LOWER EAST SIDE — Four years after Hurricane Sandy, community organizations seeking to prepare the neighborhood for future disasters are taking measures to protect the neighborhood's most vulnerable populations who were neglected when the storm hit.
Resiliency group LES Ready, a coalition of neighborhood groups including Good Old Lower East Side, that launched after Sandy has started hosting emergency preparedness workshops for seniors as part of its Healthy Aging Program, covering what to do in case of heat waves, winter storms, and hurricanes.
The ramped up community outreach comes as the group finalizes its Community Disaster Response Plan, which lays out how group members are to communicate internally and coordinate before, during and after a disaster — this includes maintaining communication with community members and assessing needs in affected areas of the neighborhood.
"The idea is that we’re all functioning, we all will know how to coordinate and communicate based upon this plan, but we’re saying the same preparedness messages to our community members and we are prioritizing those who are most vulnerable to make sure they can get though future disasters," said Ceci Pineda, training and policy coordinator for resiliency at GOLES.
According to recent census data, there are 24,000 seniors within Community Board 3 — covering the Lower East Side and East Village — making up roughly 15 percent of the population.
GOLES estimates the district has an unusually high concentration of seniors and individuals with disabilities living alone, making much of the neighborhood's population especially vulnerable to natural disasters.
The group is communicating the importance of evacuating in a timely manner for those in wheelchairs or otherwise disabled living on upper floors of a building, before elevators shut down and they are left stranded to ride out the storm.
If a senior is choosing to stay in place, GOLES recommends they store enough food to last for three days and enough medication to last for a month.
This is especially important to communicate in advance, said Pineda, because seniors are not always going to respond well to strangers coming through after a storm to knock on their door in attempts to offer aid.
"Following Sandy, the reality was that a lot of people were located on 16th or 17th floors, they couldn’t leave their building, they were concerned about their safety, and there were no lights in the buildings and so they didn't really trust strangers or people coming through and knocking," said Pineda.
Through the resiliency workshops, GOLES hopes to enable seniors to equip themselves for potential disasters with basic preparedness plans, whether it's evacuating or stocking up on food and supplies.
The group also encourages seniors living alone to pair up with someone during the storm, and has itself developed a list of elderly in the community to call before a storm hits to ensure they are prepared.
"In reality, our organization won’t be a be able to be responsible for every single building in the Lower East Side," said Pineda. "But the more training we do on a building by building basis, the more we can build the agency of the residents themselves to take care of and look after each other."
For more information about GOLES' services and workshops within the Healthy Aging Program, visit the group's website.