2013-02-15 / Editorial/Opinion

Wave to Experts: Info Is Needed

A New York State Senate Task Force has released a preliminary report on Response and Recovery in the aftermath of Sandy. The final report should include our recommendation.

For most of us this was a unique experience. A true disaster you couldn’t walk away from. It stretched for miles and miles. We didn’t know where to start, what to do. The disaster experts were nowhere to be found.

We remain disappointed in the Office Of Emergency Management, Red Cross, and FEMA. Disaster is their business. We learned quickly you rely on yourself, your family, your neighbors. “Official” help might be coming but don’t hold your breath.

Fortunately, Rockaway is full of resourceful and resilient people; fortunately, we had an abundance of volunteers. What we didn’t have was INFORMATION.

Within just a couple of days, the Buildings Department went around doing exterior inspections of homes. If your home was deemed unsafe you got a RED notice (an 8x11 piece of paper), if you had an issue like a broken railing you got a YELLOW, and if things seemed ok you got a GREEN. It was taped to the front door or window.

So here’s a simple recommendation that should be adhered to:

The same process could be used for INFORMATION. As it was, we were forced to rely on a very unreliable grapevine. Rumors and misinformation are like the aftershocks of an earthquake. Unsettling at the least and potentially very dangerous. So,disasterexpertsconsidersomethingsimple: Postan8x11InformationSheetondoors.

Here’s a sample list:
1. Police will patrol the neighborhood from dark until dawn
2. Sanitation will do block by block pick up overnight starting on street __
3. FEMA is set up at the following locations:
4. If you need internet or cell service, there is a hotspot at this location.
5. LIPA is setting December 1 as the earliest day they can restore power (establish a target date so people can then plan
accordingly).
6. Bus and train service is down; OR limited service on these routes:
7. LIPA will not turn on power until a house by house inspection is done (and if a professional electrician is needed to inspect
the electric panel residents should be told so).
8. Food, clothing, and cleaning supplies are available at the following locations:
9. Gas is available in the following locations:
10. ETCETERA !!!

One sheet, that’s it. Update it every few days. Tape it to doors so older, less mobile people could have access to this essential need: basic information.

Now, of course, there should be someone, a point person, to gather this information. OEM or the Mayor’s Office should call precinct commanders and commissioners and get the info and then get it out. Buildings could get to every house – why couldn’t someone with basic information get to every house?

On the west end, FEMA set up two locations – three miles apart. Getting to these locations was a challenge for many. A hardship for others. But here’s the kicker: people had to hear about these locations by word of mouth. The phones were out. There was no television. Incredibly, FEMA was relying on word of mouth at a time when we were hearing all sorts of things, all sorts of rumors.

Let’s remember. Cars were disabled, houses flooded, roads full of water, sand, and debris. And what was the official plan to dispense information? The grapevine. Great.

A simple INFORMATION SHEET would have done wonders. It’s about as low tech as you can go - but it’d be a lot more effective than relying on the grapevine or trying to call FEMA’s 800 number.

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