Helping the Vulnerable When Disaster Strikes

Wilma Serrano (Photo by Roger Miller via Downtown Express)

Wilma Serrano (Photo by Roger Miller via Downtown Express)

When disasters like Hurricane Sandy strike, it’s often the older and more infirm community members who have difficulty coping. Now a new study by the New York Academy of Medicine, based on 200 interviews conducted in Chinese, Spanish and English, discusses how these more vulnerable New Yorkers can better withstand future disasters, Roger Miller of Downtown Express reports.

Miller details how Wilma Serrano, 64, who has diabetes and uses a wheelchair, had to depend on her daughter to bring food, medication and fresh water to her Lower East Side apartment.

Serrano’s story is far from uncommon. In New York City there are 1.4 million people — 17 percent of the total population — with 60 years or more under their belt. And when the surge of water came charging over the banks, roughly 30 percent of the households within the water’s reach — about 67,000 — had at least one adult aged 65 and older. And of the 44 people that died as a result of Hurricane Sandy, 31 were people aged 55 and over. That’s 70 percent.

Those numbers come from NYAM’s study, entitled “Resilient Communities: Empowering Older Adults in Disasters and Daily Life.” Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford, president of the NYAM, noted that during Sandy, “it was difficult for non-connected adults to get help, especially for older people on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown.”

In order to prepare for another disaster like Hurricane Sandy, the report recommends that communities should essentially work to build connections between neighbors, businesses, and organizations working in the neighborhood. They also said that neighborhoods should offer something called a “community resilience hub,” said Boufford. “One stop shops for those looking into how to be prepared for emergencies.”

The report’s authors also recommend that various governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations share their emergency plans in order to coordinate their efforts. And both these groups, the report states, should engage older adults in their plans so that they know their needs are being met, and also how they might help in the event of an emergency.

Now, Miller writes, Serrano has a “go-bag” prepared for future emergencies.

In a related story, Brooklyn Brief reported on an event in Red Hook to encourage residents to be ready with their own “go-bags” in the event of another hurricane. Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council member Carlos Menchaca and other city officials were on hand at the Red Hook Initiative. They urge city residents to: know whether or not they live in one of the city’s six flood zones (most of Red Hook is within a flood-risk zone); make a plan that includes family members, roommates or neighbors; and sign up to receive emergency updates and info via email, text, phone and Twitter.

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