Thursday, March 5, 2015

FEMA: Still Fishy




EDITORIAL: FEMA: STILL FISHY

Not to brag, but you heard it here first.  Back in November, The Forum did a story on Monsignor Alfred LoPinto’s appointment as CEO of Catholic Charities.  In the interview we conducted, the Monsignor called FEMA’s attempt to recoup disaster relief funds doled out after Superstorm Sandy “absurd” and suggested, even, that elderly people on fixed incomes should simply refuse to pay back money already spent.
“Let them make an effort to take the house,” he told us, adding that the agency is “callous” to even suggest the money be returned.
This got us thinking:  if a mild-mannered, diplomatic person like the Monsignor feels so strongly, then things must be pretty bad.  The editorial that week was a bit controversial, at least in our office.  It ended by telling FEMA where to go.  We know the agency has done a lot of good for a lot of people, but having spoken to South Queens residents who’d been affected by FEMA’s recoupment efforts, we were angry.  It had taken many people by storm — no pun intended –, as they’d already long ago spent the relief money to fix damage done by the hurricane.
A few weeks later, we were working on the “Year in Review” editorial, and we stumbled on some information on the growing number of court cases resulting from Sandy victims who were finding that FEMA-governed insurance companies and engineering firms had been changing initial flood damage reports to reduce payouts. The first reports would typically indicate severe damage due to flooding from Sandy, and later reports would call it “soil erosion” or “settling.”
Then, about a month after that, we learned that legislators had wrangled FEMA to cancel the debt of elderly residents of Belle Harbor Manor – government “debt” that shouldn’t have existed in the first place, had FEMA done its audit on the front end of handling these relief cases.  Again, we are all for reducing waste, fraud, and abuse, but to attempt to do so to the detriment of Sandy victims legally entitled to disaster assistance, particularly those who are elderly or on fixed incomes, is plain wrong.
Last week we reported that Senators had announced the Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act of 2015, to prevent other disaster relief recipients like those at Belle Harbor Manor from being unjustly indebted to FEMA.
And so we arrive at present day, and a top executive at FEMA’s Insurance Program has just admitted that insurance companies and engineering companies that they oversee have indeed been falsifying flood damage reports and hiring unlicensed engineers to conduct the assessments.
FEMA’s executive says that he’s not aware of evidence that the agency was giving the directive to change the reports, but he did acknowledge that they had known about the disputed cases, and thus the “signals” of fraud, for over a year.  Our legislators are again fighting to get FEMA to rectify the situation, announcing within hours of press time that they are urging the agency to apply settlements to all policy holders, not just those who filed lawsuits. But, says FEMA, the settlements probably won’t satisfy all Sandy victims, since the program “wasn’t designed to make everyone whole.”  A sarcastic voice in our ear says, “Big shocker.”
But what else can we say?  We warned you.

Schumer: FEMA and the NFIP related fraud "makes your jaw drop!"



SCHUMER TO FEMA: FLOOD INSURANCE SETTLEMENTS MUST APPLY TO ALL POLICY HOLDERS

United States Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand this week called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure that all impacted Superstorm Sandy flood victims are included in the ongoing settlement regarding fraudulent engineering reports issued by insurance adjusters, regardless of whether the policyholder has filed a lawsuit.According to federal court records and recent media reports, including a months-long investigation aired by 60 Minutes, there is evidence that private engineering companies purposefully altered engineering reports so as to not fully reflect the true impact and damage caused by Superstorm Sandy to New Yorkers’ homes, which led to the unjust denial or underpayment of flood insurance claims.
FEMA is currently in the process of settling the approximately 1,200 civil lawsuits pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York that were filed by victims of Sandy against flood insurance companies and FEMA regarding the claims process of the National Flood Insurance Program. Many of individuals that filed lawsuits were denied or underpaid in their NFIP claim following Superstorm Sandy, likely due to the doctoring of engineering reports.
In light of this ongoing settlement, Schumer and Gillibrand this week released a letter written to FEMA deputy associate administrator Brad Kieserman, urging that the settlement include provisions to resolve the legitimate claims of any policyholder denied by engineering companies regardless of whether a lawsuit was filed. In addition, the Senators said that all flood insurance policyholders impacted by Sandy must have access from FEMA to all engineering and insurance documents used to assess the damage on their home, in order to root out other cases of fraud.
“The recent allegations of fraudulent engineering reports and other deceptive practices rampant throughout the FEMA-run National Flood Insurance Program makes your jaw drop…FEMA must ensure that all legitimate claims are included in the pending FEMA settlement, regardless of whether a policyholder has filed a lawsuit,” said Senator Schumer.
By Forum Staff

