From left: ACF personnel were on the ground after Superstorm Sandy hit. CAPT Mary Riley, Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response Director, Glen Karpovich, Region 2 Regional Emergency Management Specialist, Joyce Thomas, Region 2 Regional Administrator, and Nicole Richardson, from Region 2 Office of Head Start, helped coordinate services during the recovery effort.
By LT Allen Applegate, OHSEPR Planning Team Lead
It has been 206 days since Superstorm Sandy made landfall in coastal New Jersey and New York. Over the course of five days, 24 states from Florida to Maine and five ACF Regions were impacted by Sandy. Sandy caused over $70 billion in damage in the United States, the second costliest disaster in U.S. history according to the National Hurricane Center. Sandy also caused over six million people to lose power and damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes. According to the American Red Cross, at the peak of the storm over 7,000 were housed in shelters across the region.
Superstorm Sandy was an unprecedented storm that required an unprecedented response by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to support individuals, families, children and communities devastated by the storm. Superstorm Sandy led to the closure of the ACF Regional Office in New York for one week resulting in the first activation of ACF’s Continuity of Operations (COOP) plan and triggered devolution of critical functions to the ACF office in Boston for a short period of time.
Many ACF programs were impacted by Sandy, including a peak number of 697 child care provider closures and 86 Head Start Center closures throughout the region affected thousands of children.
Response and recovery activities, coordinated by the Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response, involved support from over 70 ACF staff from the Central Office in Washington, D.C., and all 10 Regional Offices throughout the country. Over 16,000 ACF staff hours were dedicated to response and recovery activities that continue to today.
To support the impacts states, the five impacted regions remained in contact with ACF Program Offices, state and Tribal human services and emergency management officials, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Department of Health and Human Services interagency partners, and program grantees to develop situational awareness and support response efforts. Particular attention was focused upon developing situational awareness regarding the status of early childhood programs, with the Office of Child Care (OCC) and the Office of Head Start (OHS) working with states and grantees respectively to assess the operational status of child care providers and Head Start and Early Head Start Centers.
To address this situational awareness gap, ACF deployed two teams of OCC, OHS, and Immediate Office of the Assistant Secretary (IOAS) specialists and a Regional Emergency Management Specialist to assess conditions on the ground and provide technical assistance as needed. The deployed ACF staff provided situational awareness briefings on a daily basis, visited the most severely affected Head Start/Early Head Start sites, met with program directors and administrators, determined operating status, discussed initial cost estimates with facilities staff, and finally provided support and guidance for program leadership on continuation plans to provide services to children and families at alternative sites.
In support of states struck by Sandy, ACF provided subject matter expertise in human services programs and the needs of children in disasters. ACF provided coordinated or assisted in convening two Statewide Children’s Task Forces for integrated response to the needs of children.
ACF – in partnership with FEMA – conducted three Disaster Case Management (DCM) assessments in the states of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. The ACF Immediate Disaster Case Management (IDCM) program was activated in the State of New Jersey which served over 4,000 households in the state before transitioning to a State-led program.
The numbers are staggering and while it has been over six months since the storm, the recovery work will continue for countless years to come.
The Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response (OHSEPR) provides leadership in human services preparedness, response, and recovery promoting resilience of individuals, families and communities prior to, during and after nationally declared disasters and public health emergencies.