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After Hurricane Sandy tore through the eastern United States, IRE offers resources to help you dig into the problems left in the storm's wake, including disaster relief efforts, using databases and mapping to show the extent of damage in certain areas and neighborhoods and how to follow the money.


Veteran journalists offer tips for enterprise in disaster coverage

Sally Kestin, an investigative reporter, and John Maines, database editor, have investigated fraud in FEMA disaster aid, children missing from the child welfare agency and flaws in Florida’s background screening for day care and nursing home workers. Their FEMA series was a 2006 Pulitzer finalist for investigative reporting.

Kestin and Maines describe similarities they see between Hurricane Sandy and the disasters they analyzed for their FEMA series. By requesting and analyzing FEMA assistance data they were able to track waste in recovery spending for funerals, goods and emergency payments. Reporters can apply their strategies to look for fraud in Hurricane Sandy recovery.

They suggest submitting FOIA requests for this data immediately. To help, they've provided this sample FOIA to FEMA for individual assistance data. In addition, Maines has provided sample assistance data from FEMA. A description of the data can be found here and you can download it here (4.5 MB zipped file).

Jacqueline Charles is an award-winning foreign correspondent for The Miami Herald with responsibility for Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean. She was recently honored as Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists for her coverage of the Haiti earthquake. To follow Charles' continued coverage of Hurricane Sandy on Haiti go to and Twitter @jacquiecharles

Steve Doig is the Knight Chair in Journalism at Arizona State University. In 1992 he covered Hurricane Andrew and was part of The Miami Herald team that produced What Went Wrong. The work won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Doig suggests digging into records and data to help with hurricane coverage. Census data, in particular, can help uncover "the who" of the story. You can find more information on the census from the Cronkite School of Journalism and IRE.

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigative reporter for the WSMV Channel 4 I-Team. He's covered a number of disasters including the May 2010 flooding of Nashville. He specializes in investigations into corruption, criminal activity and waste of taxpayer money. Feel free to contact him if you have any questions:

Zack Kucharski is Senior Manager of Newsroom Operations. He covered the Iowa flood of 2008 in Cedar Rapids as a data journalist for The Gazette. He offers tips on the value of property databases and generating expertise in the process residents will go through to get aid.


From the Blog

Sample FOIA Request for FEMA assistance data
From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FEMA assistance data enables reporters to track recovery spending, which is how the Sun-Sentinel uncovered fraud in FEMA programs. Reporters at the Sun-Sentinel suggested submitting FOIA requests for this data immediately. Below is a link to download sample data (4.5 MB zipped file) and a description of the data, also provided by the Sun-Sentinel:

Sample FEMA Assistance Data


Related stories


SBA Disaster Loans
The SBA Disaster Loans data details loans made to businesses and individuals as disaster assistance. The data identifies the borrower, the disaster, the amount and, for business borrowers, whether the loan was paid in full or deemed uncollectible. For state slices of this product, please contact

Storm Events
This is the official U.S. government database of storm events around the country. Some of the events tracked are: tornadoes, hurricanes, tropical storms, droughts, snowstorms, flash floods, hail, wild/forest fires, temperature extremes, strong winds, fog, and avalanches.

Federal Contracts
The Federal Procurement Data System, maintained by the U.S. General Services Administration through a private contractor, includes transaction-by-transaction records related to federal contracts.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Information System (CERCLIS) database maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency contains general information on sites across U.S. territories including location, status, contaminants and actions taken.



As the East cost braced for Hurricane Sandy, data journalists across the country were working in realtime to spread the news. We gathered some of the interesting enterprise coverage and data visualizations we found from around the web. Have a suggestion for our list? Send it to or tweet us @IRE_NICAR.

After the storm

Before and during the storm

  • The Washington Post staff created this responsive page with Google's crisis map, a live blog and social media feeds.


Below are some links to external resources that could be helpful in coverage following Hurricane Sandy. If you have ideas for links we should add to this list, send it to or tweet us @IRE_NICAR.

Esri Disaster Response
Esri works directly with national, international, state, and local organizations during disasters and offers print, broadcast, and digital media outlets free access to extensive and in-depth analytic mapping tools to aid in news coverage. The Esri Public Information Maps cover Hurricanes & Cyclones, Wildfires, Flooding, and Severe Weather and include live data and social media feeds. Customization and tech support is also available.

Google Crisis Response
Resources include custom Google maps that show developments like road closures and emergency medical stations, Google Earth to compare pre- and post-disaster images of an impacted location, and most notably Google’s People Finder, a platform for for individuals and organizations to let people know who they’re looking for and to enter updates about missing persons.

National Hurricane Center
Track storms at this site from the National Weather Service.

DART Center for Journalism and Trauma: Covering Natural Disasters
DART offers a wide variety of resources for journalists in the field, including tips for self-care amid disasters, information on how mental health issues evolve from natural disasters and tips for interviewing amid disaster.


FEMA data feeds
FEMA data feeds include information in varoius formats on hurricane evacuation routes, American Red Cross Shelters, historical disaster declarations and public assistance funded projects.

USDA Disaster Assistance
USDA offers disaster assistance in several different ways. Get an overview of how USDA disaster assistance works and how farmers in your area might be affected.