Challenges on Fire Island
By Clayton Church
US Army Corps of Engineers
Hurricane Sandy's horror and destruction came ashore in the Northeast region Oct. 29, 2012, its tropical force winds and storm surge impacted millions in 15 states.
One of the areas hit in New York by the storm was a barrier island called Fire Island. The island is 32 miles long and less than a mile wide at most points. The island is approximately a one hour drive from New York City and is known throughout the northeast as the island with no vehicles.
All areas on Fire Island are well regulated and the National Park Service controls almost all of the shore line. Vehicles are allowed with permits only and access is strictly controlled. Following Hurricane Sandy the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also known as FEMA, tasked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the National Response Framework to assist in removing storm debris. The Corps does this as the coordinator for Emergency Support Function #3, "Public Works and Engineering."
The planning and response teams for Hurricane Sandy operations in the New York City area are being orchestrated from a Recovery Field Office in the College Point, N.Y., an area in Queens. In addition to the RFO there are Emergency Field Offices on Staten Island, Brooklyn-Queens and one in Suffolk County coordinating the debris removal for Fire Island.
Jim Dash, Fire Island action officer, said one of the biggest challenges he has with the Fire Island mission will be removal of the debris due to limited public right of ways. Many of the approximate 4,000 structures on the island are accessible only by walking paths that are wide enough for golf cart size utility vehicles. Part of the debris removal program will also include structures that have been determined by local officials to no longer be structurally sound. Right of Entry procedures will be accomplished prior to debris being removed. Approximately 70 structures may have to be removed as being debris.
Wes Wright, Fire Island resident engineer, said even those structures near or on the beach will be difficult to remove due to access. These considerations are all being taken into account during the planning and response operations. Another area being given careful planning and attention is in the area of safety.
Corps of Engineers Safety Specialist Eduardo Garcia is conducting safety assessments of the work to be accomplished. "The safety assessment is used to understand which personal protective equipment is needed by the contractor to prevent accidents," Garcia said. "It will be interesting to see the concept of operations plan for the removal of the debris in the narrow right of ways and structures on the beaches."
Garcia added that checklists are used prior to work beginning to ensure proper equipment, communication channels and egress routes are all available. Once work precedes then quality assurance evaluators, safety specialists and other team members all work together to ensure accident prevention procedures are followed.
"Even with the cold weather, limited access, ROE challenges and environmental considerations we are working together with assisting Suffolk County and Fire Island officials to return residents to normalcy as fast as possible," Dash said.