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Preparing for the Worst in the Rockaways

A heavy rain downpour outside created flooding conditions, reminding the residents why they had gathered. More than 175 people of all ages gathered at the Ocean Bay Bayside Community Center in Rockaway, Queens on May 17 to learn the importance of being prepared for climate change’s extreme events, such as hurricanes and floods. The event, the fifth in a series of six resident forums, was part of NYCHA’s emergency preparedness pilot program, an initiative of NYCHA’s Green Agenda geared at enhancing our residents’ awareness and ability to be ready in case of an emergency.

“Climate change affects you more than anybody else in the New York City Housing Authority,” said Margarita Lopez, NYCHA Board Member and Coordinator of the Green Initiative to the residents who had gathered in the evening. “All developments here in the Rockaways are located in a peninsula making you more susceptible to floods and other disasters and we need to be ready, and we need to do this together.”

Residents learned what must-have items to include in their "go bag." (Photo by Leticia Barboza)

Forty-five percent of NYCHA’s developments like those in Far Rockaway, Queens are in low-lying Hurricane Evacuation Zones and are among the most vulnerable.  NYCHA staff teamed up with New York City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to launch this pilot program in all six Rockaway developments:  Hammel Houses, Redfern, Ocean Bay Bayside, Ocean Bay Oceanside, Beach 41st Street, and Carlton Manor.

Commissioner López, along with NYCHA’s Emergency Services Director Conrad Vázquez and Queens Property Management Director Carolyn Jasper led the discussion. The topics they addressed included designating a meeting place; identifying an exit route; and identifying an out-of-state contact person. They discussed the importance of having a shelter in place, such as an emergency kit with water and other provisions; and having other evacuation and sheltering plans, like preparing a “go bag” with essentials and knowing where to go. Residents remained engaged throughout the 90-minute meeting asking questions and making relevant comments.

“This was good,” said one resident. “You should do more of these; make it a regular thing.”

Thus far, almost 700 residents have attended these meetings. In an effort to protect the welfare of even more residents, ESD staff will reach out to those who did not attend a meeting in the near future. NYCHA will also work with its residents and staff to assess how to best advance the pilot program and team up with relevant community based organizations.

By Zodet Negron
May 19, 2011