NEW YORK—Superstorm Sandy left the city with a big scar—44 lives and $19 billion destroyed in a single storm event—and a profound lesson about the power of nature.
Or at least it should have been. As the hurricane season peaks, four years after Sandy, one in four New Yorkers still take hurricane preparation lightly.
And one in six New Yorkers are still not prepared for any emergency, according to last year’s survey conducted for the city’s Office of Emergency Management.
It seems catastrophes, however destructive, fail to propel some people to prepare for future disasters.
In 2005, only 9 percent of New Yorkers felt “very prepared” for an emergency, such as a natural disaster, fire, power outage, or a terrorist attack, the survey showed.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 provided somewhat of a wake-up call after more than 1,500 lives were lost and astronomical devastation ensued.
Since then, New Yorkers started to prepare for emergencies a bit more. In 2007, 14 percent felt “very prepared” for an emergency.
After Sandy, the number rose to an all-time high—17 percent.
Those numbers may look underwhelming, but the survey asked for people’s perceptions—being prepared may mean different things for different people.
Being ready for a hurricane, for example, differs greatly for residents of Coney Island, who would have to evacuate first, compared to residents of Crown Heights, which isn’t in an evacuation zone.
People primarily need to be informed and have a plan, according to Katelyn James, Ready New York outreach coordinator at the Office of Emergency Management.
“The important thing is that people know where to go and know what to do in case of an emergency,” she said.
Ready New York, the city’s public education campaign, tries to help New Yorkers with just that.
It offers materials in 13 languages with guidelines and tips on how to prepare for all sorts of emergencies—from summer heat to hurricanes and terrorist attacks.
James said preparing for emergencies is a personal matter—there’s no law forcing people to prepare.
And it’s not that one cannot handle an emergency extemporaneously—indeed, many people get through an emergency with little to no preparation.
The difference lies in the ease of mind, James said. When one has a plan, one is more likely to avoid extra stress. That’s a benefit in and of itself, but it can also mean less mistakes and omissions.
For example, would you remember in an emergency to write down important phone numbers on a piece of paper? Smartphone batteries die notoriously fast, especially with the heavy use to be expected during an emergency. How many phone numbers do you know by heart?
Even if one doesn’t prepare anything physically, just having a checklist helps. The Ready New York Household Guide is an online resource.
Some preparation, however, can be impossible on the fly.
What if one needs to evacuate while one’s children are still at school? Unreliable cellphone service during network overloads may complicate coordinating a meeting place. Setting up an emergency rendezvous point in advance is more useful.
On the other hand, there are a lot of New Yorkers who not only diligently tend to their own preparation, but also wish to help others.
For such individuals, the city offers membership in the Community Emergency Response Teams.
The city provides response team volunteers with 10 training lessons (usually scheduled once a week in the evening). Police officers, firefighters, and emergency response officials teach skills including fire safety, search and rescue, traffic management, first aid, and triage.
The program launched in spring 2015 and already has 2,000 members.
“If something were to happen in your community, you’d know what to do,” James said. “You’re there to help serve your community.”
How to Prepare
Make an Emergency Plan
- Decide where your household will reunite after a disaster. Identify two places to meet: one near your home and another outside your immediate neighborhood, such as a library, community center, or a friend’s home.
- Identify and practice all possible exit routes from your home and neighborhood.
- Designate an out-of-state friend or relative who household members can call if separated during a disaster. If phone circuits are busy, long-distance calls may be easier to make. This out-of-state contact can help you communicate with others.
- Plan for everybody’s needs, especially seniors, people with disabilities, children, and non-English speakers.
- Practice your plan with all household members, and ensure that household members have a copy of your household disaster plan and emergency contact information to keep in their wallets and backpacks.
- Familiarize yourself with the emergency plans of buildings you visit often, such as your workplace and your child’s school or daycare.
- Buy the right insurance. If you rent your home, renter’s insurance will insure the items inside your apartment. If you are a homeowner, make sure your home is properly insured—flood and wind damage are not covered in a basic homeowner’s policy.
Pack a Go Bag
A Go Bag should be sturdy, lightweight, and portable, such as a backpack. It should be easily accessible if you have to leave your home in a hurry. Pack your bag with the following:
- Copies of your important documents in a waterproof and portable container (insurance cards, birth certificates, deeds, photo IDs, etc.)
- Extra sets of car and house keys
- Copies of credit and ATM cards and cash
- Bottled water and nonperishable food like energy or granola bars
- Battery-operated AM/FM radio and extra batteries
- List of the medications and dosages household members take, or copies of all your prescription slips with doctors’ names and phone numbers
- First aid kit
- Child care, pet care, and other special items
- Lightweight rain gear and Mylar blanket
- Contact and meeting place information for your household, and a small regional map
Buy and Store Emergency Supplies
Keep enough supplies in your home to survive for at least three and up to seven days. Store these materials in an easily accessible container or cupboard:
- One gallon of drinking water per person per day
- Nonperishable, ready-to-eat canned foods and manual can opener
- First aid kit
- Battery-operated AM/FM radio and extra batteries (update twice a year at daylight saving times)
- Personal hygiene items: soap, feminine hygiene products, toothbrush and toothpaste, etc.
- Phone that does not rely on electricity
- Child care supplies or other special care items
Source: New York City Office of Emergency Management