On October 29, 2012, the United States faced the deadliest natural disaster since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Sandy combined forces with a cold front blowing down from the Arctic across the Midwest. This front electrified the hurricane into a deadly super storm as it raged past the Northeast. The hardest hit states were Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, with current disaster relief reporting over 100 people dead and damages totaling over $60 million. While super storm Sandy blew open buildings, tearing up land and civilization with mighty shows of physical destruction, the 2012 election season reached its yearlong crest of political divisions within America’s internal framework. Political pundits and zealous partisans spent millions of dollars and countless hours quarreling over whose party is destroying America, issuing dire predictions of imminent economic and social collapse. Hurricane Sandy’s fervor matched this internal pitch, promising widespread calamity. But when her time here ended, Americans put down their pitchforks and, instead of wallowing in end-times despair, we came together to persevere.
On Wednesday, October 31, 2012, the day after Sandy’s departure, Democrat President Barack Obama toured New Jersey’s most devastated areas with Republican Governor Chris Christie. The pair surveyed the damage and discussed how much and what kind of hurricane relief would be necessary and what a recovery timeline might look like. Gov. Chris Christie, a future Republican presidential candidate himself, would assert in later interviews how much relief efforts trumped divisive politicking, commending the President on his aide to New Jersey and other Sandy-ravished areas, and condemning the hurricane’s use as a political tool. Gov. Christie’s remarks and actions reflected the attitudes and activities of his and nearby states’ constituents, for when disaster strikes Americans don’t yell about red and blue party lines, they step up and come together to create solutions.
The diversity in relief efforts reflects this unity, and it is this diversity in tactics that will quicken and strengthen rebuilding. From the federal government and state government came many promises of tax and economic relief along with the deployment of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This government agency deployed by President Obama and directed by state Governors and local governments organizes various search and rescue teams, situation awareness, communications and logistic support, mobilizing staff to inspect and identify damages to homes and businesses in order to assess necessary materials to expedite residential and commercial recovery. While the federal government sent in outside professionals and materials to states and counties, these states and counties were busy deploying their own medical, emergency, and technological-oriented teams, scrambling to restore electrical and water outages throughout the northeast.
In tandem with government output, local and national non-profits and organizations swooped in to alleviate citizen suffering. National non-profit The American Red Cross, whose mission statement is emergency relief aide, organized national donations and volunteers by way of mobile kitchens and emergency response vehicles, distributing meals and relief items and opening shelters throughout the disaster zones. The American Red Cross is a massive organization who, like FEMA, has been criticized for being both slow to respond and failing to respond entirely in hard to reach areas. Imperfections many attribute to the sheer structural nightmare of huge organizations trying to efficiently allocate incoming supplies and people. At these points where both The American Red Cross and FEMA began lacking immediate adequacy, front line groups like Occupy Sandy stepped up into the fray. Occupy Sandy, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall St. movement, utilized local networks and social media to create immediate relief stations in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The non-structure of Occupy Sandy and its insistence on collaborative and not directive work, as in not telling a community what it needs but instead coordinating with community and by the community to create reflective disaster relief methods, gave it a flexibility to begin work at the core and move outwards, just as FEMA and The American Red Cross worked from the outside in. In between the front line groups and national organizations were the simple American neighbors. A photo circulated days after recovery work began featured power strips hanging over a Hoboken resident’s fence, a sign above the electrical outlets said, “We have power. Please feel free to charge your phone!”
From neighbors offering the simple use of their electricity in bottom-up methods to the President of the United States issuing top-down relief, Americans came together through the crisis of Hurricane Sandy to provide whatever it was they could. People from outside the region flooded in donations for The American Red Cross, and people from within stepped up to help those immediately affected. Just as in politics, many Americans have different ideas on what might be the best relief methods. But, as these various relief efforts show, it is the combination of these many talents and efforts and ways of working that create effective recovery.
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