The International Association of Fire Chiefs still is gathering data on the response to Sandy.
A water main break in Baltimore during Superstorm Sandy.
Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast and inland areas at the end of October. The hurricane alone rated as the largest on record in the Atlantic, devastating portions of the Caribbean, the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. It also is the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history — surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — $20 billion to $50 billion in estimated damages.
Citizens continue to be stressed a week after the storm. Rich Kosmoski, president of the New Jersey Volunteer Fire Chiefs Association, said 40% of citizens in his hometown of Sayerville still were without power while contenting with below-freezing temperatures and snow from a nor'easter that followed Sandy. Personnel at the county's emergency operations center, housed at the Middlesex County Fire Academy, are distributing MREs, water, ice and more. Generators are providing power to all fire stations, keeping them operational for service and open for shelter to those evacuated by bus and/or by boat.
"Of course, you had people who didn't want to evacuate and wanted to say in their homes," Kosmoski said. "They were evacuated late when they couldn't handle it anymore and called for help. It put our responders in harm's way."
Houses damaged by trees and gas leaks were part of the response. Then as power came back, CO calls were received. In fact, many citizens had generators running in their basement and in their garages, which caused most of the problems, Kosmoski added.
Fire departments in lesser-affected Baltimore preplanned their emergency response days before, when forecasters predicted the massive hurricane, said Jim Clack, chief of the Baltimore Fire Department. The area suffered limited flooding and some destruction, but the fire department is used to addressing large incidents.
"We have a structured system on how we prepare for any large event, whether that is weather or a presidential visit," he said.
Radio communications on the nearly statewide 800 MHz system operated well, while a back-up VHF system was available if there was a failure. However, cellphone coverage was spotty, Clack said.
"We also experienced like most emergencies of this scale some spotty cell phone coverage," he said. "Personally, I carry two cell phones from two different providers since I was in Minneapolis and dealt with the I-35W bridge collapse … where cell sites get overwhelmed and you can't really use cell phones at least for the first few hours."
Thestill is gathering data on the response to Sandy. Ed Plaugher, the association's director of national programs, said it was too early to gauge a complete understanding of the response. However, the response has shown the improvements in preplanning and mutual-aid partnerships and "continues to point to the fact that our nation's level of preparedness has dramatically increased and improved."
"Organizations like the International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Emergency Management Association, National Governors Association, and our federal partners have dramatically improved the system of systems and because of this, I feel that the response to Sandy will exemplify how this seamless integration unfolds," Plaugher said.
Plaugher said storms like Sandy always provide an opportunity to do in-depth after action reviews.
"The IAFC is very much looking forward to the after action for Sandy and making sure that our pathways forward are getting affirmed in a positive way," he said. "There is a family of people working together. Each incident gives us the opportunity to divulge lessons learned and best practices."