The New York City Housing Authority Prepares for Future Weather-Related Emergencies
October 29, 2013. New York City Housing Authority residents, staff and properties are better protected and prepared for a potential hurricane or weather-related emergency, one year post-Superstorm Sandy.
(Media-Newswire.com) - October 29, 2013. New York City Housing Authority residents, staff and properties are better protected and prepared for a potential hurricane or weather-related emergency, one year post-Superstorm Sandy. Basic repairs have been completed, including providing power, heat and hot water; dewatering; mold remediation; cleaning; and compactor issues, among others. NYCHA’s current focus is on more extensive, permanent repairs, with the goal to make its buildings and systems less vulnerable in the long run. NYCHA is in the process of renovating more than 200 apartments that suffered extensive Sandy damage; planning to weather-proof and raise important equipment above flood levels; and designing the replacement of flood-damaged boilers and electrical equipment. In addition, NYCHA has 24 mobile boilers in place at 15 developments providing heat and hot water to meet the needs of residents. Those boilers will remain in place until NYCHA receives funding to repair and replace those systems that Sandy damaged or destroyed.
“Now that the storm is behind us, NYCHA has been looking at additional ways to reduce our vulnerability and minimize disruption of critical resident services if other major weather events hit New York City,” said NYCHA Chairman John B. Rhea. “We are placing the utmost importance on securing disaster relief funding that will allow us to make permanent repairs to the critical infrastructure of our buildings, and do so in a way that can minimize the risk of damage in future emergencies.”
“NYCHA has been working nonstop to ensure our residents, employees, buildings and grounds are better prepared for a potential hurricane or weather-related emergency,” said NYCHA General Manager Cecil House. “Because we have planned in advance, we will be able to get restorations and repairs completed much more quickly.”
NYCHA has engaged residents, staff and other important stakeholders such as elected officials, as well as the private and non-profit sectors, to plan in advance for future emergencies in an effort to respond to such situations more quickly and efficiently. Based on these discussions and lessons-learned to date, NYCHA updated its Emergency and Hurricane procedures, which included incorporating the Incident Command System model; conducted emergency training for staff, securing emergency contracts for the procurement of emergency equipment; and communicated with residents to make sure they are prepared for disasters and emergencies through meetings, training sessions, and the launch of print, online and social media preparedness campaigns.
NYCHA completed all of the basic repairs to damages caused by Sandy. This included dewatering; apartment inspections, cleaning and mold remediation; and the repair and/or replacement of elevators, exterior compactors, exterior lighting, electrical distribution systems, fire suppression systems, pumps and motors, roof fans, doors, fences and management offices.
NYCHA placed approximately 200 low-income New Yorkers in public housing who were identified by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as persons who had lost their homes after Sandy; and transferred about 140 NYCHA residents who were impacted by Sandy.
The Housing Authority is renovating approximately 272 apartments that suffered extensive damage from Sandy.
NYCHA awarded contracts to replace safety surfaces in playgrounds damaged by Hurricane Sandy at various developments; workers have completed repairs at six playgrounds. The Mayor’s Fund provided assistance to New Yorkers for Parks, a NYCHA partner, to replace 140 trees at the Authority’s developments.
NYCHA conducted a large-scale assessment of its infrastructure to assess the vulnerability to all buildings in Zones 1, 2 and 3; determined the full cost of the storm to the Authority; and made decisions about how it can more strategically procure, locate, and protect important equipment in light of New York City’s growing vulnerability to tropical storms and other extreme weather events..
Based on that assessment, NYCHA has engaged architectural and engineering firms to design the replacement of flood-damaged boilers and electric equipment and to find ways to minimize the effects of future storms.
There are 24 mobile boilers in place at 15 sites until completion of the design and repair process. The mobile boilers can be removed in advance of a storm and reinstalled once a storm has moved on. This should decrease the wait times to restore services.
As part of the Hurricane Sandy Mitigation Plan, NYCHA has received a Community Development Block Grant ( CDBG ) administered by HUD of $120 million. The Authority plans to use the funds to make NYCHA a more resilient place to live.
NYCHA also has contracted with firms that provide emergency equipment and emergency boilers so they can fulfill requests promptly once needed in response to an emergency.
