In the past several weeks, we were reminded how quickly cities and communities can be turned upside down by a natural disaster. Although Hurricane Sandy was only a Category 1 storm, it was one of the most destructive storms to ever hit our country. It has impacted the lives of millions of Americans and caused tens of billions of dollars in economic damage. Its effects will be felt for years. Earlier this hurricane season, another Category 1 storm named Isaac wreaked havoc on many south Louisiana communities.
With every disaster, we learn new lessons. After Katrina, we learned how important it is to have effective plans in place ahead of a storm, a well-coordinated response at the local, state and federal levels, and a strong commitment to rebuilding. We learned that responding to a large disaster is a responsibility that must be shared - among local, state and federal officials, the private sector, and individuals and communities.
As a country, we learned many other lessons after Katrina, and while it is too soon to know all the lessons Sandy holds, one thing is already clear. Given the scope of the devastation, recovering from this storm will require the continued engagement of everyone - and not just those who suffered losses. Government officials and elected leaders at every level, including mayors and governors, members of Congress, administration officials and the president must maintain the commitment that has been so firm to this point.
What we have seen thus far gives us confidence that this will be the case. The federal government, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in particular, has defied stereotype. The experience was a case study in forethought, quick action and coordination.
Days before the hurricane made landfall, governors began declaring emergencies and making requests of the federal government to begin pre-positioning personnel and supplies along the storm's path. President Barack Obama acted quickly to sign disaster declarations for impacted states, which allowed resources to begin flowing into local jurisdictions. Governors also began activating National Guard forces.
After Sandy struck, a well-coordinated search and rescue operation located people in harm's way and ensured those in need of assistance or medical care received it. Utility companies working to restore power were joined by special teams flown in by the Department of Defense from as far away as California. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent equipment and personnel to New York City to assist in pumping water from flooded tunnels and subways.
We also saw FEMA send representatives into the hardest hit areas to go door-to-door to offer help. FEMA has established more than 65 disaster recovery centers in the region with more on the way, and worked with the Red Cross and local government agencies to provide food and water for their shelters for those without a place to stay. FEMA didn't wait to be called by state and local officials. FEMA leaned forward and did its job.
President Obama ordered members of his Cabinet to cut through red tape, respond to every phone call in 15 minutes or less and find a way to say "yes" to requests from the states. Already, more than $600 million in assistance has been awarded to disaster victims, and states are receiving federal support for costs associated with debris removal, power restoration and other critical actions.
This is not to say that everything has gone right and that all problems have been addressed. There are the immediately obvious deficiencies such as the delays in restoring power to so many communities, and there are certain to be many more subtle problems that will emerge as we take the time to assess our response. We must seize every opportunity to learn and improve. Lives are at stake.
These are significant challenges. But as with other disasters our country has faced, we can and will overcome them. We must. More and worse storms are on the way. And this storm showed only some of our vulnerabilities.
Recovery will take time. It also will take a commitment from the federal government as well as states and cities and communities to reinvest and rebuild. And again applying a lesson learned from Katrina, we need to rebuild better and be more resilient than we were before. Together, we will recover from Sandy. We will learn its lessons and apply them to future disasters. And we will emerge even stronger.
Cory Booker is serving in his second term as the mayor of Newark. Mitch Landrieu is mayor of New Orleans.