LINCROFT, N.J. – The devastating aftermath of Superstorm Sandy left survivors and businesses in New Jersey with large-scale recovery needs. Throughout the year, the state’s private sector has made significant contributions to the recovery process and continues to play a key role.
More than 600 businesses, utility companies, banks, insurance companies, colleges and universities, and professional organizations stood with local, state and federal agencies, voluntary agencies and faith-based organizations to strengthen the recovery efforts.
They disseminated information about disaster assistance to 7.2 million New Jersey residents through bill inserts, newsletters, signage and other means.
“One fast-food chain, which asked to remain anonymous, distributed 7,000 sandwiches with disaster-assistance information at 32 distribution points in three counties,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Gracia Szczech of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “That’s just one example of how essential the private sector is to a strong recovery effort.”
Immediately after Sandy struck, specialists with FEMA’s Private Sector Division in External Affairs deployed to New Jersey to work with chambers of commerce, industry associations, individual companies, colleges and universities and other organizations.
Response was immediate. Utility companies inserted messages in billing statements, reaching 3.3 million customers. The South Jersey Transportation Authority featured registration information on its Vehicle Messaging Systems at toll plazas, and the ticker messaging system on its website, reaching an estimated 2.9 million people a month.
Chambers, associations and businesses shared FEMA’s electronic newsletter (the E-News Update) for the private sector stakeholders with their memberships and contacts. The access to recovery information proved invaluable to their members and had far-reaching effects.
“To have the opportunity to interact directly with representatives, ask questions and get answers has helped not only members, but their clients as well,” said New Jersey Association of Realtors Chief Executive Officer Jarrod Grasso. “The recovery process in the aftermath of Sandy has not been easy, but getting the correct facts to our members has relieved a great deal of the uncertainty related to flood maps, insurance and elevation that so many New Jersey residents felt."
Two FEMA program areas, Private Sector and the Federal Disaster Recovery Coordination group, facilitated an Insurance Industry Roundtable. The resulting public-private partnership engaged the insurance industry in a series of four meetings to explore how to enhance and expedite the disaster assistance process. A roundtable work group identified issues impeding the process and then developed recommendations that were submitted to President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.
The private sector reached out in more basic ways as well. Sometimes it was as simple as offering a space to work. Operation Photo Rescue, a nonprofit organization of volunteer photojournalists from around the country, wanted to help Sandy survivors restore treasured photos. The organization began helping disaster survivors during Hurricane Katrina recovery. Volunteers need to set up a temporary shop close enough for survivors to access the free services.
“Finding a place for us to host our copy run was turning into a major problem as we could not secure a building close enough to where Sandy hit,” said Operation Photo Rescue President Margie Hayes. “We were coming up empty handed until Chris Spyridon, regional pro sales manager for Home Depot, offered us space at a Home Depot in Seaside Heights.”
The business of recovery is long-term, and an important part of that is preparedness, which not only helps individuals survive a disaster but can help businesses endure as well. FEMA’s Private Sector specialists have covered the state to help executives and officials understand the need for a continuity plan so work continues once the emergency is over. Montclair State University recorded FEMA’s preparedness webinar to share with all of New Jersey’s colleges and universities.
Amy Ferdinand, the university’s director of Environmental Health and Safety, said, “With the recent trend of ever-increasing disasters – whether natural or manmade – being the ‘new normal,’ there is a definite need among business leaders and stakeholders to become better informed on the topic of continuity and business planning.”
Next in the One Year Later series: the role of Environmental and Historic Preservation in disaster recovery.
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