According to the New York Times, after Sandy the New York City Housing Authority lost electricity and elevators to 402 of its buildings housing 77,000 residents, with most of them also losing heat and hot water. "Around the city, 26 of the housing authority’s basement boiler rooms had flooded, destroying the equipment there, and leaving 34,565 apartments without heat and hot water. "
The first and most important step to help these people is through mitigation of the risks. The New York Times reports that the city is using federal, state and local tax dollars to harden the city to the kind of flooding experienced during Sandy. The next step is to develop and rehearse realistic plans. A big mistake made in many emergency management plans is assuming that their informed citizenry will follow the instructions laid out in the plan. When the disaster happens some citizens will not only not have read the plan but will have no interest in written or verbal instructions that they perceive to be contrary to their self interest.
In 2010 Florida completed our first ever statewide hurricane evacuation study. The study generated estimates for every county of how many people would evacuate for a certain category of storms, and how many of those who evacuate would seek shelter. And for each category of storm the study provided not one answer, but two.
The first answer stated how many people would seek shelter if everybody who was supposed to evacuate evacuated, and everybody who WASN'T supposed to evacuate didn't. The other number used behavioral surveys of the populations in the counties to estimate the evacuation numbers and the shelter populations.
I can tell you right now the next time a hurricane hits a densely populated, urban coastal city an elderly, wheel chair bound individual on the 18th floor isn't going to evacuate. And for all the hype over "Superstorm" Sandy, it was big but the intensity was barely a Category 1. The combination of wind, surge, rain, and tornadoes from a major hurricane doesn't leave wreckage but an array of empty concrete slabs. Just getting to the building is going to be a problem, much less climbing to the 18th floor. And that's assuming that you know that someone's there and has a problem.
When I came home to Florida from New York City after Sandy the problem of the wheel chair bound person on the 18th floor was uppermost on my mind. I tried to get other people interested in the problem but life got in the way.
|Me at my first Red Cross deployment - Hurricane Sandy in NYC|
"You're right," I said. "We need to do that."
"I'm going to talk to some smart people I know."
"Me, too," I said. "I know some smart people I can talk to."
Maybe we can come up with something. Maybe we can even get it done before the next storm comes.