Agencies fan out en masse to help recovery efforts

Tuesday - 10/30/2012, 8:32pm EDT

Craig Fulgate, administrator, FEMA

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Thousands of federal employees are taking part in the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort that spans 10 states and the District of Columbia.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency pre-positioned more than 1,000 employees. The Federal Communications Commission has teams ready to be deployed to help restore communications across the East Coast.

The Energy Department is working with the electricity providers to support their repairs.

And the Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moved disaster medical-assistance teams into the affected areas.

Craig Fugate, the administrator of FEMA, said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters that FEMA pre-positioned generators and more than 1,500 employees along the East Coast.

He said there are too many federal employees responding to the disaster to count.

"Many of them were already in the area that are supporting initial response recovery as well as those deploying in," Fugate said. "Just know the number is going up rapidly as we are able to get into these areas and have identified some of the needs the states are identifying they want us to work on."

Thwarting improper payments

FEMA also will provide loans through its Disaster Relief Program. Fugate said the agency is adding a layer of oversight to further reduce the amount of fraud that could occur.

"We're going to dispatch what we call housing inspectors," he said. "When people register for FEMA, we will go out and we actually verify the pertinent information and verify the residence for the full assistance program. We also will be turning on part of the program to help with immediate house needs, what we call our temporary shelter assistance program. It's always based upon trying to get the best information and verifying that the individual families in the area of impact had eligible losses without trying to produce an unfair burden that prevents us from helping people."

FEMA has seen its fraud rate drop by 0.1 percent, to less than 0.3 percent. A September report by the Homeland Security Department's Inspector General said FEMA paid out more than $621 million improperly between 2005 and 2010. The IG said FEMA is trying to recoup about $371 million of that money that was wrongly paid out.

FEMA received funding for fiscal 2013 to deal with disasters and had left over money from 2012.

Fugate said the agency has more than $3 billion in its relief fund, which should be more than enough to get them through this emergency.

FCC up all weekend

The FCC has been working around the clock since the weekend to prepare for the hurricane.

It activated the Disaster Response Information System (DIRS) Monday to receive updates on the health of the telecommunications infrastructure.

David Turetsky, the chief of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said the agency is monitoring communications outages, including 9-1-1 call centers and other critical sectors.

"We also have presently three Roll Call teams ready to be deployed to conduct post-event analysis of the radio signal environment," he said. "Those are specialized teams with specialized equipment that can go out after an incident to see what's on the air and what's off the air in different spectrum segments that are in use. And those will be deployed if and when FEMA asks us to do that in support of their efforts."

The FCC also granted five waivers for Special Temporary Authorization so broadcasters and others could use spectrum they usually don't have access to.

Turetsky said two went to Midwestern power companies that sent people to help with the restoration and recovery efforts and three went to radio stations so they could broadcast at their daytime wattage during the night. Some radio stations have to turn down their power at night.

Widespread cell, broadband outages

Turetsky said as of Tuesday afternoon about 7 million to 8 million people were without power. He said approximately 25 percent of all cell sites across the 10 states were out of service as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, and many cell sites were running on backup power.

Turetsky said about 25 percent of all cable TV, including hardline phones and broadband connections, were out of service.

"Major carriers are undertaking recovery efforts, but it's certainly possible outages in some areas may get worse before they get better," he said. "There are a couple of reasons for that. One is with sustained power outages that will in some areas outlast the backup power that is available for parts of the network including cell sites, and (the other reason is) increased flooding and, in some areas, snow. We will continue getting daily updates from the monitoring systems we've deployed and our other outreach efforts. We are working to cooperate fully with our federal partners, extending our information gathering, reporting and monitoring efforts, and are working to address impediments to restoration."

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