Washington Watch

Pamela Glass FEMA considers vessels to house Sandy victims

December 3, 2012

Faced with an urgent need to shelter thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Sandy in the New York and New Jersey area, Uncle Sam is exploring the feasibility of housing families on vessels or barges.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has issued a “Request for Information” to determine whether vessels could be used for temporary housing while families seek permanent homes. FEMA says vessels could be “single modular units” that would sleep two to six adults and serve as standalone boats or interconnected to form a single dwelling.

FEMA is interested in getting the maritime industry’s input on designs, capability, availability and schedules for turnkey contracts. Preference will be given to U.S.-flagged vessels.

The agency made it clear that cruise ships are not a housing option. FEMA came under fire from residents and politicians when it placed first responders and emergency personnel on cruise ships after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. For more information contact LaShawn Smith, contracting officer, at or 202-646-4306.

The maritime industry is already deeply involved in the post-Sandy relief effort. Soon after the storm hit, MARAD assigned several nearby ships to provide lodging, food and power for emergency response personnel. The TS Empire State, the training vessel homeported at SUNY Maritime College in Throggs Neck, N.Y., is sheltering FEMA community relations workers, while MARAD Ready Reserve Fleet vessels SS Wright, out of Baltimore, and the TS Kennedy, out of Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, Mass., are housing FEMA and American Red Cross personnel.

Midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., also got into the act. On Nov. 11, a convoy of eight buses took 272 students from Kings Point to the Rockaways, where midshipmen worked with relief groups to clean houses and remove sand from area streets. They also helped sort and distribute food donations and deliver hot meals to elderly residents. The class of 2013 financed the trip.

As it did during the Sept. 11 attacks and during Hurricane Katrina, the maritime industry is again proving its value to the nation, showing that ships and barges are highly versatile and that the people who operate them are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty.


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