New laws regarding Storm Emergency Preparedness




MAYOR SIGNS LAWS IMPROVING STORM EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS

Mayor Bill de Blasio this week signed into law two bills that he said will improve the city’s coastal storm emergency preparedness.
Introduction 519-A requires the Office of Emergency Management to distribute emergency preparedness materials to communities at risk during coastal storms and hurricanes, including information on local evacuation zones and resources. Intro. 562-A creates a Superstorm Sandy charitable organization and house of worship recovery task force, which will make recommendations on how to streamline the allocation of resources and support. The bill was approved by the City Council at the Stated Meeting on Feb. 12.
“After the devastation of [Superstorm] Sandy, we promised our residents that we would rebuild a stronger and more resilient city—and that we would be better prepared for the next coastal storm,” de Blasio said on Tuesday. “Today’s two bills are another strong step in this direction, by helping ensure that we are better prepared for extreme weather the next time we need to be. I want to thank the City Council, led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council Member Mark Treyger, for making the safety of our city’s coastal communities a top priority.”
By Michael V. Cusenza

Councilman Ulrich reforming Veterans Advisory Board



COUNCIL PASSES VETERANS ADVISORY BOARD LEGISLATION

City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) chairs the council's Veterans Affairs Committee. Photo Courtesy of City Council/William Alatriste.
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) chairs the council’s Veterans Affairs Committee. Photo Courtesy of City Council/William Alatriste.
The City Council Committee on Veterans Affairs last week trumpeted the passage of three pieces of legislation that will reform the Veterans Advisory Board and gather data on services available to vets.
Established in 1987, the VAB and advises the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs on issues and acts as a liaison between the city and the local veterans’ community. The board is comprised of nine members—five appointed by the mayor and four by the Council speaker.
A bill introduced by City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), chairman of the committee, would require the board to meet a minimum of five times annually, including one meeting in each borough per year, to bring greater focus to the needs of outer-borough veterans. Int. 619A would open all VAB meetings to the public, and require MOVA to notice each meeting in advance on its website and with veteran service organizations located within the five boroughs. The bill would also ensure that meetings are broadcasted live and recorded for New Yorkers to view from their own homes.
Int. 611A would increase VAB membership from nine to 11 members to ensure that veterans of different conflicts and demographics are fully represented on the board. The bill would also provide each member their own city email address to enhance communication between the VAB and the veteran community.
Int. 600A would require several city agencies to report on the services they provide veterans. This legislation, according to the committee, will collect much-needed data on local vets and ultimately assist the VAB and Council with policy creation.
“The Veterans Advisory Board does great work and strengthens the lines of communication between city government and local vets,” Ulrich said. “This legislation will allow for greater public input that will only enhance the ability of the board to meet the challenges facing veterans and their families in our city.”
News of the bills’ passage came on the same day that state Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach) announced that legislation he sponsors to provide beverage sales tax exemptions to veterans’ service organizations has been approved by the Standing Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs.
By Michael Cusenza

Local Lawmakers call FEMA "dishonest"




