Hurry up and wait.
That’s what first responders were left to do after being deployed by FEMA toÂ assist in the storm-ravaged areas in the initial days after superstorm Sandy,Â FoxNews.com has learned. A FEMA worker who spoke to FoxNews.com described aÂ chaotic scene at New Jersey’s Fort Dix, where emergency workers arrived as theÂ storm bore down on the Atlantic Coast. The worker said officials at the stagingÂ area were unprepared and told the incoming responders there was nothing for themÂ to do for nearly four days.
“They told us to hurry, hurry, hurry,” the worker, who works at the agency’sÂ headquarters in Washington and volunteered to deploy for the storm recoveryÂ effort. “We rushed to Fort Dix, only to find out that our liaison didn’t evenÂ know we were coming.”
“The regional coordinator even said to us, ‘I don’t know why you were rushedÂ here because we don’t need you,’” said the worker, who spoke out of frustrationÂ with the lack of planning and coordination following the devastating storm.
After arriving in New Jersey, the worker and others waited for three fullÂ days and parts of another, even as reports dominated the television of theÂ devastation and suffering wrought by the storm, which struck land on Oct. 29.Â When they asked for assignments, they couldn’t believe the response, accordingÂ to the worker.
“They told us to go to the Walmart nearby or to check out the area but toldÂ us to stay out of the areas affected by the storm,” the worker said. “If ourÂ boss back at headquarters had not been alerted and didn’t make a push to get usÂ assignments, the people running the show on the ground level would have justÂ kept us sitting in the barracks.”
In a Nov. 3 email obtained by FoxNews.com, an administrator back inÂ Washington urged the regional team to get his people into the field afterÂ learning they were idled..
“My people are being told to go sightseeing,” the e-mail reads. “They mayÂ have a mission in 2-4 days …. I am asking them to reach out to contacts thereÂ that may be able to use their expertise … We will continue to seek theseÂ opportunities as otherwise these personnel resources will be wasted … PleaseÂ advise way ahead …”
Told of the worker’s complaints, a FEMA official acknowledged that there wereÂ delays in getting responders out into the field but said the time was mostlyÂ spent firming up training and accommodations.
“I’m not going to say we couldn’t have done better,” Michael Byrne, a FEMAÂ federal coordinating officer, told FoxNews.com. “I can understand the emotionalÂ commitment. They want to jump right in and start with the effort. I feel theÂ same way.
“The time was used to find the best place for them and for quick-training,”Â he said. “There were logistical challenges but we have been fully engaged in theÂ areas since then.”
But that didn’t jibe with the account of the worker, who said theÂ much-maligned agency seemed more organized during the aftermath of HurricaneÂ Katrina.
“When there’s disaster, every second counts,” the worker said. “That clockÂ starts ticking once the storm makes landfall.
“I worked in Katrina and Katrina was run better than Sandy.”
Even after FEMA workers were finally sent out from Fort Dix, many did notÂ have useful information to convey to victims, said the worker.
“They are put out in the field and they don’t know what to tell people,” theÂ worker said. “Survivors will fall through the cracks.”
Byrne, who noted there are still 800 FEMA workers in the field helpingÂ victims recover, said the responders he dealt with were generallyÂ well-prepared.
“If there were other people who weren’t able to help, I’d like to know whoÂ they are,” he said. “We can always do better, but they have done a great job onÂ short notice.”
The agency has come under fire from residents and elected leaders, includingÂ Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)–who represents some of the hardest hit areas in lowerÂ Manhattan and Brooklyn. He recently told the House Transportation andÂ Infrastructure Committee that FEMA is not prepared to respond effectively toÂ disasters, especially in urban areas.
“Hurricane Sandy should be a major wake-up call,” Nadler said. “When disasterÂ strikes, our densely populated urban areas and economic centers must be able toÂ recover quickly.”
Source: Fox News