Massive FEMA supply chain failures have resulted in shortages of bottled water, food, gasoline, shelter,power and clothing across New Jersey and metropolitan New York, where victims of Hurricane Sandy are angrily calling President Obama's response no better--and in some regards worse--than President Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.
The unfolding debacle, broadcast around the country and the world in graphic and compelling images, has swept away any political advantage the President may have received from his brief 90 minute photo op in New Jersey this past Wednesday, October 31, where he promised to deliver needed supplies and "cut the red tape."
Despite the President's promises, on the following day, Thursday, November 1, three days after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, New York City, and Long Island, a solitary FEMA employee strolled through stacks of bottled water stored in the vast FEMA warehouse in Atlanta, Georgia, (pictured above) located more than 800 miles from the Lakehurst, New Jersey Naval Air Station that had been designated as a FEMA "advance staging" location. These supplies, which included pre-packaged meals as well as bottled water, should have been delivered to New Jersey days before the storm, but three days after the storm they languished in FEMA's Georgia warehouse.
The Obama administration and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate talked a good game in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but their on-the-ground performance has failed to match their promises. Despite FEMA's highly publicized "lean forward" strategy, which claims the agency will "advance stage" needed inventory supplies near anticipated storm locations prior to the the storm's arrival, the agency failed to have bottled water or any emergency supplies positioned in Lakehurst, or any other "advance staging" locations until Tuesday, October 30, the day after Hurricane Sandy hit shore last Monday.
Fugate is offering no explanation why FEMA failed to take this critical preparation.
A week before Hurricane Sandy hit, FEMA officials knew that landfall would come in the vicinity of metropolitan New York. Despite this knowlege, FEMA failed to move bottled water and other emergency supplies from their massive Georgia and Maryland warehouses to New Jersey.
When supplies finally arrived in Lakehurst on Tuesday, they were modest, and apparently, not immediately made available for local distribution. Indeed, the first bottled water that arrived in many of the communities of New Jersey's eastern shore didn't arrive until Thursday, and those supplies didn't come from the FEMA distribution center. Instead, they were half a million units of bottled water donated by Nestle's America on their own account without any apparent prior planning by FEMA and stored in the local Somerset, New Jersey warehouse prior to local distribution. This video documents the arrival of Nestle's donated water that day:
Similarly, the first major distribution of bottled water and pre-packaged meals did not take place in New York City until Thursday afternoon because the flight carrying the supplies didn't arrive at JFK Airport in New York until Thursday morning.
Why hadn't FEMA supplies been moved from warehouses in Georgia and Maryland to advance staging locations in New Jersey and New York well before the storm hit? Had they been pre-positioned, as FEMA claims its policy requires, local distribution in hard hit areas could have begun immediately on Tuesday morning, within 24 hours of the storm hitting.
Based on his response to a question posed by Betsy Klein of NBC News, found at the 9:08 mark of the FEMA and Red Cross Conference Call on Response to Hurricane Sandy held with the media on Saturday, November 3, FEMA Administrator Fugate appears to be unfamiliar with the details of the problems within his own supply chain that existed before, during, and after the storm:
NBC's Betsy Klein: There's a report this morning that FEMA doesn't have enough water to distribute to volunteers and is soliciting vendors looking for 2.3 million gallons of bottled water by Monday. Is that the case? And is that the normal procedure? How does this usually work?
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate: We are sourcing water. We go out and contract with vendors for water. We already had the water that was initially staged and based upon the demand that was there that the state had. We were sourcing 1 million gallons of water addition a day.
FEMA... We have some that we maintain in warehouses but once we go into response we have pre-negotiated, pre-bid contracts that are in effect, and we turn those contracts on and go to our vendors and say we want the water delivered at this rate to these locations. So we are activating those contracts.
And this is addition to the water we store that's first out the door, and then once we start operations we’ll start ordering water based upon the anticipated demand of the states impacted.
These are pre-determined pre-negotiated standing contracts that once the disaster starts we place those orders to keep the re-supply flowing.
But contrary to Fugate's claims, there simply was no "water that was initially staged" by FEMA. When the storm hit, all the FEMA bottled water was in its Georgia or Maryland warehouses. The request for proposal sent out hurriedly on Friday, November 2 for an additional 2.3 million gallons of bottled water, for delivery to Long Island on Monday, November 5, was not a pre-negotiated, pre-bid contract "turned on" that day according to a FEMA master plan. Instead, it was an example of FEMA scrambling after the fact to meet the needs of victims that it should have planned for weeks earlier.
