After Sandy, feds deploy all-hands-on-deck approach

Wednesday - 10/31/2012, 4:24pm EDT

After superstorm Sandy, the government is putting all hands on deck in response to the storm, providing on-the-ground assistance, federal funding and supplementing rescue and clean-up efforts.

In a sign of the governmentwide response, President Barack Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., Wednesday morning with a slew of cabinet and agency officials in tow. They included:

  • Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano,
  • Defense Secretary Leon Panetta,
  • Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood,
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius,
  • Energy Secretary Steven Chu and
  • Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan

In a conference call with reporters, Napolitano said Obama is adamant that the federal government respond swiftly and efficiently.

"His message to us was clear and consistent ... Get resources where they are needed as fast as possible without excuses or delay," Napolitano said. "And that's what we are committed to doing. Everyone is leaning forward to support the states, communities and tribes in their response. We've engaged the entire emergency-management apparatus of the country."

FEMA is also coordinating efforts with the private sector and groups, such as the Red Cross.

More than 2,200 federal personnel deployed

FEMA has deployed nine urban search-and-rescue teams to augment local first-response efforts, and so far more than 700 rescues have been performed since Tuesday.

The Energy Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are helping local authorities and utility companies to help restore power to darkened communities, Napolitano said. In the meantime, FEMA has launched an incident-support base to distribute generators.

Overall, there are 2,200 federal personnel positioned along the East Coast aiding recovery efforts, Napolitano said. Across 13 states, the Defense Department has positioned about 10,000 Army and Air National Guard forces, according to a DoD spokeswoman.

Other agencies are also doing their parts as part of an extensive federal effort.

Transportation Department provides emergency funds

Less than a day after the storm made landfall, the Transportation Department had already disbursed $13 million in quick-release relief funds to New York and Rhode Island, LaHood said.

The funding is provided through Federal High Administration and goes to help communities rebuild and repair roads, bridges, tunnels and seawalls.

LaHood said the Transportation Department expects other states to apply for the funding.

"Restoring critical infrastructure is essential to enabling states and local first responders and relief workers to assess impacted communities," LaHood said. "The funding answers the President's call for agencies to act quickly to help the affected states."

The Federal Transit Administration is also working to restore transportation systems that were knocked out by the storm.

GSA helps get supplies to first responders

The General Services Administration is keeping close watch on the thousands of federal facilities impacted and even pitching in to get first responders the equipment they need.

"During a Hurricane like Sandy, our role as a key support agency for the federal government is more important than ever," Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini wrote in a post on the GSA blog.

GSA is working at the behest of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to secure crucial supplies and services for recovery efforts. For example, at FEMA's request, GSA procured 1,000 chainsaws to aid in clean-up efforts in Pennsylvania, which was hit by widespread power outages.

GSA's Disaster Relief Program provides state and local governments with quick access to supplies, such as meals, medicine, generators and equipment used by first responders. The agency is also allowing the Red Cross to place orders.

So far, GSA has arranged 34 shipments of supplies, which are en route to affected areas, Tangherlini said.

GSA employees "have shown their commitment and dedication to our mission, the agencies we support and the American people, even, in some cases, in the face of personal hardship," Tangherlini wrote.

FCC aims to bolster communications networks

In a statement Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said communication networks are improving, though cell-network outages remain prevalent in New York and New Jersey.

"In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to expect the unexpected as the full picture of Hurricane Sandy's impact on communications networks develops," he said. "The crisis is not over. We'll continue to be intensely focused on helping with the full recovery of wired and wireless communications infrastructure."

Cable and landline telephone services have been restored more quickly, according to the FCC.

EPA, Coast Guard take on contaminated waters

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency are working with state agencies to identify and remove contaminated water in flooded areas, particular in New York City.

"They are already identifying where there are sheens, where there are spills," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters aboard Air Force One Wednesday. "They have contractors on support."

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