LES Ready: Caring For Seniors in Hurricane Sandy & Beyond

All this month, we’re featuring articles from the Lower East Side Long-Term Recovery Group, a coalition that formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The latest installment in the LES Ready series comes from the Educational Alliance and addresses the needs of the neighborhood’s seniors during future emergencies.

Sandy's storm clouds looming over the LES. Photo by H. Spencer Young.

Sandy’s storm clouds looming over the LES. Photo by H. Spencer Young.

Prior to October 29, 2012 many people living in lower Manhattan did not worry about the ability to flush a toilet or if they had steam or oil heat.  When Hurricane Sandy took away the power from lower Manhattan, these and other essential services became the major focus.

While some — a year later — will tell you they managed and have moved on with their lives, for many older adults coping during and after Hurricane Sandy became a fight for survival. Below 34th Street, older adults became trapped in their high rise apartments and found that they were ill-prepared to manage for several days without electricity.  Meeting basic and not so basic needs such as bathing and obtaining prescription drugs when their local neighborhood pharmacy was also without power became seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Fortunately the staff from the Educational Alliance, who had supported them in the past, were once again there – and among the first who reached out – to assist. Staff called prior to and during the storm.  In the aftermath of Sandy, many staff and wonderful volunteers came to Grand Street by walking, biking, or taking cars loaded with supplies to go door-to-door with essentials, like water, batteries, flash lights, blankets, and food that they could open and eat. Many seniors could not open the standard “MREs” (meals ready to eat) typically provided during a disaster, or they had difficulty using them as the instructions were confusing or not provided in a language that they understood.  As the days without power continued, staff and volunteers returned to help and support the seniors who did not have another place to go. While the fear and anger was increasing among the residents they graciously welcomed and appreciated the help from the Educational Alliance.  Many seniors wondered, especially as they did not have access to media information, where the emergency services were and why there was not more effort from disaster relief programs.

While we are always planning for the next emergency, Sandy has shown the Educational Alliance the need to focus our planning efforts so that when the next disaster should occur, it will be easier for older adults to cope. Essential to meeting this goal are: up-to-date lists of neighborhood seniors complete with their contact information, as well as senior-friendly supplies that will last a person seven days.

In an emergency, the value of sharing and pooling resources among agencies is crucial to helping more people in need.   Staff from different agencies must continue to communicate and share resources to best help the seniors; for example, City Meals on Wheels provided food boxes to many of Educational Alliance seniors with food that did not require cooking. The food was easy to open and the seniors had multiple meals from what was given to them.  The items packed in these boxes should be recorded for future emergencies, especially when older adults are impacted. We also learned that the LES older adult community did not allow the Hurricane or the aftermath to stop them from living and wanting to remain in the homes many have lived in for decades.   While we all do not want another disaster to impact the LES, Educational Alliance is better prepared today and will continue to train and learn about the optimal response for the LES older adults in a crisis situation.

You can read all of the stories in the series here.