billion-dollar disaster events, summaries report links and statistics from 1980 to the present.
FEMA deploys Hurricane Sandy Mitigation Assessment Teams:
After unique or nationally significant disasters like Sandy, FEMA studies how buildings perform to better understand how natural and manmade events affect the built environment.
The MATs study the adequacy of current building codes, local construction requirements, building practices, and building materials in light of the damage observed after a disaster. The MATs assess strategic lessons learned to improve building codes, standards, and industry guidance on a national level. The MATs also review the effectiveness of (1) FEMA mitigation grants and (2) key engineering principles and practices that FEMA promotes in its published guidance and best practices resources and documents.
Recommendations from the MAT’s observations and assessments are shared in Recovery Advisories, Fact Sheets, and a comprehensive report, FEMA P-942, Mitigation Assessment Team Report: Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York.
The Hurricane Sandy MAT members included a widevariety of experts:
- State, county and local officials, and locally-based experts in the assessment process;
- Structural, civil, mechanical, coastal, and electrical engineers;
- Floodplain management, building code, materials, historical, critical facilities, urban floodproofing, housing, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) experts;
- Healthcare specialists;
- Architects and architectural historians; and floodplain mappers
- State, county and local officials, and locally-based experts in the assessment process
The MATs studied various elements of the disaster:
- Coastal impacts;
- Damages and operational impacts to hospitals and other critical facilities;
- Damages and operational impacts to high-rises, police, fire, and schools; and
- Damages to historically significant buildings
Each MAT visited several locations in New Jersey and New York to assess the performance of specific building and facility types.
The Hurricane Sandy MAT Report made over 50 recommendations. To date, roughly 70-75 percent of these recommendations have been implemented. Primary recommendations included: Stronger Building Codes from the International Code Council (ICC):
- The 2015 International Residential Code (IRC) adopted FEMA’s recommendation to build higher in coastal areas subject to storm surge (Zone V and CAZ).
- The 2018 International Building Code (IBC) plans to implement FEMA’s recommendation to reference the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 99 code for portions of hospitals that serve or support critical functions.
Updated or new FEMA technical guidance:
- Protecting building utility systems (2017) MAT recommendations 40c, 42, 45a;
- Floodproofing non-residential structures (2013) MAT recommendations 29a-b, 35, 36b, 37b, 47; and
- Providing emergency power for critical facilities (2014; MAT recommendations 29b, 35, 36b, 37a, 37b, 38, 39, 40a, 40c, 41, 42, 43b, 44b, 45, 47.
Stronger Building Codes at the local level:
- Contributed to adoption of additional flood resistant code provisions in New York City and the states of New Jersey and New York (MAT recommendations 40c, 44a, 45a, 45c, 46.
Stronger Standards and Technical Guidance for Partner Organizations:
- Facilities Guidelines Institute (FGI) Guidelines for Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilities (MAT recommendation 40a, 41);
- American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) 24 – improvements to Flood Resistant Design and Construction (2015) MAT recommendations 30a;
- National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1600 – Updates to Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity/Continuity of Operations Programs (YEAR) MAT recommendation 42;
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Medicare and Medicaid Participating Providers and Suppliers (YEAR 2016) MAT recommendations 40a, 41, 42, 43a.
Improvements in or Contributed to FEMA’s Disaster-Resistant Policies and Programs:
- Contributed to and incorporated resilience in the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) (2013) MAT recommendation 40b;
- Contributed to the FEMA Disaster Risk Reduction Minimum Codes and Standards Policy (204-078-2), including the Public Assistance Required Minimum Standards Recovery Policy (104-009-4) – MAT recommendation 26d;
- Contributed to the FEMA Technical Mapping Advisory Council’s (TMAC) Recommendations including the recommendation to incorporate anticipated future conditions into the flood maps. (MAT recommendation 23b).