FEMA ADMITS FRAUD

Homeowners like Sophia Vailakis-DeVirgilio of Broad Channel might do well to re-inspect flood damage reports made following Superstorm Sandy.  A new revelation by FEMA executive Brad Kieserman indicates that some reports were falsified or conducted by unlicensed engineers.
Homeowners like the DeVirgilio family of Broad Channel might do well to re-inspect flood damage reports made following Superstorm Sandy. A new revelation by FEMA executive Brad Kieserman indicates that some reports were falsified or conducted by unlicensed engineers.
Local lawmakers are calling the Federal Emergency Management Agency “dishonest” after an executive there admitted to having seen evidence of fraud in reports used to deny Sandy victims full insurance payouts.  Thousands of homeowners’ claims were denied after the hurricane hit in October of 2012.
FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, currently in debt to the U.S. Treasury by about $23 billion, oversees private insurance companies, which have been allegedly using engineers to create false reports and/or alter existing reports to indicate minimal or nonexistent Sandy storm damage.  In several cases, victims’ files contained initial reports concluding structural damage attributed to the hurricane.  Later reports show the damage was due to settling, soil erosion, or other conditions predating the storm, or simply, that (in the wake of the superstorm) no structural damage was present.
Brad Kieserman, FEMA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Insurance, told 60 Minutes that, in addition to fraudulent flood damage reports, he’s also seen evidence that unlicensed engineers had been used to make the reports.  Kieserman told the correspondent that FEMA has been aware of the fraud, to at least some degree, since late 2013 and yet has done nothing about it.  Homeowners themselves and their lawyers brought the issue to light when they began to dispute the denied claims in court.  They scrutinized engineers’ reports, noticed alterations, and brought these discrepancies to the courts’ attention.  Insurance companies named as defendants in flood insurance lawsuits have their legal costs reimbursed by FEMA, hence the agency has been aware of the evidence provided in these cases of insurance companies’ or engineers’ wrongdoing.
Hundreds of flood damage reports were allegedly falsified, and both engineering firms and insurance companies are being investigated.  Those homeowners may now be entitled to additional payouts or court settlements.  According to Kieserman, though, current negotiations may not satisfy all the victims, because “the program was never designed to make everyone whole.”
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Broad Channel) announced this week that he will introduce state legislation creating the New York Flood Insurance Association, to provide homeowners with an alternative to rising federally-backed flood insurance premiums and to protect families from questionable flood damage claims practices.
State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said, “My constituents, after dealing with the ravages of Superstorm Sandy, should not have to have dealt with dishonest FEMA personnel. It’s unacceptable to think that the initial federal agency that was to help my people after the storm, was actually another roadblock to full recovery. I’m calling upon our federal elected officials to investigate FEMA and help those individuals who were previously denied FEMA assistance.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, too, expressed concern about the revelations.  “I think it would be particularly heinous if insurance companies took advantage of people who were hurting so much after Sandy,” he said.
By Eugénie Bisulco

Message from Commanding Officer of the 100th Pct.



Captain Craig Adelman
Commanding Officer
100th Precinct

The 100th Precinct is proud to announce that we are one of the 4 pilot commands for the new Neighborhood Based Policing model.  

The purpose of this model is to maintain the highest quality of police service while increasing our community engagement.  

We will assign the same officers to work steadily in your neighborhoods so that they know the community and the community knows them.  We will also have Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCO) who will be permanently assigned  to a geographical sector.  

The NCO will attend community meetings and will coordinate police and other city resources to address crime and solve the problems of the community.  

We are confident that this new policing model will bring the police and the community closer together and we are looking forward to this program being rolled out in the coming weeks.  

Please feel free to contact me for further information.  

Thank you.    



Craig Adelman
Captain
Commanding Officer
100th Precinct

(718) 318-4207
Follow me on twitter @NYPD100PCT

Broad Channel Bits



By Dan Guarino
The way things are going; pretty soon we’ll be looking for spring on the back of a milk carton.
But snow or shine, life goes on in the Channel.
This Sunday, March 8, The American Legion Ladies Auxiliary is holding the 12th Annual Jane Fuller Memorial Brunch from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be pancakes, eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, coffee, tea, cake and more. And of course, there is always the best company. The proceeds go to Cancer Care. Jane Fuller, a member of the Auxiliary, is still deeply missed. The Legion Hall is at 209 Cross Bay Blvd. Coming from out of town? You are always welcome at a Broad Channel event!

