Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Sandy experience

I lived in New Jersey for the first 18 years of my life, and - as with many other Garden Staters - visited New York City and the Jersey Shore many times. During my years there, we saw very few hurricanes. I can remember Belle in 1976 and Gloria in 1985, but neither one became the destructive force that we saw making landfall in places like Florida and the northern Gulf coast.

The storm-vulnerable Jersey Shore
After I left, other storms did threaten the City and the Shore - Bob in 1991, Isabel in 2001 and Irene in 2011 stand out as storms that had the potential to do tremendous damage, but none lived up to the predictions.

But, two years ago today, Hurricane Sandy changed all of that. The storm raged ashore in the vulnerable northeast with a tremendous wind field, storm surge and heavy rains. Both my mom - living on New Jersey's southernmost point Cape May - and my dad - living by a wooded lake in north Jersey - took tremendous impacts from the storm.  The Jersey Shore and New York City took some tremendous impacts from the storm, and help was needed.

Storm damage along Rockaway Beach
So, when New York City made an Emergency Management Assistance Compact - EMAC - request for assistance from a team from Central Florida, I offered my services. Now, I didn't deploy as a public information officer, which would have required me being a registered deployment team member of the Florida Fire Chief's Association. I deployed as part of an Emergency Management strike team of people with different disciplines, and I was going to do whatever was required of me.

Here I am, inventorying containers in the city's supply warehouse
As part of an EMAC deployment team, one of my duties was to file daily reports to keep everyone updated on the team's daily operations and observations. While I could have e-mailed those reports back to the county, I decided on a totally different tactic. As a hobby woodworker, I maintain a blog about the projects I build, the tools I use and my lessons learned. I've been doing that since 2007, and am comfortable working in that environment.

Given that experience, I turned to Tumblr, a free blogging software tool that would allow me to embed photos, videos and links to other resources to show the full effect of the storm. That's exactly what I did working from the logistics center in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn for a ten day deployment. You can read the blog here.

A funny thing happened while writing that blog. Our office promoted it to the members of the Tampa Bay media market. The team sent from the city of Boston to assist at the logistics center used the blog as part of their reporting toolbox, as did the team from the state of Texas that followed. Even the New Yorkers themselves were turning to the blog to get a better picture of what was happening in the logistics center.

The returning Central Florida team at Tampa International Airport briefing the media
Now that it has been two years since Hurricane Sandy's landfall and the EMAC deployment, and I still occasionally look back on that blog to remind myself of what the experience was like, and why it's important to continue to push the preparedness message. One day, it could be us who needs to put out the call for emergency assistance.

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida


  1. Tom,

    What a great way to document your deployment and keep everyone back home informed about what you were doing and seeing.

    1. The best part was that it was almost in real-time. Basically, the reporters were getting daily briefings as the deployment went along.. making it easy for them to stay on top of the story.