Practical Suggestions for Disaster Preparedness From New Yorkers

Pulley systems for delivering food in tall buildings, rainwater harvesting, and other smart ideas.

Image
Reuters

A little over a week ago, the NYS 2100 Committee, formed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to recommend a post-Sandy course of action, released its report. As Eric Jaffe noted here at the time, the document drew some criticism for the vague and all-encompassing nature of its recommendations. If you’re looking for more specific solutions to improve resiliency, disaster preparedness, and climate change mitigation in New York City, you can turn instead to a report from ioby, a nonprofit fundraising organization dedicated to environmental issues.

The people at ioby polled a group of more than 380 people immediately after the storm to get their thoughts on how the city could be better prepared for similar events in the future. Participants, who weren't constrained by the political considerations that a government group faces, included "engineers, architects, energy experts, policymakers, artists, lawyers, business owners, nurses, activists, planners, academics, media and more." The results were released last week.

So what do the people on the ground in New York’s neighborhoods want to see? They came up with some "big ideas," including updating the region’s electrical grid; making flood insurance more expensive to discourage building in vulnerable areas; expanding protected wetland areas to create a bigger buffer zone for storm surge; building floating boardwalks along coastlines. (Yes, the oft-discussed oyster reefs are in here, too.)

But it’s their smaller ideas – many of them clearly born of practical experience – that are the most intriguing. A lot of them are cheap and relatively easy to implement. Here are a few of the group’s nuts and bolts suggestions:

  • Secure out/indoor pulley systems to deliver food, water and medicine to residents living in the top floors of tall buildings in lower Manhattan.
  • Offer emergency training in Russian in Coney Island.
  • Install rainwater harvest systems in Red Hook.
  • Establish bike "brigades" that can deliver supplies to areas where roads have been washed out during and after an emergency. (Portland, Oregon, is already researching how best to incorporate cargo bikes into its disaster preparedness plans.)
  • Distribute solar-powered water heaters after an emergency.
  • Educate youth about extreme weather events and vulnerability.
  • Create "buddy" programs to account for everyone in an apartment building during and after an emergency.

Several of the recommendations — such as the cultivation of alternative energy sources and an increase in the number of urban gardens — don’t apply only to emergency situations. And maybe that’s the most important message the ioby group is sending. The conclusion of the report puts it this way:

There was a clear sense that resilience during an emergency is closely intertwined with the longer-term strength of communities. That what is good during an emergency is also good for everyday life. For example, the distribution of food from urban farms was discussed as a way to help feed citizens after an emergency. But it was equally discussed as a service to people that live in food deserts that do not have regular access to healthy food, thus reducing poverty—and vulnerability—across the NYC Metro Area.

In other words, we don’t need a disaster to benefit from being a more connected, resilient community. New York, are you listening?

Top image: A man makes his way through flood waters on a bike in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, October 29, 2012. (Reuters/Keith Bedford)

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn.