Tags: sandy | fema | first | responders

Sandy First Responders Idle for Days in NJ Due to FEMA Disarray

Thursday, 06 Dec 2012 09:20 PM

By Todd Beamon

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First responders to storm-ravaged areas of New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy sat idle for as long as four days because local FEMA officials were unprepared — and officials even told them to go sightseeing or shopping, Fox News reported on Thursday.

“They told us to hurry, hurry, hurry,” one FEMA worker told Fox. The employee works at the agency's headquarters in Washington and volunteered to go to Fort Dix, N.J., to help. “We rushed to Fort Dix, only to find out that our liaison didn’t even know we were coming.”

“The regional coordinator even said to us, ‘I don’t know why you were rushed here because we don’t need you,'” said the worker, who talked with Fox out of frustration with the lack of planning and coordination among FEMA officials.

Once in New Jersey, the worker and others waited for three full days and parts of another, Fox reports, even as news reports detailed the devastation and suffering from the Oct. 29 storm.

When they asked for assignments, this was the response, the employee told Fox: “They told us to go to the Wal-Mart nearby or to check out the area but told us to stay out of the areas affected by the storm. If our boss back at headquarters had not been alerted and didn’t make a push to get us assignments, the people running the show on the ground level would have just kept us sitting in the barracks.”

Fox obtained a Nov. 3 email, in which a FEMA administrator in Washington urged regional officials to get the workers in the field once learning they had nothing to do.

“My people are being told to go sightseeing," the e-mail said, according to Fox. "They may have a mission in 2-4 days .... I am asking them to reach out to contacts there that may be able to use their expertise ... We will continue to seek these opportunities as otherwise these personnel resources will be wasted ... Please advise way ahead ..."

When told of the worker's complaints, a FEMA official told Fox that delays occurred in getting responders in the field but said the time was mostly spent firming-up training and accommodations.

“I’m not going to say we couldn’t have done better,” Michael Byrne, a FEMA federal coordinating officer, told Fox. “I can understand the emotional commitment. They want to jump right in and start with the effort. I feel the same way.

“The time was used to find the best place for them and for quick-training," Byrne told Fox. "There were logistical challenges but we have been fully engaged in the areas since then.”

Byrne said that at least 800 FEMA workers were still in the field helping Sandy victims, according to Fox.

Both residents and government officials have criticized FEMA for its response to Superstorm Sandy.

"Hurricane Sandy should be a major wake-up call,” New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Fox reports.

Nadler’s district in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn contains some of the hardest-hit areas.

"When disaster strikes, our densely populated urban areas and economic centers must be able to recover quickly," he said, according to Fox.

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