Over a year and a half ago, on Monday, October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy made landfall near New Jersey. It was the second costliest storm in United States history, responsible for 65 billion dollars in damage and 159 deaths across the U.S., causing severe damage to New York City and New Jersey. The damage from this catastrophic storm is still visible today and some fear that this type of storm will become the norm.
Shortly after Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast, Occupy Wall Street used social media to organize aid for those afflicted. The Occupy movement, a planned social organization comprised of activists, coalesced around the issue of income inequality. Yet, in the face of this approaching disaster, Occupy Wall Street organized a volunteer army of young, educated, and tech savvy individuals under the new title, Occupy Sandy. In the days and weeks that followed, “Occupy Sandy” became one of the leading humanitarian groups providing relief to survivors across New York City and New Jersey. At its peak, it had grown to an estimated 60,000 volunteers—more than four times the number deployed by the American Red Cross.
If, in fact, such catastrophic storms do become the norm, the federal government needs to embrace grassroots relief movements in order to increase community resilience and improve unity of effort. To that end, the Homeland Security Studies and Analyses Institute recently conducted a series of case studies on the role that such grassroots collectives can play in disaster scenarios. One such report focused on the instrumental role of Occupy Sandy during the reconstruction period after Superstorm Sandy dissipated.
The report sought to explore Occupy Sandy’s origins, organization, leadership, and the internal mechanisms that decided the scope of services that they provided to the survivors. The extensive study yielded a number of findings. Among them was the central conclusion that Occupy Sandy complemented federal and state efforts to mitigate the damage and actually filled in critical gaps that were left open. As the researchers state, “We can learn lessons from Occupy Sandy’s successes to ensure a ready and resilient nation.”
What is especially important about this study is that Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is slowly developing a base of support outside of the grassroots community. TIDES has long understood the value of crowdsourcing and social media as an effective tool in the aftermath of a crisis, either manufactured or natural, given our organization’s core mission of engaging non-government entities to provide sustainable support to populations under stress.
Over the course of the past few months, we hosted several conferences extolling on the strengths of OSINT and how it can be applied by federal agencies across the board. As studies, such as this, continue to confirm the value of our work, we will proceed to develop greater opportunities and venues to promote OSINT across the board. For access to further information and the report, please click here.
 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, Service Assessment: Hurricane/Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, October 29, 2012), 10.
 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Hurricane Sandy: Youthful Energy and Idealism Tackles Real World Disaster Response, Lessons Learned Information Sharing report (Washington, DC: FEMA, August 22, 2013).
 “Red Cross Recovery Efforts to Help Sandy Survivors,” American Red Cross, first published December 19, 2012, accessed September 2, 2013, http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Red–Cross–RecoveryEfforts–to–Help–Sandy–Survivors.
 Department of Homeland Security. “The Resilient Social Network: @OccupySandy, #Superstorm Sandy.” U.S. Resilience Systems. Department of Homeland Security, 10 June 2014. Web.