By Master Sgt. Peter Towse
New York Army National Guard
NEW YORK CITY (1/2/13) - Hurricane Sandy is two months over, but as 2013 opens, the New York Army National Guard is still helping people in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island who were affected by the storm.
Working with local, state and federal agencies, Soldiers assigned to the 280-member Team Sandy continue to go door to door checking on the status of the people recovering from the devastation and collecting data to better help the Office of Emergency Management, or OEM. With so many homes ruined by the flooding of hurricane Sandy, the data is invaluable when sending resources out into the boroughs.
Citizen-Soldiers go out in teams of two and knock on the doors of houses in a designated area. Each Soldier has a form and a series of questions to ask the homeowner.
"We started with the forms and collected data from the building managers," said 1st Lt. Malinda Vazquez, the planning officer, and a resident of Queens, N.Y. "Now, we are going door to door, checking on the well-being of each resident and making sure they are OK."
The completed forms are uploaded manually each day and give OEM the information to help those most in need.
"The forms limited our ability to move the data because the information had to be input manually, and would take three to five days for the information to reach the proper agency," said 2nd Lt. Anthony Migliore, of Smithtown, N.Y., the team operations officer.
Because of the time necessary for the information to reach local and state agencies, a new system was developed to make the information-gathering process more efficient. A new form that is filled out electronically using a tablet, can now can be sent to the database instantly and the information is automatically sent to the proper agency.
"Now that we have over 200 [electronic] tablets, the information is transmitted instantly to a centralized database managed by the Disaster Immediate Response Team," Migliore said. "As we continue the operation, we are able to configure the tablets to reflect more detailed information."
The New York National Guard has completed more than 96,000 door-to-door wellness checks and continues to refine the process to knock on more doors in less time.
"We are working closely with the New York City police department, fire department, AmeriCorps, FEMA, OEM and the mayor's office to make our data collection more efficient," Migliore said. "Our maps are becoming more precise and the use of the electronic tablets makes our information gathering easier."
The maps of each affected area are broken down by sectors and cells. Each sector is made up of an entire neighborhood and each cell is comprised of roughly five city blocks. Each tablet is tracked to record the progress of the Soldiers on the ground throughout the day and changes are made to increase the streets covered during the nightly meetings. The questions are also refined to make information gathering easier.
"We have developed eight teams to go door to door," said Master Sgt. Troy Haley, of Troy, the noncommissioned officer for one of the teams. "With those teams, we are able to provide information instantly and get help to the people most affected by the hurricane. We also provide food, water, blankets and comfort kits as we go."
"We are here to serve our fellow citizens during this crisis," said Col. Mark Leahey, of Rochester, N.H., the commander of Joint Task Force Sandy. "We are here to let them know that they are not alone, and we will do everything we can to help them."