Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s taken the lead on criticizing the Obama Administration’s disaster response following Hurricane Sandy. He’s actually compared the disaster response from Sandy to the response by the Bush Administration to Hurricane Katrina and found the Bush Administration response to be better.
It’s time for a fact check.
That’s the same Rudy Giuliani who agreed with Bloomberg to hold the NYC marathon. “Mayor Bloomberg made the right decision to go forward with the marathon” - Rudy Giuliani on Fox News.
That’s the same response that led to so many on Staten Island raising holy hell, the New York Post to lambaste Bloomberg, and for Bloomberg to reverse course less than 48 hours before the marathon and cancelled it. Of course, even after the marathon was cancelled, not all of the equipment, including generators, was made available for disaster response. Some of it was still sitting in place in Central Park and elsewhere, even as Mayor Bloomberg now warns those without power that the cold could end up being a killer.
Rudy, the city’s response to the disaster is decidedly mixed.
Bloomberg could very well have his Mayor Nagin memorial motor pool moment courtesy of his inane decision to run the marathon and subsequent cancellation with less than 48 hours notice all while equipment and material from the marathon wasn’t brought to bear to help relieve suffering of those in need.
However, the Sanitation Department has been pulling its weight and clearing debris throughout the City. The NYPD and FDNY have been doing tremendous work in keeping the city safe - crime is actually down 30% despite scattered reports of looting.
The MTA has done a phenomenal job in getting service restarted, despite catastrophic and unprecedented damage to the subway system.
Bloomberg’s performance leaves much to be desired. Staten Island and the outer boroughs - Rockaways, Southern Brooklyn and Queens, are a mess and it will take months and years to bring those areas back to normal (if ever - and one can see how damage from major storms rewrote the geography and demographics of places like Homestead FL and towns up and down the Gulf Coast).
Disaster response means getting all the various parts to speak to each other and work together with a common goal. That’s working in spots. But when Con Ed can’t get to its utilities to restring lines for power because of debris but the Sanitation Department can’t get into areas because of energized downed power lines, you begin to understand the conundrum of restoring power in a natural disaster.
Still, despite this, the MTA got the Staten Island railway up and running and buses are again moving through the borough. That’s a whole lot better than it was, but the job’s nowhere near done or complete.
Even with the heroic efforts of the NYPD, FDNY, and Sanitation Departments, there’s not enough of a local, state and federal presence in those areas. It’s coming, but not fast enough, and the damage is hard to comprehend.
Trying to compare Katrina to Sandy is apples to oranges. Population densities are a completely different tale. While Katrina’s damage was on a scale never before seen in the US, the Gulf Coast has a population density of 178 people per square mile. New Jersey’s got 1,189 inhabitants per square mile. New York City? 26,403 people per square mile. By comparison, the current population density of New Orleans is a fraction of that with 1,965 per square mile. It needs a completely different scale of response.
Still, it’s kinda tough to hear GOPers complain about the pace of FEMA assistance when they have been busy complaining and calling for FEMA to be disbanded/privatized, etc. Or, disaster response should be devolved to the state level, so that when a disaster strikes, the very government that’s supposed to help can’t because their resources were wiped out by the disaster they’re supposed to address. The same people who would seek to eliminate FEMA are the same ones complaining they aren’t there fast enough and aren’t taking steps to make sure it’s funded in a way that it could respond with sufficient numbers to assist those in need.
FEMA arrived on Staten Island within 4 days of the storm. Is that fast enough? Hardly. Could they have gotten there faster? Possibly, until you realize that if they pre-positioned in the hardest hit areas, they would have suffered the same fate as so many of the very residents they’re supposed to try and assist. That means watching entire shorelines vanish. Homes moved off their foundations. Entire neighborhoods impassible with debris and damage and downed lines.
Blaming FEMA is the easy way out. And one doesn’t have to see a FEMA agent on the ground to be able to get FEMA assistance either. In most cases, getting a phone call in to the agency is sufficient to get the response system started - 1-800-621-FEMA. Even the response trucks and door-to-door response is geared to getting people to call in to FEMA to deal with their disaster needs.
It’s not perfect, and seeing people with their FEMA uniforms/jackets is a comforting thought to those who have seen everything turned upside down, and that’s where having more boots on the ground can help.