Hurricane Sandy did little more than blow a bit in Washington County, but that has not hampered the efforts of business owners, public safety personnel and others to lend help to neighboring states in need. From fundraisers to collections of much needed supplies like diapers, county residents are spreading a little Thanksgiving spirit to those who need it most.
County specialists join incident team
Three Washington County residents with specialized skills were sent to New York City on October 31 to help with the effort. There they joined members of the Maine Forest Ranger Incident Management Team to assist in disaster recovery. The team was comprised of seven rangers, including Washington County resident and team leader Jeff Currier, Washington County Deputy Sheriff Michael St. Louis and Washington County Communications Specialist Josh Rolfe. The initial deployment period was for two weeks.
The team went to New York City to manage a logistical staging area in support of the New York City Emergency Operations Center. The Maine Incident Management Team (MEIMT) is a nationally certified Incident Management Team led by forest rangers from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Maine Forest Service, Forest Protection Division. While Maine's forest rangers are specialists in the control and suppression of wildfires, they are also highly experienced in other "all hazard" incident management, responding to incidents across the United States and Canada.
Maine Forest Ranger Jeff Currier, team leader, said he was pleased to be part of such a meaningful mission. "It truly was an honor to help the Hurricane Sandy victims and support the New York City Health Department and the New York National Guard." He adds, "While the setting may be different than we are used to working in, our skills with managing large‑scale incidents such as wildfires and hurricanes were utilized and appreciated."
"It was an eye‑opener" on many levels, says Communications Specialist Rolfe. The team arrived in the city and went to the Office of Emergency Management Logistics Staging Area on Flushing Avenue. They stayed there for a few days. "We helped them organize structure in setting up for distribution," he explains. Generators, water pumps, food and water all needed to be distributed and tracked. Rolfe's team utilized the Incident Command System, a protocol that is used around the nation. "It's a very regimented, well set‑up system," he says, but not as well understood as it might be. When the team first arrived "there was some confusion about what an Incident Management Team does." That confusion didn't last for long.
Emily Ashton, a New York City Health Department senior advisor, thanked the Maine Incident Management Team for their efforts and said that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg daily reviewed the data they produced. "Before the Maine forest rangers and the National Guard arrived, we were unorganized and were limited to groups of volunteers for the wellness checks," Ashton commented. "The forest rangers provided clear, crisp direction and helped us get the job done way ahead of schedule."
The Maine team members supported restoration efforts by tracking the number of buildings visited and prescriptions filled, providing detailed digital maps of the locations and facilitating meetings with federal, state and city officials. "So we tracked data in real time," Rolfe explains. NYC officials were able to keep track of relief efforts through the system.
After a few days at Flushing Avenue the Maine team was sent to Rockaway -- "one of the hardest hit areas," Rolfe says. Huge piles of debris were in staging areas for removal. Homes had large piles of debris in their front yards, all of it pulled out of basements and ground floors that had suffered damage. Rolfe explains that there were five points of distribution or "pods" on the peninsula. "Organization and management is our biggest asset -- supplying real time data and establishing management at the points of distribution and ensuring that supplies were getting out." There were hundreds of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers with food and water, hundreds of ambulances, police and others to coordinate. There was fuel that needed to be distributed to emergency response vehicles. The team once again organized a structure that could be used to effectively and efficiently distribute and track supplies, including the fuel.
The last location the team went to was Coney Island, which presented its own set of challenges for the team since they were staying at a hotel near La Guardia Airport and their command center trailer could not easily navigate roads because of its height. On Coney Island the team managed 150 National Guardsmen, a squadron from Niagara Falls, 50 ambulances contracted by FEMA, NYC Health Department staff and NYC Emergency Management staff. Three different teams were created to begin knocking door‑to‑door. Rolfe says, "It was a little impressive coming from Maine, Washington County, to where an apartment building has 3,000 units." In five days the teams had visited 194 buildings and over 21,000 units.
"I would go again in a heartbeat if the team were asked to go again," Rolfe says. "It was an honor to go with them."
Local efforts garner funds and supplies
A former New Jersey resident and recent transplant to Eastport, Coleman Brice, was galvanized to action by the destruction. He says, "Watching the storm ravage where I come from and seeing my closest friends and family so deeply afflicted by it was absolutely horrifying. I just wanted to help out somehow. I used to play a lot of benefit shows in and around Asbury Park, N.J., for various causes, so I figured why not here?"
Eastport business owners and former New Jersey residents, Al and Linda Salerolli jumped on board and turned over their Rose Garden Café for the November 3 fundraising event that garnered about $1,000, all sent to the food bank of Monmouth and Ocean County in New Jersey. Music, an art auction and good food drew a crowd to the "Jersey Shore Benefit."
The event exceeded anything Brice had expected. He says, "The turnout, generosity, kindness, quality of musicians donating their time, donated food, everything, was very humbling." He adds, "To see folks respond with such compassion and humanity -- particularly when so many here are already struggling so hard -- really shook me to the core and completely reaffirmed my faith that it was the right decision to relocate my family here. My family is extremely grateful and proud to call this community home."
On November 15, the owners of the Fat Cat Deli and Pizzeria in Machias packed up a 16-foot truck full of goods to take down to Brooklyn, N.Y. Faye Mack and Matt Bauman worked over the last few weeks to gather donations of clothing, blankets, cleaning supplies, toiletries and cash for food. Their social media network allowed them to build a number of collection points around the state and in Connecticut, where they planned to stop and purchase food before heading into Brooklyn.
Bauman explains that like so many others he and his wife have watched events like Hurricane Katrina unfold in the past. "Now's the time" to help, he says. He and his wife have been working with two to three organizations in New York on needs. "It's a moving target. What the needs are today change tomorrow," because one organization will meet its goal or FEMA will step in to take care of a set of issues. While Bauman will drive the rental truck, his wife and children will follow behind in their car, allowing the couple's young family to participate in the lesson of giving.
Ongoing collection efforts
The Liberty Café in downtown Eastport is acting as the collection point for work that the U.S. Coast Guard is doing to help with the relief efforts, says café family member Laura Baker. She explains that a number of partners of coastguardsmen work at the restaurant and are behind the effort. The New to You Thrift Store collected items for the effort and dropped off three large bags. Baker notes that baby items like diapers and wipes are desperately needed, as well as new underwear and new socks. Items should be bagged and labeled "Sandy" and dropped off at the restaurant's front area.
The Eastport Elementary School will host a dinner to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief on Thursday, November 29, at 5 p.m.
Rolfe suggests that monetary donations may be the most useful gesture Washington County residents can now offer to help, but specific needs can be found through donation sites as well as by working with churches located in the relief areas.
Monetary donations may be made through <www.redcross.org> or at <www.nyc.gov>.