Circle your calendar now for the Palm Sunday brunch at the Legion on Sunday, March 29.
Put a big marker on Sunday, March 22, for VFW Bingo. Doors open 12 noon, and there will be door prizes, raffles, 50/50s and more. Coffee and cake will be served.
The VFW, Prince-Wynn Post #260 at 705 Shad Creek Road, will be doing bingo as a fundraiser every month. Just a few weeks ago, Pete Mahon gave such a great description of how much fun the afternoon of bingo was that you’d definitely want to go and check it out yourself. Funds raised go to support all the programs the VFW does for our veterans. Often times, they go to visit the disabled vets at the St. Albans hospital and elsewhere. They also bring them here for a special day either in the VFW Hall or out in the spacious backyard. On March 14 the VFW will be hosting a terrific St. Patrick’s dinner for 42 veterans.
The Relay for Life of Broad ChannelBreezy Point and the Rockaways, which will be doing a round the clock walking event at the BCAC Field in May, has two fun fundraisers coming up. The Broad Channel Relay for Life Team is hosting a Bingo Fundraiser at the American Legion on Saturday, March 14. It starts at 5 p.m. and goes into the night. Adult beverages will be sold and there will be great prizes and raffles, including a jackpot of $150. There’s a $5 admission and all proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society. Call or text Heidi at 347-993-4904 or email her at HMonahan@agilitylogistics.com or contact Julie at 718-207-1410 or Juka693@aol.com to reserve your table. Don’t wait.
On Saturday, March 28, Brian’s Buddies host a Penny Social at Christ Presbyterian By the Sea Church Hall, at 104 Noel Road. It starts at 6:30 p.m. and includes a DJ, 50/50s, raffles and more. The entry fee is $10 and you can BYOB. Contact Nicole Keller at 347-967-9162 and reserve a table now. All proceeds there also go to the American Cancer Society via Relay For Life.
Looks like you can still register your child for CYO baseball even if you missed the Feb. 25 deadline. There is a $25 late fee, though. Contact the BCAC.
There’s one day left to sign up on time for BCAC CYO St. Virgilius/ St. Camillus/St. Rose soccer. That’s this Wednesday, March 11 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. New players are welcome and no experience necessary. Fees are $85 or $110 with a new uniform. Sign up at the BCAC Clubhouse at Memorial Field at 125 Cross Bay Blvd. The girls’ teams from first to eighth grades and boys are first through eighth grade, pending registration results. Email rchurchill3@gmail.com for more info.
You may have been following the progress of Kristen Kim Rosenberg as she gears up to run the NYC 1/2 Marathon for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I just checked the website and it looks like you can still make a donation to bring Kristen to her goal. As of Tuesday, March 3, she is only a few hundred dollars short of her fundraising goal. If you find you can help, go to pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/halfnyc15/KristenRose.
The photos taken by Dan Mundy Jr. which appeared in last week’s Wave gave you an idea of how frozen solid Jamaica Bay was. You can see even more of them, in color, on the Broad Channel Civic Association Facebook page. The wide sweep of the ice looked so barren and vast you might think you were seeingAlaska or the Antarctic. I half expected to see a frozen Captain America to go floating by.
Did you know that Boy Scout/Cub Scout Troop 282 meets every Monday night at 8 p.m. at the American Legion Hall? You can also register at any meeting. Come and see what they are about.
The St. Virgilius Golden Age meets every Thursday at the American Legion Hall209 Cross Bay Blvd., at 12:30 p.m.
If you see a young gentleman around town taking pictures, that would be David Steinberg. Studying at theInternational Center of Photography, he has chosen to capture Broad Channel for his semester project. I met him last week at a Broad Channel Historical Society meeting. Then later I ran into him at the Vollies Installation Dinner. More than just the buildings and hous- es, streets and shore, he really wants to share town life in the Channel.
The BCVFD 110th Installation was a terrific event. There were a lot of proud moments as each officer came down the fire engine red runner and took an oath to serve our community. This being Broad Channel, there were a few humorous moments also.
Congratulations to outgoing Chief Ed Wilmarth III and incoming Chief Robert Leonard, both fine men. Among those honored were Jeanie Walsh as Firefighter of the Year and EMT of the Year Rose Wilmarth. Rose also took the oath as BCVFD EMS Lieutenant, continuing a proud family tradition.
Along with the ceremony, there was also a great time had by all afterward. I will solemnly witness that not only can our Vollies respond to any emergency in any conditions, like turning out at the height of Sandy, but they can also burn up a dance floor!
Thanks for reading
.

