When disasters strike many people tend to focus on the actual event and immediate aftermath. This usually gets driven by both the local and national media. Adventure, excitement, tragedy… a news reporter seeks all these things. Pumping water out of a basement, doing demo work, and sheet rocking walls don’t hold many people’s attention unless their watching one of those Home Depot DIY videos.
New York’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy is an ongoing process. Recovery from these types of disasters are marathons, not sprints. A number of areas are still undergoing recovery efforts including Far Rockaway, Staten Island, and Nassau County’s Long Beach, Island Park, Lido Beach, and Point Look Out.
I have recently had the fortune (misfortune? depends on both the perspective and the moment) to help organize and manage one of these relief operations. To augment the Long Beach Fire Department there are 2 BLS and 2 ALS ambulances now stationed in the city 24/7 since December 1st, with no end date in sight. This type of minimalist/street corner operation has become my hallmark. Having run similar operations during special events, abroad during other disasters, and the same can often be said about my high performance/high efficiency garage’s day to day operations.
The city of Long Beach itself is on the mend. Having seen the ocean to the east rise up and meet the bay on the west, covering the entire island in water, recovery will indeed be a long road. There are signs of progress as more and more stores reopen, there are less and less piles of debris outside homes, and people can be seen walking around going about their business. I saw a sign that read “Welcome to Long Beach, Bruised But Not Broken” and found that sentiment to be the closest to the truth.
One of the things that I was really impressed with was the level of service the Long Island Fire Service volunteers were providing. Long Beach itself has a mixed Fire Department, 25 paid personnel and over 150 volunteers. Many of those volunteers had damage to their homes which has caused them to relocate out of the area leaving the department under staffed. Other departments have stepped up to help compensate for that. From all over Long Island, volunteers came to man the stations in 24 hours shifts with their apparatus.
It really drove home the difference between volunteers that are the primary providers of a service and the city volunteers who are, at best, a tertiary provider. The primary providers place a large requirement on their members to provide the service, and have some major incentives/reward systems to do so. While city volunteers may place an emphasis on providing the service, their incentives/reward systems are sub-par. Part of that is due to the fact that city volunteers are funded through donations and third-party billing, while the primary departments receive at least part of their funding through taxes.
Nevertheless, city volunteers need to move away from their subjective favoritism way of management and move more towards an objective achievement based model of operation if they hope to reverse their current course.