In addition, Fugate's claim that "once we go into response we have pre-negotiated, pre-bid contracts that are in effect, and we turn those contracts on and go to our vendors and say we want the water delivered at this rate to these locations," is not supported by the facts surrounding the request for proposal that was made on Friday, November 2 upon which the Breitbart report referenced by NBC's Klein was based.
Indeed, that request for proposal, which can be seen here, was an open bid available to any vendors interested in bidding. All of the vendors for the request for proposal, FEMA contracting officer Annette Wright told Breitbart News on Friday, "are currently being evaluated." Presumably, the vendor was selected some time over the weekend so they could fulfill the delivery requirement of Monday.
The language of the request for proposal clearly stated that it was neither "pre-negotiated" nor "pre-bid." In fact, it was a hurriedly put together "open bid:
"THIS ACQUISITON IS SET ASIDE FOR FULL AND OPEN COMPETITON. . .This requirement is being solicited as a Full and Open Competition using Simplified Acquisition Procedures per FAR subpart 13. The small business standard for NAICS 311422 is $7.0 million. This requirement is for a firm-fixed price contract. Award will be based on best value buy which includes price, shipment and delivery. Responses to the combined synopsis/solicitation due date is 02 Nov 2012 by 4:00pm EST...."
"Award will be made on a lowest price technically acceptable basis. . .If the vendor does not have active representations and certifications registered online, they will be disqualified from being considered for award."
The contracting office for this request for proposal is located in Atlanta, Georgia, location of the FEMA warehouse.
In light of these dramatic FEMA failings, many New York and New Jersey residents share the sentiments of Chris Damon, who told the Associated Press on Saturday "“I feel like a victim of Hurricane Katrina. I never thought it could happen here in New York, but it’s happened.”:
“It’s chaos; it’s pandemonium out here,” said Chris Damon, who had been waiting for 3 1/2 hours at the site and had circled the block five times. “It seems like nobody has any answers.”
Damon, 42, had already been displaced to Brooklyn from his home in Queens, where he still lacked power, as did millions outside Manhattan – from Staten Island, the hardest-hit borough, to Westchester County and other suburban areas.
“The priorities are showing, simply by the fact that Manhattan got their power back,” he said, adding that Staten Islanders are used to being lower on the list. “We’re the bastard kids who keep getting slapped in the head and told to shut up,” he said.
Even Mayor Bloomberg's tardy decision to cancel Sunday's New York City Marathon backfired, due to organizational incompetence, as the New York Post reported:
Much-needed generators sat idle all day yesterday in a rental company’s New Jersey parking lot after they were moved from the Staten Island staging area of the New York City Marathon — less than two miles from some of superstorm Sandy’s hardest-hit victims.
A truck carrying 19 generators pulled out early yesterday from Fort Wadsworth and drove to Linden, NJ, where they sat unused for five hours before being hauled to National Grid’s Far Rockaway power station.
The time-wasting move came the day after Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson claimed that all assets from the canceled marathon “will be redeployed to people who need it.”
Responsibility for the multiple disasters rests squarely on the shoulders of the Obama administration, and many Hurricane Sandy victims are not hesitant to voice their dissatisfaction with the President, FEMA, and Mayor Bloomberg. On Saturday, President Obama's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Brian Donovan ventured into hard hit Rockaway Queens, and his words of reassurance were met with derision and disdain by the locals.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan: "The Rockaways are absolutely not forgotten...This morning at 8 am I was with the President, the entire cabinet, Craig Fugate, we were talking about the Rockaways."
NY1 Television reporter Grace Rauh: "What these people want isn't talk, they want action."
As NY1's Rauh concluded, residents of New York and New Jersey are sick of talk. They want action, and they're not seeing nearly enough one week after Hurricane Sandy hit.
The entire nation is now seeing the Obama administration's failed response to Hurricane Sandy for what it truly is: a series of press conferences between self-congratulatory politicians and bureaucrats intent on following processes and paperwork, but entirely incapable of delivering food, water, supplies, and power on the ground to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in a timely manner.
George Bush performed better when Hurricane Katrina hit.