Broad Channel Valentine for Vets


BC VFW Valentine For Vets

By Dan Guarino
Photos by Peter Mahon

The VFW Ladies Auxiliary members greet vets arriving for a special Valentine’s Day in Broad Channel. The VFW Ladies Auxiliary members greet vets arriving for a special Valentine’s Day in Broad Channel.Even after the storm, the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Broad Channel did not forget the veterans of St. Albans VA Medical Center.
The Ladies Auxiliary of Prince-Wynn Post 260 was dismayed that Sandy’s widespread destruction did not allow them to host the vets in Broad Channel as planned. So, even with gas and function vehicles scarce, and their own homes damaged, they found a way to go to the vets and bring good cheer and make sure they were not forgotten.
This year the BC group hosted a dozen of disabled veterans, most in wheelchairs, from St. Albans for Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, at the now rebuilt VFW Hall. They arrived from the facility in two special buses.

Vets at the Saturday gathering were treated to a fresh cooked meal prepared by chef Rob Prokopowicz. The complete dinner included salad, shrimp cocktail, chicken parmesan, broccoli rabe and string beans. Coffee, water and soda were also served up. Afterwards they enjoyed Valentine cupcakes made by Eileen Frost-O’Hare.

Vets from St. Albans VA Medical Center enjoy a home cooked meal, entertainment and a great day. Vets from St. Albans VA Medical Center enjoy a home cooked meal, entertainment and a great day.Ladies Auxiliary member Kathleen Reardon Savino noted as part of the entertainment “we had horse racing” where VFW volunteers gamely filled in as the advancing horses, “and Maggie Turchio performed her hula-hoop routine.”
By all accounts the vets enjoyed the day, thanking their VFW hosts as they left. One female vet couldn’t leave without giving the chef a hug.
Throughout the year the Broad Channel VFW volunteers offer programs and events to support local veterans.
It is estimated that there are 19.6 million military veterans in the United States today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau; 1.6 million are women. Approximately 3.6 million veterans suffer from a service-connected disability.


They’re off! VFW volunteers sprint along for a lively horse race. They’re off! VFW volunteers sprint along for a lively horse race.

Vets thank their VFW hosts for a great day. Vets thank their VFW hosts for a great day.

Hail to the chef. One vet couldn’t leave without giving him a big hug. Hail to the chef. One vet couldn’t leave without giving him a big hug.

Thailand investigating floating homes to address flooding....