The Housing Authority identified and made ready an alternate space for its Emergency Operations Center in preparation for the 2013 hurricane season. NYCHA also identified Community Center spaces that may be activated as command posts from which it could perform centralized management of an emergency response.
NYCHA purchased portable and inflatable tents equipped with lighting; a heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit; and the capacity to support computers and wireless hotspots. This enables the Authority to set-up command posts at developments when needed.
RESIDENT ENGAGEMENT & COMMUNICATION
NYCHA engaged with residents on emergency preparedness in 36 on-site meetings at vulnerable properties in Coney Island, Red Hook, and the Rockaways; as well as at Family Days throughout the Authority, including the Lower East Side. During these meetings, residents openly shared their experiences, concerns, and recommendations.
NYCHA conducted a phone survey of nearly 2,000 residents during the summer to develop informational materials and communication strategies for emergencies. Survey findings concluded that 80 percent of households are very or somewhat prepared for a major hurricane and 56 percent of households have a family evacuation plan. The survey also found that before Hurricane Sandy hit, only one in four households said they were “very prepared,” but now 43 percent said they are “very prepared” with another 37 percent indicating they are “somewhat prepared.”
NYCHA launched a comprehensive resident engagement campaign – NYCHA Prepares – emphasizing the importance of residents taking an active role in preparing for emergencies, and heeding mandatory evacuation orders from the Office of Emergency Management ( OEM ). This included “Train the Trainer” sessions on emergency preparedness conducted at senior centers in each of the five boroughs. NYCHA also shared information on getting prepared, including financial emergency preparedness, in its publications, website and social media. This includes monthly articles, resources and emergency preparation tips in the Residents’ Journal; recurring newsletters; live chats on Facebook in partnership with OEM and the American Red Cross; and online resources and materials.
Employees hosted separate emergency preparedness Resident Response Team training sessions in partnership with OEM to provide information about creating an evacuation plan, gathering emergency supplies and being informed about hazards.
NYCHA created an online tool called NYCHA Alerts, which encourages residents to sign-up for the latest information on building services notifications, including information about service outages and service restorations at their development. Through NYCHA Alerts, residents can visit NYCHA’s website periodically to check the status of compactor, electricity, elevator, gas, heat, hot water, low voltage and water service disruptions. Residents also can subscribe to get status updates automatically by e-mail.
The Emergency Assistance Registration form, available in multiple languages for residents to complete online or in property management offices, allows residents to notify NYCHA if they have conditions that leave them vulnerable, such as limited mobility, vision impairment, or requiring daily medication or life-sustaining equipment. With this information, NYCHA can better coordinate with other City agencies and partners to deliver important services.
As one year since Sandy approached, NYCHA set up portable tents in Lower East Side, Red Hook, and the Rockaways for residents to see what the emergency command posts will look like if there is an actual emergency. The tents also had emergency preparedness materials and services for residents. This included pamphlets on what to do in case of an emergency; signing up online for NYCHA Alerts; the Emergency Assistance Registration form; and raffles for “go bags.” NYCHA was joined by OEM; the Salvation Army; and Food Bank of NY.
NYCHA assembled an Interdepartmental Task Force to assess the Authority’s preparedness and response activities. Staff across the organization recorded their experiences and lessons learned before, during, and after the storm.
NYCHA implemented a series of process improvements, beginning with the way individual incidents are managed. NYCHA implemented the Incident Command System ( ICS ), which is widely used at all levels of government and within many private sector organizations for managing emergency response. It will ensure that the Authority provides a standardized, flexible response to every emergency.
Employees went through emergency preparedness or incident command training based on FEMA-approved courses and took part in simulation drills. NYCHA also issued and updated emergency training programs for all departments.
NYCHA developed an emergency staffing plan for deploying and transporting staff to different work locations; and also created a Central Office Redeployment Exercise ( CORE ), which provides staff with alternate work locations in case of an emergency.
NYCHA has expanded the role of its Customer Contact Center to provide a wider range of information to residents on a timely basis, and to serve as a tool for collecting, analyzing, and reporting on customer issues.
Contact: Sheila Stainback or Zodet Negrón at 212-306-3322 or email@example.com
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