It’s ironic that the only item Franklin County Emergency Management Director Abe Cook brought back from Hurricane Sandy was a delicate seashell.
The seashell is not intentionally symbolic, Cook said. It was given to him by his boss, who said the shell was there because no one else was on the beach to pick it up.
“It’s cool; I’ll keep it,” Cook said, noting that the shell is in mint condition unlike so many other things in the Northeast after the superstorm.
Cook was part of a Missouri team that went to Long Island, N.Y., in November to help after the storm.
He manned an emergency operations center in Nassau County, and his coverage area was 287 square miles with 1.3 million people.
In his 10 days working there, he coordinated everything from portable toilets to large generators for water plants. His job was to support the law enforcement and other government agencies that helped the storm victims.
He recalled that it was rewarding to provide relief to other emergency responders who were themselves victims of the storm.
For instance, one official’s house was destroyed, and the Missouri team’s presence allowed him to take some time off to be with his family.
“We provided the support to allow him to leave and take care of his family,” Cook said. “Everybody had their losses, and they kept truckin’ through.”
Part of Team
Cook was part of the 19-member Southwest Missouri Incident Support Team, which helped firefighters, police and ambulance crews get resources such as fuel and flashlights.
Ordering generators to get sewer plants and drawbridges working again were other duties.
“I think we definitely made a great impact,” Cook said.
Helping the people was intense and humbling, Cook said. But the victims’ ability to keep moving forward after the disaster stood out to him.
“It seemed like they had been challenged, and they were taking the American pride attitude, doing what they had to do to continue life and get back to normalcy,” Cook said.
Personal belongings ruined by saltwater were strewn in the street, and wrecked vehicles cluttered the roads. Part of his job was arranging tow trucks so the cars could be cleared from the street.
Tons of Debris
“I saw the biggest debris pile I’ve ever seen, and I saw the biggest sand pile I’ve ever seen,” Cook said.
While he spent most of his time in the emergency operations center working 16-hour days, he did get half a day to tour the storm damage.
“There was a lot of property destruction,” he said, adding that the county he was in was reporting about six deaths.
A lot of the traffic lights were blacked out and causing hazards, he noted.
When he arrived, the storm response was shifting from response to recovery. He did a lot of work with donations in terms of helping line up warehouses to store the supplies.
“That is not as a easy as it seems,” he said, noting that it requires forklifts, pallets, and living quarters for the donation workers.
“It’s really citizens helping citizens,” he said, adding that it is great to live in a country where one state will help another. “It’s just a good feeling.”
His group was deployed through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, and he worked alongside state, federal and local officials.
It is the biggest disaster he has worked on and one of the largest financially for the country.
“It’s definitely one for the record books,” he said.
It was encouraging that Franklin County’s emergency management plan held up so well when applied to such a large disaster, he noted.
“There’s just so much you learn,” he said, adding that the large test showed certain ways the county’s emergency plan could be made even more effective.
While some have complained about the storm response efforts, Cook said, “I think all the individuals that I worked with, whether they worked for the county, state or feds, did their best to ensure the citizens got what they needed.”