Thailand tests floating homes in region grappling with floods


By Alisa Tang
AYUTTHAYA, Thailand (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nestled among hundreds of identical white and brown two-storey homes crammed in this neighborhood for factory workers is a house with a trick - one not immediately apparent from its green-painted drywall and grey shade panels.
Hidden under the house and its wraparound porch are steel pontoons filled with Styrofoam. These can lift the structure three meters off the ground if this area, two hours north of Bangkok, floods as it did in 2011 when two-thirds of the country was inundated, affecting a fifth of its 67 million people.
The 2.8 million baht ($86,000) amphibious house in Ban Sang village is one way architects, developers and governments around the world are brainstorming solutions as climate change brews storms, floods and rising sea levels that threaten communities in low-lying coastal cities.
"We can try to build walls to keep the water out, but that might not be a sustainable permanent solution," said architect Chuta Sinthuphan of Site-Specific Co. Ltd, the firm that designed and built the house for Thailand's National Housing Authority.
"It's better not to fight nature, but to work with nature, and amphibious architecture is one answer," said Chuta, who is organizing the first international conference on amphibious architecture in Bangkok in late August.
Asia is the region most affected by disasters, with 714,000 deaths from natural disasters between 2004 and 2013 - more than triple the previous decade - and economic losses topping $560 billion, according to the United Nations.
Some 2.1 billion people live in the region's fast-growing cities and towns, and many of these urban areas are located in vulnerable low-lying coastal areas and river deltas, with the poorest and most marginalized communities often waterlogged year-round.
For Thailand, which endures annual floods during its monsoon season, the worsening flood risks became clear in 2011 as panicked Bangkok residents rushed to sandbag and build retaining walls to keep their homes from flooding.
Vast parts of the capital – which is normally protected from the seasonal floods – were hit, as were factories at enormous industrial estates in nearby provinces such as Ayutthaya. Damage and losses reached $50 billion, according to the World Bank.
And the situation is worsening. A 2013 World Bank-OECD study forecast average global flood losses multiplying from $6 billion per year in 2005 to $52 billion a year by 2050.
FLOATING HOUSE
In Thailand, as across the region, more and more construction projects are returning to using traditional structures to deal with floods, such as stilts and buildings on barges or rafts.
Bangkok is now taking bids for the construction of a 300-bed hospital for the elderly that will be built four meters above the ground, supported by a structure set on flood-prone land near shrimp and sea-salt farms in the city's southernmost district on the Gulf of Thailand, said Supachai Tantikom, an advisor to the governor.
For Thailand's National Housing Authority (NHA) – a state enterprise that focuses on low-income housing – the 2011 floods reshaped the agency's goals, and led to experiments in coping with more extreme weather.
The amphibious house, built over a manmade hole that can be flooded, was completed and tested in September 2013. The home rose 85 cm (2.8 feet) as the large dugout space under the house was filled with water.
In August, construction is set to begin on another flood-resistant project – a 3 million baht ($93,000) floating one-storey house on a lake near Bangkok's main international airport.
"Right now we're testing this in order to understand the parameters. Who knows? Maybe in the future there might be even more flooding... and we would need to have permanent housing like this," said Thepa Chansiri, director of the NHA's department of research and development.
The 100 square meter (1,000 square foot) floating house will be anchored to the lakeshore, complete with electricity and flexible-pipe plumbing.
Like the amphibious house, the floating house is an experiment for the NHA to understand what construction materials work best and how fast such housing could be built in the event of floods and displacement.
FLOATING CITIES?
The projects in Thailand are a throwback to an era when Bangkok was known as the Venice of the East, with canals that crisscrossed the city serving as key transportation routes. At that time, most residents lived on water or land that was regularly inundated.
"One of the best projects I've seen to cope with climate-related disasters is Bangkok in 1850. The city was 90 percent on water - living on barges on water," said Koen Olthuis, founder of Waterstudio, a Dutch architecture and urban planning firm.
"There was no flood risk, there was no damage. The water came, the houses moved up and down," he said by telephone from the Netherlands.
Olthuis started Waterstudio in 2003 because he was frustrated that the Dutch were building on land in a flood-prone country surrounded by water, while people who lived in houseboats on the water in Amsterdam "never had to worry about flooding".
His firm now trains people from around the world in techniques they can adapt for their countries. It balances high-end projects in Dubai and the Maldives with work in slums in countries such as Bangladesh, Uganda and Indonesia.
One common solution for vulnerable communities has been to relocate them to higher ground outside urban areas - but many people work in the city and do not want to move.
Olthuis says the solution is to expand cities onto the water.
Waterstudio has designed a shipping container that floats on a simple frame containing 15,000 plastic bottles. The structure can be used as a school, bakery or Internet cafe.
Waterstudio's aim is to test these containers in Bangladesh slums, giving communities flood-safe floating public structures that would not take up land, interfere with municipal rules or threaten landowners who don't want permanent new slums.
"Many cities worldwide have sold their land to developers... and now when we go to them, we say, 'You don't have land anymore, but you have water,'" Olthuis said. "If your community is affected by water, the safest place to be is on the water."
(Reporting by Alisa Tang, editing by Laurie Goering)