Cross Government Collaboration: Lessons from Superstorm Sandy

Cross Government Collaboration: Lessons from Superstorm Sandy

Rear Admiral Steven Smith, Director of SBA Disaster Planning Unit

Desiree Matel-Anderson, Chief Innovation Advisor, FEMA

Marion McFadden, Chief Operating Officer, Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force


Admiral Steven Smith, begins the Cross-Government Collaboration session with a illustrative anecdote. In 2008, after Hurricane Ike, he described a meeting of different agencies from the State of Texas to discuss their disaster response.


He asked how they would integrate their efforts. “That isn’t our job to figure that out."

He asked who is in charge of integrating efforts. “That isn’t our job to know who figures that out.”

“That’s not our job.”

Government employees are focused on excellence in delivering your program, but not how it integrates with other programs. While good response is still possible in this environment, effective recovery requires coordination between governmental agencies. This experience was not unique to the State of Texas, but also occurred at the federal Cabinet level, which resulted in the creation of a Working Group. This Working Group developed a Framework, now currently being socialized in the field.

Desiree Matel-Anderson, Chief Innovation Advisor for FEMA since 2012, insists that we can innovate in disaster response: “You can take new ideas and new technology and do it right then and there to help survivors.” She launched her Innovation Delivery Team in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to make response more “survivor-centric.” They looked at ways to create a better physical flow for survivors in the disaster recovery center and ways to reach survivors outside of the recovery centers. One innovation her team tested was the use of tablets to register survivors and FEMA teams were able to get to people a lot faster.

FEMA created Innovation Labs in NYC maker-spaces and other government offices in order to facilitate cross-governmental collaboration. Desiree reports, “Shared space helps coordinate innovation” when there are lots of people doing a lot of stuff.

Refine, filter, and facilitate the important and valuable innovations. Clusters is one way to help FEMA do that.

Mary McFadden shared her experience with running the Hurricane Sandy Recovery Task Force. Mary comes from HUD and reported, “I have been amazed how siloed each agency is within the federal government. The agencies don’t coordinate with the dispersal of funding.” However, she says working on the Task Force has been different. A set of principles and recommendations was developed to coordinate the supplemental spend of $60B to help us rebuild and not just respond. It allows for community development.


The Task Force innovation included hosting a design competition to rethink disaster recovery. Grants of $100,000 are paired with CDBG funding to conduct mitigation activities and creatively rebuilt. They received 150 applications from designer teams of architects, engineers, and scientists. They formed interagency review teams to determine the most exciting ideas, “This is something the federal government doesn’t usually do.”


Admiral Smith articulates the goal of future disaster response and recovery is to begin recovery on day 1 of response. In order to do so, you must build interdisciplinary, interagency relationships and teams prior to disaster.

To learn more about innovation in disaster management, visit Star-Tides, an information-sharing project hosted by the National Defense University that was enthusiastically endorsed by all members of our panel.

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