Fighting Sandy debris-removal crooks: There's an app for that

Fri Nov 23, 2012 2:38pm EST
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By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A devastating storm like Sandy can bring out the crooks - and not just opportunistic looters and burglars.

Officials dealing with the destruction in the U.S. Northeast say one of their biggest headaches is debris-removal fraud committed by greedy contractors who inflate their share of the millions in cleanup funds doled out by federal agencies.

But new digital technology created by private companies and municipalities in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Irene is making it much easier to stop firms from overcharging by claiming they have trucked away more wreckage than they have.

The new software combats fraud and also streamlines the vexing municipal task of documenting every last dumpster of debris or broken tree branch to prove to Federal Emergency Management Agency auditors that the money was properly spent.

Ray Iovino learned his lesson after 2011's Hurricane Irene, which caused nearly $16 billion in economic damage across eight northeastern U.S. states.

As assistant director of the bureau of equipment and inventory for Long Island's Nassau County, Iovino remembered all too well the messy months of paperwork that consumed his office after Irene felled nearly 2,500 trees in his area.

"The first thing they asked for were the pictures of every tree that went down in the storm," Iovino said, in reference to FEMA. County officials, unfamiliar with federal regulations, had simply written down the locations of the trees, which wasn't good enough.

"FEMA said they'd have to go out and look at every single location," Iovino said. "It was a nightmare."   Continued...

A worker removes the debris of a home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in Union Beach, New Jersey November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer