The Executive Summary:
On October 29, 2012 multiple weather systems – including Hurricane Sandy – collided over the most densely populated region in the nation, with devastating and tragic results. At least 159 people in the United States were killed as either a direct or indirect result of Sandy.
More than 650,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and hundreds of thousands of businesses were damaged or forced to close at least temporarily. The power of nature was set loose on our nation’s largest city and some of our smallest coastal towns, with results that would have previously seemed unimaginable. Lives were lost, millions of homes were upended, families were made homeless in a single night, and entire communities were in shock at the scale of the loss.
The government’s response began before the storm hit and by the day it made landfall more than 1,500 personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were on the ground along the East Coast. Federal, State, and local emergency responders rescued and provided basic services to individuals, assessed damage, and began guiding families and businesses to the assistance available to help them get back on their feet. As of July 2013, FEMA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) had helped more than 270,000 individuals or households and 3,900 businesses to get back on their feet through $3.8 billion in SBA recovery loans and FEMA individual assistance.
Rebuilding Challenges and the Creation of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force
In recognition of the size and magnitude of the storm and the rebuilding challenges facing the region, President Obama signed an Executive Order on December 7, 2012 creating the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and designating the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, as Chair. The Federal Government’s experience from previous disasters taught that it was vital to have a team focused exclusively on long-term rebuilding immediately after the storm hit; working in tandem with the elements of the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), the Task Force was established to ensure the recovery benefitted from cabinet-level focus and coordination. The President charged the Task Force with identifying and working to remove obstacles to resilient rebuilding while taking into account existing and future risks and promoting the long-term sustainability of communities and ecosystems in the Sandy-affected region.
In January 2013, Congress passed and the President signed the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013 (Sandy Supplemental), which provided about $50 billion in funding to support rebuilding in the region.
This Rebuilding Strategy establishes guidelines for the investment of the Federal funds made available for recovery and sets the region on the path to being built back smarter and stronger with several outcomes in mind:
• Aligning this funding with local rebuilding visions.
• Cutting red tape and getting assistance to families, businesses, and communities efficiently and effectively, with maximum accountability.
• Coordinating the efforts of the Federal, State, and local governments and ensuring a region- wide approach to rebuilding.
• Ensuring the region is rebuilt in a way that makes it more resilient – that is, better able to with- stand future storms and other risks posed by a changing climate.
Resilience involves enabling the region to respond effectively to a major storm, recover quickly from it, and adapt to changing conditions, while also taking measures to reduce the risk of significant damage in a future storm. Sustainability involves ensuring the long-term viability of the people and economy of the region and its natural ecosystems, which requires consideration of the risks posed by a changing climate, the practicality of maintaining a long-term presence in the most vulnerable areas, and the need to protect and restore the natural ecosystems. The Rebuilding Strategy includes 69 recommendations, many of which have already been adopted. They are divided into several policy priorities that were identified with the help of input from the Task Force’s public engagement with local leaders and community groups. Many of the recommendations are directly linked to Sandy Supplemental funding. The Rebuilding Strategy also includes additional policy recommendations that will have a significant impact on how the region rebuilds, but that are not directly linked to Sandy Supplemental spending. Finally, in recognition of the increased risk the region and the nation face from extreme weather events, the Rebuilding Strategy includes recommendations that, if implemented, will improve our ability to withstand and recover effectively from future flood-related disasters. The Task Force recommendations include:
• Promoting Resilient Rebuilding, Based on Current and Future Risk, Through Innovative Ideas by:
◦ Giving governments and residents the best available data and information on current and future risks to facilitate good decision making for recovery and planning – for example, by creating and making widely-available a Sea Level Rise projection tool.
◦ Leveraging the Rebuild by Design competition to deliver innovative, resilient rebuilding ideas to the Sandy-impacted region.
◦ Prioritizing the engagement of vulnerable populations on issues of risk and resilience.
