Hard lessons from Sandy

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, it became evident that Latinos were among the most vulnerable groups during natural disasters. Nearly one year later, our community is still experiencing the frustrations of a slow recovery and government response.

The environmental effects of a natural disaster can be very detrimental, exacerbating existing health problems like the high rates of asthma and diabetes among Latinos. Many Latino communities that were battered by Sandy are located in industrial coastal areas like Northern Brooklyn, the South Bronx, Sunset Park and Staten Island.

The Bloomberg administration presented an action plan for Sandy recovery, but it wasn’t inclusive with communities or organizations it planned to help. The administration also ignored the preventive work that had already taken place..

The next administation must address gaps in plannng by identifying the needs and priorities of each area. The issues to tackle include developing green infrastructure and climate change adaptation projects, and decreasing the vulnerability of transportation, energy and food systems during natural disasters. In addition, a supply distribution plan for emergencies needs to be put in place.

Another problem that must be addressed is ensuring the health and safety of workers and residents. Studies and federal documents show that toxic substances and metals that are extremely harmful to health are stored in impacted industrial areas. Even though these are subject to strict federal standards, there is no publicly available contingency plan in case of natural disasters.

Communities and their organizations must also be allowed to expand their role. Before, during and after Sandy, many members of communities of color depended on their nonprofits for help and information. However, the Bloomberg administration responded with competitions and grants that disregarded the work that had already been done by organizations that are part of the Sandy Regional Assembly, like UPROSE, El Puente and the Ministry of Peace and Justice, among others.

These voices should become active participants in decisions and the implementation of such plans. They shouldn’t be relegated to the role of observers when it comes to funding and help that would keep communities safer and more united.

These communities and organizations found out about the City’s recommendations the same day that they were made public. How can an administration address the real needs of the community if it doesn’t engage those who are affected?