Tuesday, Nov. 13 2012 5:51PM
Mosby sees hurricane devastation firsthand
Council member is a FEMA employee deployed to New York
By Russ Pulley
Lee’s Summit Councilmember Dave Mosby couldn’t do much, directly, for the Far Rockaway, N.Y. woman who was standing outside her basement home.
Superstorm Sandy caused seven feet of sewage to flood her rooms, ruining all the worldly possessions of hers and a 9-year-old son’s.
“Even her camera so she couldn’t take pictures of the damage for the insurance company,” Mosby said.
Her belongings were piled in the street along with other household’s ruined stuff: mattresses, furniture, clothes, appliances, soaked drywall, ruins of all sorts, being scooped by front-end loaders.
“It is a whole community of just debris,” Mosby said in a telephone interview Nov. 12. “She was crying. It was just awful. I asked her if a hug would be all right. She said ‘hugs are always good,’ I gave her a big hug.”
She explained the household was still without power, 13 days after the storm hit. She told Mosby that upstairs lives a relative with Alzheimer’s disease who is combative, so the mother and son can’t stay there and had to make the basement their home.
Mosby and other workers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency are knocking on doors, contacting people to help them start recovering their lives.
Mosby is working 12-hour days, seven days a week as part of the national response to help the northeast region recover after the hurricane that clobbered New York City.
He is a safety officer for FEMA’s Kansas City region, a job he’s held about a year.
Mosby said the agency made a massive response to the hurricane, sending 95 percent of its personnel from their regular assignments to assist on the eastern seaboard, in addition to other federal employees from the Department of Homeland Security, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Marshals.
“A tremendous amount of interagency people,” Mosby said. “It’s called a full surge.”
Mosby’s job is to brief workers on safety measures to follow as they go to a particular area. He gets reports on local conditions, decides on necessary equipment for logistics personnel to procure and briefs his colleagues.
FEMA workers are split into teams who disperse into the communities to survey damage and help homeowners and community officials start applications for relief from damages, acting much like an insurance company, he said. Mosby goes into the field to watch operations, he said, because responders concentrating on helping others can forget to be careful of their own safety. He’s looking for hazards such as downed electrical wires.
Aside from general wreckage, he’s seen boats tossed far up the shore line and watched residents cope.
Mosby sleeps in a berth on a troop-carrying ship, the T.S. Empire State, with about 400 other FEMA workers.
“Two-foot-deep rectangles stacked three high,” Mosby said.
The ship is docked at Throggs Neck, N.Y., on the edge of the Bronx, he said, and FEMA employees the fan out from there to their assigned area for the day.
He said New Yorkers are upset with delays in solving infrastructure and supply problems. Many buildings had power restored, only to have it knocked out by the nor’easter which followed a few days after Sandy. And long gasoline lines were frustrating.
“I waited in gas line for two hours in the storm,” Mosby said. “It’s brutal.”
Mosby said he hasn’t had much time to think of what lessons he might bring back to Lee’s Summit.
A couple of weeks ago he’d been thinking about the issue and started asking city staff about Lee’s Summit’s emergency preparations.
While Mosby is in New York, other council members on Nov. 8 were getting training from the Lee’s Summit Fire Department on the National Incident Management System, used by the department and mandated by the federal government.
Assistant Chief John Spencer told the council members that the Incident Command System is set up so emergency response departments across the nation will be working with the same procedures and use common language to avoid misunderstandings. That training is required so that city officials understand what is happening and their role in a disaster, Spencer said.
Mosby said Lee’s Summit’s fire and police departments have solid plans in place for the initial response, as did first responders in New York.
But recovery from a disaster of huge scale is another matter, he said, because the problems become regional.
It takes time and difficult logistics to bring fuel and food from other areas. Setting aside material to make Lee’s Summit independently ready would be impractical.
“It’s expensive,” Mosby said. “Could Lee’s Summit afford to have a month’s supply of food or gasoline stored for about a third of its population? How do you do that? I don’t know.”