August 12, 2014

Superstorm Sandy Long-Term Recovery Groups also Preparing for Future Disasters

On August 7, 2014, John Berglund of The Salvation Army, who chairs the New York City VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), walks leadership of New York City long-term recovery groups through a strategic planning process at the second of five forums cosponsored by CWS, New York Interfaith Disaster Services, The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, FEMA VALs and Metropolitan College of New York's Emergency and Disaster Management Program. Photo: Carol Fouke-Mpoyo

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Even as voluntary organizations help New York City with its long-term recovery from Superstorm Sandy, preparing the city for the next hurricane or other disaster is already high on their agenda.  That was evident August 7 at one in a series of forums for leaders of community-based long-term recovery groups from the city’s five boroughs.

The series is sponsored by Church World Service, New York Disaster Interfaith Services, the American Red Cross, and New York City Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.  About 20 LTRG leaders met August 7 at the Metropolitan College of New York in downtown Manhattan, where they were hosted by the college’s Emergency and Disaster Management Program.

A discussion group at the August 7 forum. Photo: Carol Fouke-Mpoyo

At their last meeting, LTRG leaders identified three priorities for their ongoing work together: how to better serve clients, their own sustainability, and joint advocacy with government and other major players in the Sandy recovery and rebuilding effort. 

“New York is a city in which problems usually are solved by neighborhood agencies and associations,” commented CWS Emergency Response Specialist Joann Hale.  “Superstorm Sandy made clear that to solve many disaster recovery challenges requires going beyond the neighborhood and undertaking joint planning and advocacy.”

The city’s recovery from Sandy could take another decade to complete, but many recovery funds and programs will “sunset” by the end of 2015.  How will LTRGs sustain themselves after that, forum participants considered given their mandate to help survivors meet urgent needs unmet by government or personal resources.

“Because Church World Service has a lot of experience and knowledge of the best practices of long-term recovery, we have an important role in these forums,” said CWS’s Hale.  “Furthermore, we can connect local long-term recovery groups to our national denominations and partners, who are potential sources of funding and volunteers.”

On Sandy’s second anniversary October 29, the LTRGs must be prepared to give a report to their communities of what they have achieved to date and of their activities and goals for 2015, said NYDIS Chief Response Officer Peter Gudaitis. 

LTRGs can also emphasize realistic expectations for recovery.  “Not everyone will be restored to where they were before the storm, and some will have to move,” said John Berglund of The Salvation Army, who led the group in a strategic planning exercise.  Berglund chairs the New York City VOAD.

And LTRGs should use that and every opportunity to communicate “dos” and “don’ts” of successful recovery and of preparedness for future disaster, forum presenters said.

A discussion group at the August 7 forum. Photo: Carol Fouke-Mpoyo

Of utmost importance, Gudaitis said, is for Sandy-affected homeowners to purchase federal flood insurance.  Without it, “they won’t get any government assistance next time around,” he said.  “They will lose their house, their nest egg.”  NYDIS convenes an Unmet Needs Roundtable, and a majority of petitioners have not yet purchased federal flood insurance, Gudaitis said.

Forum participants discussed other ways New York City can “weather the next storm,” so to speak.  Households should take seriously their own responsibility to stockpile food, water and other supplies needed to shelter in place for up to six days.  They should also have “go bags” ready in case they need to evacuate.

Other ideas included solar-powered cell phone recharging stations to help keep people communicating, communications “trees” so that essential information gets out quickly and completely, and business preparedness planning so that local businesses can stay open and functioning post-disaster.

In both long-term recovery and preparedness, building sustainable community networks is essential, Gudaitis said.  “When we can advocate to government with one voice on what disaster survivors need to recover from Superstorm Sandy and prepare for the next disaster, that’s what makes us essential to government.  Are you a force-multiplier in an extreme way?  Do you represent a significant number of non-governmental organizations in your community?  The more you have, the more government must deal with you.”