But if there’s one clear example of essential personnel — even amid the storm’s thrashing winds — it’s the employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Washington, D.C., and states along the East Coast have declared states of emergency. And that’s where FEMA comes in, providing what’s known as “direct federal assistance” to states that have requested the agency’s help.
That consists of generators, meals and other commodities.
“And we are ready to support additional assessments and additional requests for assistance,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon. That includes financial reimbursement for damages after the storm passes, he said.
Fugate: ‘We have the funds to respond’
The pot of money funding FEMA’s relief efforts contains $3.6 billion, Fugate said, which includes some funds carried over from last fiscal year as well as new funding from the stopgap spending measure approved by Congress last month.
“We have the funds to respond, we have the funds to continue to respond to recovery in previous disasters and we’ll assess the impacts to determine any additional funding needs based upon the impacts of Hurricane Sandy,” Fugate said.
That’s a far cry from the situation FEMA faced last summer after Hurricane Irene and a series of previous expensive disasters nearly drained the disaster relief fund.
Collaboration is key
Collaboration — between state and federal officials and between the government and the private sector — is key to FEMA’s response efforts, Fugate said.
“This is not just FEMA; it’s a total effort of the entire federal family supporting state and local [authorities]. And a big part of that’s the private sector,” Fugate said.
For example, FEMA’s National Business Operations Center convenes private companies, such as big-box retailers, to aid in the relief efforts.
“I think we’re in a good position based upon the initial response. But we still have more things en route anticipating that … as we get a better idea of the total impacts, we need to be able to continue to bring resources in and not just go with what we’ve already pre-staged,” Fugate said.
FEMA leveraging social media
Another change from previous disasters is the extent to which FEMA is using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter (@FEMA) to get the word out.
Because of those efforts, Fugate said he thinks there has been a higher degree of awareness about the storm.
“I think the real success will be afterwards: Did we see a change in the outcome? Did more people evacuate? Did more people heed the official evacuation orders and protective measure the local officials have been issuing?”
And, in case you’re wondering: Yes, Fugate (@CraigatFEMA) does his own tweeting.
“That’s why there’re mis-typings in there because when I’m typing half-awake in the morning, I misspell things,” Fugate said.
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 8-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.