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Jersey City and hurricane Sandy Gleaning from what occurred so we can improve service delivered to the community, enhance accountability to the public, and make local government work more effectively in crisis
In Summary… Hurricane Sandy has had a profound effect on our community. While the problems and challenges are still fresh in our memory, it behooves us to identify what went well, what problems could have been prevented or mitigated, and what actions we can take now to improve our response to future crises. Here are some of the challenges we need to understand and address: ▪ Communication. The lack of clear, specific, and regular communications between authorities and the population affected was a major issue as the disaster unfolded and in the powerless days following. The digests from the daily calls between PSE&G and local authorities also points to the same problems. Local firemen and police had no information to offer when they were asked for updates or news. There is no single number, such as a 311 service, where citizens can get accurate up to date information or report non-emergency issues. There are many ways to address these critical components in the future, both procedural as well as technological. This should be our top priority. ▪ Relief Organization and Coordination. In the storm’s aftermath, there was some assistance offered. Was there a central coordinator for the city? What established organizations helped and how? What about grassroots efforts in local areas? How could the population find needed assistance? ▪ Managing non-Governmental groups, such as utilities. PSE&G showed several communications and planning problems throughout the crisis. Automated notification systems did not work and need basic corrections, the utility could not give basic information covering which customers are serviced by which substations. Time estimates for service recovery were either non-existent or too open-ended. Were regular prevention measures carried out such as tree trimming? Why was it days before mobile substations were brought in?
In Summary…(continued) ▪ Physical Infrastructure survey and improvement. Sections of Jersey City were harder hit than others. While power outages nearly covered the entire city, some low-lying sections were severely damaged and will require extensive repair. These areas need to be surveyed, perhaps by FEMA or the Army Corps of Engineers, and we need a comprehensive plan on how to repair these areas as soon as possible to meet FEMA funding guidelines and deadlines. Additionally these plans should include changes or improvements so future storms result in no (or minimal) physical damage or impact. ▪ Evacuation and Sheltering. No one wants to leave their home and go to a shelter. Their homes are left open to vandalism or theft, and shelters are notorious for their lack of privacy and safety. However, there are times when this becomes a necessity. We need to plan now to provide safe and secure shelters, with a ‘no pet left behind policy’, in concert with law enforcement plans to guard at risk properties so that those who have to evacuate can do so with reduced fear and trepidation. ▪ Transportation Alternatives and Contingency Planning. Gas shortages, cars floating like toys in a bathtub, PATH service suspended, parts of the city cut off due to flooding: these are just some of the un-expected problems many Jersey City-ites faced. We are fortunate that Jersey City has a robust and varied public transportation infrastructure, and we need to capitalize on this. We need to put in place an action plan to ensure bus service can replace some car traffic. Our traffic lights should be upgraded so they can work when there is a major power outage. A gasoline reserve needs to be setup (perhaps at the county level) and maintained. There needs to be a review of the laws governing private transportation firms and what city and county government can do in crisis to leverage these resources.
In Summary…(continued) ▪ Reporting and post-event Feedback. Now is the time to gather and report on what went right and what went wrong. Reporting should be done in a meaningful way, perhaps starting off with simple time-to-service-resolution numbers for our city as well as ward-by-ward reports. By reviewing what data we can get now, we can also see what we ‘would have wanted’ to know and formulate an action plan on how to capture those metrics in the future. Also we need to involve the public in a meaningful and measurable way. We should create and disseminate a thorough survey to gather as many datapoints – as many Jersey City-ites – as we can. Not only asking for 1-10 ratings on specific points, but to also gather new ideas on how this crisis was managed, and what to change in the future. ▪ Futures and Preventative Measures. Which logically brings us to what do we do next. What do we need to do: – For on-going preventative measures – To fix system problems and bugs, both at the city level as well as at PSE&G – What DR or Disaster Recovery plans need to be updated (most people no longer have POTS lines so they cannot be reached by conventional phones, for example), and when and how should the city hold DR drills and tests – How can we communicate back to our citizens that we learned from our mistakes, we have made specific corrections based on careful analysis as well as survey input and we are ready for when the next crisis hits?
Create Focused Teams to deliver results ▪ Each area we have listed represents a long list of items to be addressed. They can be sorted or categorized in the following ways: 1. Priority based on number of people impacted 2. Priority based on severity of impact to individuals 3. Difficulty to change or improve 4. Cost to change or improve. ▪ Who can ? – List the issues – Define impact for each of the 4 categories above – Determine a list of possible solutions – Work through those solutions to pick the best and optimal solution – Get the work done, implement that solution – Report back on a regular basis the progress made, and that solutions have been delivered Answer: Focused Teams, with members who have a vested interest in finding a solution, actioning items, and delivering results.
Set up a simple framework for Focused Teams ▪ Designate a Team Leader ▪ Pre-define a reporting format, such as the following: – Issue Description – Where the problem lies (w the City, PSE&G, etc.) – Possible Solutions – Actual Solution with implementation plan and due date – Follow-up steps to ensure solution is met and issue has been resolved or mitigated. ▪ Define how progress and results will be updated and reported transparently to anyone who wants to review it ▪ Schedule set interim progress reviews where the Focused Team presents current status to a larger group – perhaps a summit of all the teams - and set deadlines against actionable items to drive progress.
Makeup of these teams Communication Should include City IT dept. member, Police and Fire dept. communications representatives, PSE&G senior IT dept. member, senior IT staff from a few larger local businesses, a few local citizens with applicable expertise. Relief Organization and Coordination Should include City Department of Health & Human Services dept. member, representatives from the National Guard, representatives from local relief organizations, a few local citizens with applicable expertise. Managing non-Governmental groups, such as utilities Should include City Department of Public Works. Member, PSE&G senior member, Other utilities, such as United Water, representatives, a few local citizens with applicable expertise. Physical Infrastructure survey and improvement Should include City Department of Public Works. Member, FEMA and/or Army Corps of Engineers, Owners of larger downtown properties damaged by the storm, a few local citizens with applicable expertise. Evacuation and Sheltering Should include City Department of Health & Human Services dept. member, Police and Fire dept. communications representatives, representatives from the National Guard, representatives from local relief organizations, a few local citizens with applicable expertise. Transportation Alternatives and Contingency Planning Should include City Department of Public Works dept. member, Police and Fire dept. communications representatives, PATH senior dept. member, NY Waterways senior dept. member, NJ Transit senior dept. member, a few local citizens with applicable expertise.
Makeup of these teams (continued) Reporting and post-event Feedback Should include City IT dept. member, City Council members, senior IT staff from a few larger local businesses, a few local citizens with applicable expertise. Futures and Preventative Measures Should include City Department of Health & Human Services dept. member, City Department of Public Works. Member, PSE&G senior member, Other utilities, such as United Water, representatives, City IT dept. member, City Council members, a few local citizens with applicable expertise.
Managing the entire process Coordination of these efforts will be a herculean task. As daunting as that is, it must: • Be done effectively • Start as soon as possible • And most importantly in a transparent manner so that anyone – any taxpayer - can easily read team reports The Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEM) and the City Council should be shouldered with this responsibility, along with again a few local citizens with applicable expertise. When do we get started??