On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey. Sandy’s massive size, coupled with an unusual combination of meteorological conditions, fueled an especially powerful and destructive storm surge, which caused unprecedented damage in and around New York City, the country’s most populous metropolitan area, as well as on Long Island and along the Jersey Shore. This two-part case study focuses on how New York City prepared for the storm’s arrival and then responded to the cascading series of emergencies – from fires, to flooding, to power failures – that played out as it bore down on the city. Profiling actions taken at the local level by emergency response agencies like the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), the case also explores how the city coordinated with state and federal partners – including both the state National Guard and federal military components – and illustrates both the advantages and complications of using military assets for domestic emergency response operations.
Part B of the case highlights, among other things, the experience of Staten Island, which experienced the worst of Sandy’s wrath. In the storm’s wake, frustration over the speed of the response triggered withering public criticism from borough officials, leading to concerns that a political crisis was about to overwhelm the still unfolding relief effort.
This case prompts readers to reflect on the difficulties a metropolitan area may face when confronted by multiple emergencies unfolding simultaneously in all corners of a jurisdiction. In addition, it raises questions about the use of federal military assets in domestic emergency response operations, highlights the advantages and limitations of decentralized response by both professional responders and civilians, and demonstrates the political stakes associated with a major disaster like Sandy.