Houston Matters

How Does The Response To Harvey Compare To Hurricane Sandy?

After Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast in 2012, there were a lot of problems that FEMA said they’d fix. A reporter who covered that storm tells us how the federal response to Hurricane Harvey compares.

Sandy made landfall as a post-tropical cyclone near Brigantine, New Jersey (Oct. 2012). Because of its tremendous size, Sandy drove a catastrophic storm surge into the New Jersey and New York coastlines.

How has the federal response to Hurricane Harvey compared, so far, to the government’s response following so-called “Super Storm Sandy,” which hit the northeast in 2012. What lessons did FEMA learn between the two storms?

Reporter Charles Lane is asking those exact questions. He’s a reporter for WSHU in Fairfield, Conn., and his work on this subject has appeared on WNYC and NPR.

Lane joins us from New York to compare the response to Harvey with the response to Sandy.

Highlights From Our Conversation:

Charles Lane WSHU
Charles Lane has reported on the government response to Hurricane Sandy for public radio stations WSHU and WNYC.

What Happened After Sandy: Lane says there were accusations of fraud during the response to that storm, with forged engineer reports and general sloppiness in how claims were processed. That resulted in people who bought flood insurance policies getting shortchanged.

First Test After Reforms: After Sandy, FEMA implemented some reforms, and Harvey was the agency’s first time to see how they worked.

What He Saw In Houston: Lane says he saw a lot of the same issues that he saw post-Sandy. While he sometimes saw adjusters who spent two or three hours assessing a damaged house, he also saw plenty of adjusters who spent only 30-35 minutes. He acknowledged adjusters are stretched very thin these days responding to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Nevertheless, Lane says the system favors speed over accuracy, to the detriment of both homeowners and taxpayers. Many adjusters were inexperienced and made errors.

Why It Matters: The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is a government program paid for by taxpayers, but it’s operated by private, for-profit companies.

The Lesson For Homeowners: While the NFIP is codified in law, it’s still up to policy holders to prove the loss they suffered, and that is determined by adjusters. However, whether adjusters are properly trained, measure things correctly — or even miss an entire room — varies from case to case.

Situation In Progress: Lane says that while some of the lessons from Hurricane Sandy are very clear, it’s still far too early to write the book on the government response to Harvey. He adds time will tell “whether the speed will hurt either policy holders or taxpayers, but the same thing that caused the problems with Sandy we saw in Houston.”

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