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Learning a lesson from Sandy

November 09, 2012

THERE are a few important lessons to learn about how the rescuers in the US faced the superstorm Sandy. Over the top is the learning point how governmental agencies learn from their mistakes.

Seven years after a disastrous response to hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) is being eulogised all over the country for its excellent performance.

Fema’s slow and disengaged response was a major embarrassment for the George Bush administration, particularly when top officials admitted they were unaware of thousands of people stranded at a convention centre in New Orleans without food and water, days after the storm hit.

The other learning point is that one of the post - Katrina reforms passed by Congress was to require that Fema should have an experienced chief. Craig Fugate, the current Fema administrator, came to Washington after eight years as emergency management director in Florida where he dealt with several hurricanes. Prior to his appointment, it was decided that the chief should not be a political appointee.

The other important lesson is that love for humanity, devotion and commitment are more valuable than the material resources and facilities. The doctors, nurses and staff of New York University’s Langone Medical Centre acted with missionary spirit and zeal by saving lives of hundreds of patients when their hospital basement flooded, cutting off power and the rooftop generators choked under Sandy’s torrential rain.

Ventilators giving newborns breath failed and lights dimmed and elevators in the 15 - floor hospital stopped. The hospital decided in a desperate rush to find other hospitals to take their 260 patients and ambulances to take them there along streets flooded by the superstorm.

Four newborns were carried down nine flights of stairs, while a nurse manually squeezed a bag to deliver air to the baby’s lungs. Some of the babies breathing tubes can be very tenuous as they can come out very easily.

Someone, obviously, must be manually ventilating, providing air and ventilation to the babies. Babies breathe faster than adults so it has to be done very quickly. During an evacuation all that becomes very difficult. Much of the work is done by flashlights.

People who believe in the worth of human life risk their own to save others. The crew members of a replica of the historic HMS Bounty, a 180 - foot sailing vessels, had lost every hope for survival when the US Coast Guard staged a daring and highly risky helicopter rescue. They flew into the hurricane’s outer bands and plucked the surviving crew members from lifeboats.

A dedicated and trained police force could be a blessing for a country. Ralf Verdi, the police chief of Little Ferry, New Jersey, led rescuers to save the lives of hundreds of people who were shouting for help in addition to many trapped on the top floors and roofs of their homes. The dedication, professionalism and courage of police officers and staff won the hearts of the American public.