FRONTLINE (PBS) And NPR Investigate Superstorm Sandy Recovery Efforts Multiplatform Business of Disaster investigation beginning May 24 will include an hour-long documentary, multiple radio pieces, and a virtual reality short.

FRONTLINE (PBS) And NPR Investigate Superstorm Sandy Recovery Efforts

A still-running water pipe floods the foundation of a home destroyed by the storm surge of Superstorm Sandy in Staten Island, New York in a photo taken on November 28, 2012. Lucas Jackson/Reuters hide caption

toggle caption
Lucas Jackson/Reuters

A still-running water pipe floods the foundation of a home destroyed by the storm surge of Superstorm Sandy in Staten Island, New York in a photo taken on November 28, 2012.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

When disaster strikes, who profits?

For the past year, FRONTLINE and NPR have been investigating the answer to that question, focusing on the insurance companies that profited in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and the government agencies that were supposed to help people rebuild.

Beginning Tuesday, May 24, this major collaboration examines why three years after the storm, thousands of people are still not home — despite billions of dollars spent on recovery efforts.

In an hour-long documentary airing nationwide on PBS stations Tuesday May 24, multiple radio pieces on NPR starting that same day, and a virtual reality film coming to Facebook, Business of Disaster reveals that private insurance companies working for the government have made hundreds of millions of dollars at the same time that thousands of homeowners are claiming they have been underpaid.

"We found that disasters like Superstorm Sandy aren't a disaster for everyone," says NPR investigative correspondent Laura Sullivan, who along with FRONTLINE producer Rick Young and his investigative team has spent the past year digging into how Sandy recovery dollars were spent. "For some, disasters are big money. We saw thousands of storm survivors stuck in bureaucracy and red tape, insurance companies and contractors making millions in profit, federal aid not reaching homeowners – and government agencies admitting they failed in their efforts to help when people needed it most."

The FRONTLINE and NPR investigation examines two key parts of the disaster recovery system — the federally backed flood insurance program, and the special housing aid Congress gives to local governments after major disasters — and the many complaints and problems that surfaced about them after the storm.

Through the Business of Disaster documentary and radio reports, FRONTLINE and NPR show how rebuilding efforts have left disjointed communities — where some homes are elevated, some are rebuilt below sea level, and some remain destroyed – and expose lingering questions about the effectiveness and wisdom of America's current disaster recovery system.

In an effort to understand the scope of the profits being made, the investigative team spent months collecting data on insurance company expenses and revenue, following a complex money trail. The investigation explores allegations that insurance companies systematically underpaid thousands of homeowners on their flood insurance claims, and delves into how much the billions in housing aid sent to local governments like New York City is actually helping homeowners.

Business of Disaster includes revealing interviews with the head of FEMA's flood program, the head of disaster recovery at HUD, and the top official who oversaw Sandy housing recovery for New York City, as well as a top representative from the insurance industry and people who have worked for years in the disaster recovery business. It's an eye-opening collaboration that raises troubling questions about whether the government — and the communities it serves — are prepared for the next big storm.

NPR and FRONTLINE previously collaborated on Post Mortem, an in-depth exploration of death investigation in America.

"We're so pleased to join forces with NPR to tell this important story across multiple platforms," says Raney Aronson-Rath, FRONTLINE executive producer. "With storms and floods expected to grow in frequency and intensity, this collaboration will be a must-watch and must-listen for millions of American homeowners."

"This Business of Disaster collaboration fulfills public media's mission to serve the public and tell the stories that affect the lives of people every day around this country," said NPR's Senior Vice President of News and Editorial Director Michael Oreskes. "We must use the strength of the public media networks to raise the level of discussion on important subjects."


FRONTLINE, U.S. television's longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 75 Emmy Awards and 18 Peabody Awards. Visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Google+ to learn more. Founded by David Fanning in 1983, FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.

About NPR

NPR connects to audiences on the air, online, and in person. More than 26 million radio listeners tune in to NPR each week and more than 30 million unique visitors access each month making NPR one of the most trusted sources of news and insights on life and the arts. NPR shares compelling stories, audio and photos with millions of social media users on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat; NPR News and NPR One apps, online streaming, podcasts, iTunes radio and connected car dashboards help meet audiences where they are. NPR's live events bring to the stage two-way conversations between NPR hosts and the audience in collaboration with the public radio Member Station community. This robust access to public service journalism makes NPR an indispensable resource in the media landscape.

Film Credits

Business of Disaster is a FRONTLINE production with American University School of Communication's Investigative Reporting Workshop in collaboration with NPR. The writer, producer and director is Rick Young. The co-producers are Emma Schwartz and Fritz Kramer. The correspondent is Laura Sullivan. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.


FRONTLINE: Patrice Taddonio,, 617-300-5375

NPR: Isabel Lara,, 202-513-2300