• Ensuring a Regionally Coordinated, Resilient Approach to Infrastructure Investment by:
◦ Helping communities work together to be better prepared at a lower cost for the risks as- sociated with a changing climate.
◦ Making the electrical grid smarter and more flexible, and protecting the liquid fuel supply chain to better prepare them for future storms and other threats.
◦ Helping to develop a resilient power strategy for telephone and internet communication systems and equipment, so that our ability to communicate when it’s most necessary is less vulnerable to disaster.
◦ Providing a forum to coordinate and discuss large-scale, regional infrastructure projects and map the connections and interdependencies between them, saving money and getting bet- ter results for all levels of government.
◦ Establishing guidelines to ensure those projects are situated and built to withstand the im- pacts of existing risks and future climate change, in the region, and across the country.
◦ Assisting States and localities to optimize Sandy recovery infrastructure funding and leverage non-federal resources to help build critical infrastructure assets that are resilient to current and future risks.
• Providing Families Safe, Affordable Housing Options and Protecting Homeowners by:
◦ Helping disaster victims to be able to stay in their homes by allowing homeowners to quickly make emergency repairs.
◦ Preventing responsible homeowners from being forced out of their homes due to short- term financial hardship while recovering from disaster by creating nationally-consistent mortgage policies.
◦ Making housing units – both individual and multi-family – more sustainable and resilient through smart recovery steps including elevating above flood risk and increased energy ef- ficiency.
◦ Communicating to State and local governments, residents, and workers consistent guidance on how to remediate indoor environmental pollutants such as mold.
• Supporting Small Businesses and Revitalizing Local Economies by:
◦ Making it easier for small businesses to access Federal contracts for Hurricane Sandy rebuilding.
◦ Creating specialized skills training programs to support Sandy rebuilding including training opportunities for low income individuals and other vulnerable populations.
Developing a one-stop shop online for everything related to small businesses and recovery.
◦ Improving the process for accessing critical disaster recovery loans and other resources; and increasing SBA’s unsecured disaster loan limits and expediting the disbursement of small dollar loans.
• Addressing Insurance Challenges, Understanding, and Accessibility by:
◦ Working with Congress on the affordability challenges posed by reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) so that responsible homeowners aren’t priced out of their homes.
◦ Encouraging homeowners and other policy-holders to take steps to mitigate future risks, such as elevating their homes and businesses above flood levels, which will not only protect against the next storm but also make their flood insurance premiums more affordable.
◦ Streamlining payouts to homeowners and other policy-holders in the wake of a disaster.
• Building Local Governments’ Capacity to Plan for Long-Term Rebuilding and Prepare for Future Disasters by:
◦ Supporting regional planning efforts underway in New York and New Jersey to create and implement locally-created and federally funded strategies for rebuilding and strengthening their communities against future extreme weather.
◦ Funding Local Disaster Recovery Manager positions in communities in the Sandy-impacted region and taking additional steps to prepare for future disasters.
These innovative strategies, along with the additional recommendations detailed in the report, can help the Sandy-affected region rebuild and serve as a model for every community in the country that faces greater risk from extreme weather.
President Obama’s Climate Action Plan laid out a series of responsible and common sense steps to reduce carbon pollution and prepare communities for the impacts of a changing climate that are already being felt across the nation. That plan was informed by lessons from the Sandy recovery process, as well as several of the policies and principles developed by the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.
To date, the response to and recovery from this storm has been a testament to the unique spirit, strength, and will of the American people.
The recovery also highlights fundamental American virtues: we do not leave any communities to pick up the pieces by themselves, we harness American ingenuity, and we give all communities the tools they need to make sure that when we rebuild, we build back stronger and smarter.
Curious to see whether any of this is implemented. I get the funny feeling that with a few excpetions, it'll be 'rebuilding as usual'.
Thanks to Wayne Wright for sending this my way.
"I've searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees." - G.K. Chesterton