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



REUTERS

Published — Monday 26 November 2012

Last update 26 November 2012 3:56 am

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

NEW YORK: A devastating storm like Sandy can bring out the crooks — and not just opportunistic looters and burglars.
Officials dealing with the destruction in the US 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 US 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.”
FEMA also “wanted to know which trucks trucked what debris where and when and how,” he said.
As Superstorm Sandy raced up the US eastern seaboard in late October, Iovino began researching a more efficient system to document the massive damage he expected, and found DebrisTech, a Mississippi debris-removal company whose chief executive was himself a victim of fraud after Katrina devastated the US Gulf Coast region in 2005.
At that time, DebrisTech CEO Brooks Wallace was a partner in a civil engineering firm that had won a $ 200 million contract to remove Katrina wreckage from six Mississippi counties. The firm was using a paper ticketing system to track the trucks hauling away debris, a standard industry practice.
It was a huge job and Wallace’s company sub-contracted some of the work out to other firms, including Florida-based J.A.K. DC & ER, whose owner saw an opportunity, according to federal prosecutors.
J.A.K. owner Allan Kitto peeled off the stickers Wallace’s firm had affixed to his trucks and sent the same trucks back to be stickered again, inflating the number of trucks he appeared to be using and the number of debris hauls he was making.
At night, Wallace said, Kitto would “sneak into my office at two or three in the morning and slide phony paper tickets into the stack of real tickets.” Each ticket represented a truck full of debris that Kitto’s trucks allegedly hauled away. By the time he was caught, Kitto had submitted more than $ 700,000 worth of fake paper tickets, according to federal prosecutors.
Wallace became aware of the scam and contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 2006, Kitto and two others were indicted on federal charges of conspiring to defraud the government. In 2007, Kitto was convicted and sentenced to 25 months in prison.
Wallace, an engineer, began thinking about how to avoid a repeat of that hurricane cleanup experience. He spent $ 60,000 developing custom software to digitally track debris trucks with barcode scanners, digital photos and global positioning systems. That data would then be wirelessly uploaded to a central database.
DebrisTech, one of a handful of private companies using the digital tracking software, leases out iPads loaded with its software to municipalities for $ 12 per device per day. Nassau County leased about 100 of DebrisTech’s 120 devices, Iovino said.
The software also maps the locations of downed or removed trees using GPS coordinates. Iovino has plotted the GPS coordinates of each of the county’s 2,641 downed trees — a figure Iovino expects to rise to 5,000 by the time the cleanup is finished — onto a digital map of Nassau in the county’s emergency operations center. “It’s amazing what a difference this software has made,” he said. “Now when anything is picked up on Nassau County property, we know the size of the truck, the percentage the truck is full, we’ve got a picture of the debris in the truck, which transfer site it went to, and where it is right now.
Debris-removal fraud is widespread after major natural disasters, according to federal and state law enforcement officials.
“You can count on it every time,” said Kathleen Wylie, Deputy Director of the Justice Department’s National Center for Disaster Fraud. “It’s one of the first things we look for.”


Dishonest contractors will “do just about anything you could imagine — they’ll put water in trucks to weigh them down, they’ll put blocks underneath the debris to make the trucks look full. Or the guy at the gate will give a driver a new ticket for driving through with the same load.”
Digital debris-removal technology is also being tested by municipalities like New York City. Programrs working with the city’s Parks Department recently completed work on software to replace an arduous and time-consuming paper ticketing system, said Jeremy Barrick, the Parks Department’s deputy chief of forestry.
“We were using paper ticketing after Irene, and we sat down afterwards to talk about how we could track debris removal more efficiently,” Barrick said. It led to the development of proprietary software known among city officials as “Storm Mobile.”

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, on Thursday led the delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia taking part in the meeting of the international coalition countries to coun...
Munich: Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir led the Saudi delegation to the meetings of the International Syria Support Group meetings, taking place here.The meetings, which have begun, in Vienna, exert efforts to find a political so...
Brigadier General Ahmad Al-Assiri, the Military Advisor to the Minister of Defense, asserted the Kingdom is ready to send ground troops to fight Daesh, as soon as the international coalition gives the green light, and that this decision of Saudi Arab...
JAZAN: Seven lives were snuffed out and several others sustained injuries as a gunman went on a killing spree in Al-Dair governorate of Jazan on Thursday. Employees at an education department office came under a hail of bullets resulting in casualtie...
RIYADH: The ongoing Janadriyah national heritage and culture festival welcomed German government representatives as the guests of honor, marking a new era in Saudi-German ties.Detlef Daues, chief executive officer of a German business group, said: “I...
RIYADH: Highlighting the importance of caring, preservation and better maintenance of mosques located along highways in the Kingdom, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH) and the Masajedna Foundation will honor excellence in...
ABHA: Women graduates in Asir say they are looking for private companies to hire them for online jobs which can be done at home.They asked businessmen to open new production lines for women in both factories and banks.The women said that this would c...
ABHA: Deviant groups have attempted to attract Saudi women to carry out terrorist operations by various means and in sinister ways.Many women have been found to have been recruited by terrorist groups inside and outside the Kingdom.Islamic scholar Mo...
RIYADH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has written a patriotic poem to inspire Saudi troops at the southern borders.Titled, “I wish to be with you,” the poem infuses encouragement in the hearts and minds of troops guarding the borders in Najran,...
RIYADH: A delegation of senior officials from King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) visited the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) to discuss cooperation between the two institutions on sustainable energ...
RIYADH: The Office of the Education Department in eastern Taif has launched a program called “Fatin” which aims to protect students from intellectual threats around them.Fahhad Al-Zuibi, director at the Office for Education said, “The program aims to...
RIYADH: The Taif theater group won two awards when it participated recently in the ninth edition of a theatrical festival in Bahrain. The group, which represented the Kingdom in the theatrical festival, mounted a play production titled “Out of Contro...
RIYADH: Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar inaugurated the first festival for families with handicapped members at the King Fahd Cultural Center (KFCC) on Wednesday evening. The festival, which will last for three days, features a bazaar that displ...
RIYADH: A separate department to provide enhanced security to the Kingdom’s schools will be set up in all educational regions, Education Minister Ahmad Mohamed Al-Issa announced on Wednesday.Under the new directive, such departments will be establish...
RIYADH: Under a new ministerial ruling, payment of the minimum capital for industrial development is to be abolished.To support industrial development, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry issued a ministerial decree eliminating the requirement of t...

Stay Connected

Facebook