Rockaway Emergency Plan Is Born
When the biggest storm to hit our hometown since Hurricane Donna in 1960 came barreling up the coast, aiming right towards our family and friends, we hate to say it: we weren’t even there.
The three of us, raised on salt water and tan lines and stories about hurricanes past — by choice and circumstance — weren’t in town but our families and friends were. Jess Klein was in Brooklyn, reminding her nowfiancé about the dangers of taking photos in the storm (he did anyway) and screaming at her parents to come to the apartment. Katie Honan was in Manhattan, working and watching reporters from her station broadcast live from her parents’ front porch as a giant chunk of the boardwalk floated down her street. And Jaime Jordan was in Long Island with her husband and baby, begging her family to leave Rockaway. They declined, mostly because Irene had turned out to be much ado about nothing.
We didn’t know each other that well before October 29th, but we had that one big thing in common — Rockaway. And by some miracle, while much of New York City lost power and cell service, we had electricity and an internet connection, which led us to create Rockaway Emergency Plan/ Rockaway Help.
We connected over social media, so it became a natural fit for us to start a Facebook page that was originally meant as a place to share information about the best ways to get home.
Once we got home we found a mess larger than any we could have imagined. Disaster response wasn’t something we ever thought about before the storm, but we just did what we could — like the rest of our family, friends, and neighbors were doing.
When we asked people on Facebook to come help, we didn’t expect much. We weren’t even sure other people had power or cell service to see our requests, but by 10 a.m. at St. Francis de Sales the weekend after the storm, it was clear that they did. Hundreds of people descended on our tiny peninsula eager to muck out basements, make sandwiches and deliver newsletters to people without power.
And we fielded questions we never thought we’d have to answer. It was a hell we’d never imagined: People still hadn’t heard from loved ones, days after the storm. We used the page to set up in-person check-ins, mostly strangers who would report back with simple messages that meant more than anything back then: “I visited your mother, her house was damaged and she has no power or cell service but she’s ok.”
We worked with Greg Finch and Angelica Katz at Assemblyman Goldfeder’s office, and the wonderful men and women of Team Rubicon. We coordinated efforts with Smallwater and Yana, with Walter Meyer and Occupy Sandy. We directed funds to the Graybeards. We sent cleaning supplies and later, turkey dinners and Christmas decorations, to Megan Courtney and Nicole Moriarity and Rockaway WISH. We coordinated efforts with Mike Sinesky at Friends of Rockaway and got lots of trauma advice from Dr. Joe Fraiman, a resident who came back to his hometown from his hospital in New Orleans. We received technology help from Matt Kelly at Blue State Digital. CARE for Sandy helped people save their precious photos. Paul Gunnels from FEMA helped us develop an immediate response plan with a yellow legal pad in a freezing cold classroom in St. Francis. (He still emails to see how we are doing.) The National Guard helped us unload boxes and direct traffic. Someone managed to hire us an out of service New York City bus to transport volunteers. Would-be Marathon runners arrived wearing the bibs for a race they couldn’t run. Mormons arrived wearing yellow vests and the folks at New York Cares loved red. Chris Rudolph and Alex Cannon turned their Astoria apartment into a drop-off center for supplies. Jillienne Jordan and Kaitlin Fitzgerald helped us organize the hundreds of volunteers who came down. There were hundreds, maybe thousands more.
As we transitioned from recovery to rebuilding, Rockaway Emergency Plan changed tactics. The nature of our advocacy work evolved from crisis management to an open news resource. We started covering meetings and tried to provide hyperlocal news, to keep our neighbors informed about events, deadlines and available funds.
More recently, we hosted a bunch of “hack jams” in conjunction with the National Day of Civic Hacking sponsored by the New York Community Trust. Our main event was at Scholars’ Academy in June — thanks to Steve Kinney and Principal O’Connell for opening their school to us so we can crowdsource the community as we rebuild. Residents came up with areas to focus on, and techies and web folks integrated and planned for ideas on things like emergency response and web literacy.
The web is known as being a powerful resource and search tool, but unlike traditional sources, it’s designed as a handcrafted community - by users for users. If you aren’t making your mark on the web for your community, someone else is going to do it for you — and we want to make sure Rockaway makes its own mark.
It’s been a year and we still find enough reasons to keep posting and sharing information — on both the good (bars and restaurants reopening) and the boring (we go to the meetings so you don’t have to, but you should!) The three of us have become close friends, proving you can make friends on Facebook. In June, Jaime and Katie will be bridesmaids at Jess’ wedding.
There’s a lot of money being pumped into our communities, and it’s on the people living here to make sure it gets spent the right way.
This past year we’ve realized how important it is to stay involved and informed or our recovery will be usurped by others. We’ll admit, at the meetings we feel a little protective. We want to make sure our peninsula is represented accurately, and we want to make sure our story is told by our community. Our community led the charge to put this town back together and we deserve to decide what it will look like in the future.
Now, almost twelve months later, walking around our neighborhood we feel a surge of pride in this town, this community, the beauty, the love, the recovery, the resiliency. It is the kind of place where you come across five people you know just walking down the street. We feel lucky to be part of it and we are dedicated to its full recovery, but we know it’s not over. This is an important time for our peninsula and we have to keep up the fight. Back on October 29th we were fighting the storm, now we have to fight for the future of our hometown.
We started the page because we just wanted to get back home. It’s been our fierce protectiveness of that place that’s kept us at it ever since.
Jaime Jordan, Belle Harbor, is a journalism professor at Fordham University and CUNY. Jessica Klein, Belle Harbor, is a software designer at Mozilla. Katie Honan, Rockaway Park, is a reporter covering Queens for DNAinfo New York.
Facebook Posts From Breezy Volunteer Fire Companies
Point Breeze Fire Department
November 2, 2012
PBFD Volunteer Firefighters are still operating 24/7 in Breezy Point out of one of our firefighter’s homes since our firehouse was destroyed - whole town has no gas, electric, or running water. Please contact Pointbreezevfd@gmail.com or at 917-767-6971 if you can offer support. Ex- commissioner John Ingram is coordinating relief efforts. We are here to stay. Thank you.
Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department
November 10th, 2012
We are still on duty providing emergency services to our community in Breezy Point. We have always been able to count on our faithful residents to provide whatever financial help was needed to maintain our fire fighting, rescue, and ambulance service in good repair and availability. We now find ourselves in the awkward position of needing to replace capital equipment (ambulance) and vital gear (radios; turn-out-coats; boots; pants; helmets; etc.) all damaged or ruined in the horrific fire and storm surge that engulfed our community when Hurricane Sandy visited us.
Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department
November 12th, 2012
Two weeks ago tonight on Oct. 29 our community was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The storm destroyed all of our emergency vehicles and left our firehouse uninhabitable. Since then we have commandeered the three buildings next door to facilitate EMS operations, sleeping quarters for our disenfranchised volunteers, emergency response as well as donation intake and distribution. We are gratefully accepting donations excluding clothes. Anything you could donate would be greatly appreciated. (Gloves, Masks, Bleach, Shovels, Brooms, Flashlights, Hand Tools, Tape, Triple A batteries, Mops, Buckets, Rubber Boots, etc.)