Crisis Decision-Making During Hurricane Sandy: An Analysis of Established and Emergent Disaster Response Behaviors in the New York Metro Area

Objective This collective case study examined how and why specific organizational decision-making processes transpired at 2 large suburban county health departments in lower New York State during their response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The study also examined the relationships that the agencies developed with other emerging and established organizations within their respective health systems.

Methods In investigating these themes, the authors conducted in-depth, one-on-one interviews with 30 senior-level public health staff and first responders; reviewed documentation; and moderated 2 focus group discussions with 17 participants.

Results Although a natural hazard such as a hurricane was not an unexpected event for these health departments, they nevertheless confronted a number of unforeseen challenges during the response phase: prolonged loss of power and fuel, limited situational awareness of the depth and breadth of the storm’s impact among disaster-exposed populations, and coordination problems with a number of organizations that emerged in response to the disaster.

Conclusions Public health staff had few plans or protocols to guide them and often found themselves improvising and problem-solving with new organizations in the context of an overburdened health care system.

Health Systems
Sandy Health Systems