Sussex County Department of Environmental and Public Health Services Completes Assessment Focused on Superstorm Sandy Recovery
The Sussex County Department of Environmental and Public Health Services collaborated with the New Jersey Department of Health through the Super Storm Sandy Social Services Block Grant in order to assess the impact of the storm on Sussex County residents. The assessment focused on the recovery process and the current status of residents. Three assessment tools were used to gauge the recovery status of all stakeholders who were affected; a Heath and Well-Being Assessment Survey for county residents, a Key Informant questionnaire for organizations, and three focus groups to gain insight on individual experiences.
The Health and Well-Being Assessment Survey collected a wide range of data including demographics, financial impact, impact on personal health, residents' top concerns, and residents' awareness of resources. 5,532 surveys were distributed and 119 completed surveys were received.
97.09% lost power
26.21% experienced damage to their homes
22.3% were displaced from their homes
Survey respondents were asked in what ways that their finances were impacted by the storm. 97.09% lost power, 26.21% experienced damage to their homes, and 22.3% were displaced from their homes. Of those displaced, 81.25% stayed with relatives, 6.25% stayed in shelters, 15.63% stayed in hotels, and 8.33% were still displaced one year after the storm. 20.69% reported a temporary loss of income for 6 months or less, while no participants reported a loss of income greater than 6 months.
Impact on personal health was measured using a Likert scale ranging from very good to very poor. Prior to the storm, 88.9% of respondents reported having either very good or good health. After the storm, only 81.9% reported having either very good or good health. No respondents reported having poor health prior to the storm, after the storm, 15.58% reported having poor health.
66.67% consider themselves completely recovered
29.63% are mostly recovered
Recovery in Sussex County, according to the survey, has gone well; 66.67% consider themselves completely recovered, 29.63% are mostly recovered, and 0.93% of respondents consider themselves halfway recovered. Only 2.78% considered that they recovered only a little and none felt that they haven't recovered at all.
Top concerns regarding well being mentioned by respondents were; having enough money (50%), employment (39.06%), shelter (31.25%), good neighbors (31.25%), and having access to affordable healthy food (29.69%). As a result of the storm, the top services that were utilized by respondents were; shelter (6.25%), home care services (1.74%), and hospital services (0.97%). Natural disasters can invoke mental health issues for those affected, so the survey asked respondents to report any mental health issues as a result of the storm. The top issues reported were; recurring dreams/nightmares (44.83%), having bursts of anger or intense irritability (34.48%), trouble concentrating or remembering things (27.59%), being tearful or crying for no apparent reason (13.79%), and feeling withdrawn (10.34%). In addition to the previous variables, respondents were asked to identify conditions that they perceived as a barrier to a successful recovery. Their answers were as follows; money assistance, home repair, mold inspection/removal, counseling for mental health issues, and information/referrals/advice.
The next section of the survey was intended to gauge Sussex County residents' awareness of recovery resources and whether they are still in need of these services. The results show that most services need to be marketed better. No services showed a higher percentage of awareness than 41.12% aside from national organizations like FEMA (74.31%) and United Way/Red Cross (70.91%). A small percentage is still in need of services like case management (2.83%), counseling (1.87%), Sandy Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program (3.81%), and FEMA (2.75%).
Internet and social media should be used in abundance by local government in order to raise awareness for resources
The next portions of the assessment were three focus groups with 25 total participants. The first was held on April 3 in Lafayette and had six members. We asked what recovery services they have used since the storm. Group members had no experience with NJ211 or Register Ready. One member expressed his unhappiness with the 'paperwork' involved with his FEMA home damage claim. The repairs were delayed a full year and were not sufficient to his expectations. The group also mentioned that the internet and social media should be used in abundance by local government in order to raise awareness for these resources. Focus group 2 was held in the same location on the same day but had eleven members. This focus group described a number of "good neighbor" stories that were generally in relation to debris clean up and resource sharing. This group had more negative remarks on FEMA's recovery process, deeming it more mentally challenging than the storm damage itself. They also expressed distaste for lack of information sharing by Jersey City Power & Electric regarding a timeline for power restoration. Focus group 3 was held on April 10 in Newton and had 9 members. This group shared their positive experience with county and local government assistance. This group did have experience with Register Ready and NJ211, but did not use these resources during their recovery process.
The Key Informant Interviews were the third major component of the recovery assessment. Five organizations were interviewed; Sussex County Division of Emergency Management, Newton Police Department, Sussex County Social Services, American Red Cross, and Newton Hospital. All key informants of these organizations felt that they were adequately prepared to assist in recovery efforts. They were also in agreement that their organizations have been able to meet the needs of individuals who were n need of services due to Sandy. Grant constraints were the main challenge to address the fiscal needs of individuals still in the recovery process. Grants are specific by nature and the limitations set by the grantor often do not meet the needs of the situation.