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Commerce Agencies Participate in Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force

Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force

President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, chaired by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, released a rebuilding strategy to serve as a model for communities across the nation facing greater risks from extreme weather and to continue helping the Sandy-affected region rebuild.  The Commerce Department made significant contributions to the Rebuilding Strategy containing 69 policy recommendations that will help homeowners stay in and repair their homes, strengthen small businesses and revitalize local economies and ensure entire communities are better able to withstand and recover from future storms. 
The Rebuilding Strategy includes policy recommendations that will have a significant impact on how the region rebuilds and how we will improve our ability to withstand and recover effectively from future flood-related disasters across the country.

Federal agencies collected and disseminated vast quantities of scientific data that aided Hurricane Sandy preparation, response, and recovery. Interagency data sharing has been central to this process. Before the storm, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) worked with FEMA to deliver Geographical Information System (GIS)-ready storm surge depth grids and forecasts. After the storm, FEMA, state, and local emergency managers used aerial imagery collected by NOAA to guide evacuations, monitor local conditions, assess damages, and allocate response resources. Hours after the storm passed, NOAA also began surveying the waterways that lead to critical petroleum facilities within the Port of New York/New Jersey, helping to ensure safe navigation and restoring the flow of emergency fuel supplies by morning. Within five days, NOAA, working with the Coast Guard and Army Corps, restored maritime commerce, including transportation of food, fuel, and rebuilding supplies, to all major ports in the affected region.
The following examples are a sampling of how agency Sandy recovery efforts are providing valuable science-based information on how to strengthen resilient infrastructure, communities, and economies.
NOAA is advancing the integration of green infrastructure into Sandy recovery and resilience efforts by providing financial support, information, tools, and services for coastal communities. Sandy supplemental funding will support restoration and repair of a range of sensors and monitoring infrastructure damaged by the storm to inform modeling and predictive capabilities relative to sea level rise and flood surge. NOAA, USGS and Army Corps will further use supplemental funds to acquire data that will update East Coast land maps and nautical charts, which need to be remapped due to effects from the storm. Also with Sandy funding, NOAA will release Coastal Resilient Networks (known as CRest) grants to provide funding for community recovery and adaptation efforts. NOAA is also supporting an economic analysis of the benefits associated with natural shoreline restoration alternatives in the Sandy-affected region. These efforts and related information, tools, and training will support assessments and implementation of natural systems to reduce impacts of storms and provide guidance on integrating natural (e.g., living shorelines and wetlands restoration) and nature-based (e.g., sand dune ecosystem creation) approaches to increase resilience of coastal ecosystems and communities.   

To better prepare communities for future events, NOAA, FEMA and the Army Corps released a Sea Level Rise Tool that will arm communities with the best available data about sea level rise so they can take the necessary actions now – and not when it’s too late.Community-based and economic development organizations are on the front lines when disaster hits. These organizations have close relationships with local businesses and knowledge of their communities’ needs and assets.  The Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration (EDA), has a key role to play, as the coordinating agency for the Economic Recovery Support Function of the federal government’s National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF). Under it, EDA is responsible for integrating the economic recovery technical assistance resources of the federal government with state initiatives in order to reduce duplication of effort and promote more effective information sharing among all levels of government and the private sector. A key facet of implementing the NDRF is to focus on sharing information to troubleshoot gaps in recovery assistance. To help communities recover from Hurricane Sandy, EDA convened a number of “Economic Recovery Practitioner” conference calls; established working groups with key stakeholders from federal, state, academic, and private-sector organizations; and facilitated regular coordination meetings of federal and state partners to share recovery information and collaborate on common recovery objectives.
EDA also undertook initiatives to help communities share best-practice information—for example, by matching Sandy-impacted stakeholders with their counterparts who recovered from Hurricane Ike in 2008, and building on the experiences and knowledge of the commercial fishing industry that was impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to aid in recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy.
Additional EDA recovery efforts included convening “train-the-trainer” workshops on access to capital, organizing a tourism recovery peer-to-peer forum, and supporting collaborative efforts among federal and state governments and the private sector to build and reinforce disaster resilience capacity in local businesses and communities.

For more information and to read the Rebuilding Strategy, visit

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Rebuilding it better than it was before

Key to any rebuilding effort is attempting to rebuild structures, etc. better than they were before so that in the next onslaught, the rebuilt structures, etc. will be better able to withstand the forces that are unleashed. I lived in Okinawa, Japan for several years, and most of their structures were built in concrete, a much more durable building material, especially when reinforced with steel. Every effort should be made to research which building materials are the best for durability and strength, and incorporate them into the rebuilding process.