Sandy Task Force – Anticipating Report Release

The federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force will be releasing its Strategy report in a week.  This Task Force, established by President Obama’s Executive Order, brings together a multitude of federal agencies; for a full list, see the EO.  The Executive Order charges the Task Force Chair, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shawn Donovan, in part, with “communicating and engaging with States, tribes, local governments, Members of Congress, other stakeholders and interested parties, and the public on matters pertaining to rebuilding in the affected region.”  Representing the New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management, I met with the Task Force in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2013 to present on-the-ground testimony on observations seven months following Hurricane Sandy landfall.  The Task Force members and  aids, present and on the phone, were engaged in what I had to say.  They have a difficult task: to highlight the positive outcomes of the recovery while noting improvements to be made for the next “next time.”

Sea Wall Overtop.

Destruction from Hurricane Sandy Waves Overtopping Sea Wall in Sea Bright, NJ.

We use the word “resilience” over and over and I’m sure the Strategy report will repeat the term often.  But, what will the Task Force Strategy report say?  That the early use of the 60+ billion federal dollars (about $10 billion of those dollars to the National Flood Insurance Program) have made the Sandy affected area more resilient to another Hurricane?  Will it be a critical review of the resiliency successes and failures of our national disaster response?  Will it suggest modifications to existing programs, recommend additional higher standards in addition to the Base Flood Elevation + 1-foot, or favor more state actions to qualify for aid to increase resiliency?  We, as outsiders, are eager to know.

I envy the people of New York (State and City) in that concerted effort has been applied to long term disaster risk reduction planning,  and now comes the need for superior leadership to implement those high-minded goals.  Nine-months post-Sandy, we in New Jersey have unresolved opportunities to adapt to the threat of future storms.  What we need from the Task Force is a vision on how to address disasters certain in our future; how to engage experts in flood public policy; how to encourage pre-storm planning beyond FEMA Hazard Mitigation Plans to influence comprehensive (master) plans, zoning and land use; how to boost community capacity and mandatory base training to manage local responsibilities, how to champion federal higher standards (after all, the National Flood Insurance Program is opt-in), and, how government will acknowledge future conditions in standards.

John A. Miller, P.E., CFM, CSM
Water Resources Engineer
Certified Floodplain and Stormwater Manager
Associate – Princeton Hydro, Ringoes, New Jersey