Building a More Resilient New York City

Jul 1, 2013, 12:41 PM


In several recent and upcoming posts, NewPublicHealth is connecting with communities that have faced severe weather disasters in the last year. New York City, for example, is continuing to regroup and rebuild after Hurricane Sandy struck the region eight months ago. The city, and its health department, recently announced several initiatives aimed at “building back better” while supporting residents still facing housing as well as mental health problems since the storm last October. Some examples are detailed below.

  • The New York City Building Resiliency Task Force, an expert panel convened after Hurricane Sandy to help strengthen buildings and building standards, recently issued a report with recommendations for buildings and homes of all sizes in the city. The report recommends establishing backup power in the event that primary networks fail; protecting water supplies and stabilizing interior temperatures if residents need to shelter in place. ”Making our city’s buildings more resilient to coastal flooding and other climate hazards is a challenge that requires collaboration among government, designers, engineers, and building owners, among others,” said City Planning Commissioner Amanda M. Burden. “The Task Force's work exemplifies the kind of innovation and cooperation necessary to prepare our city for a changing climate.”  To create the report, the Task Force convened over 200 volunteer experts in architecture, engineering, construction, building codes and real estate.
  • New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced a partnership with Nextdoor, a free, private social network designed to help neighbors stay connected about important city and safety updates through secure neighborhood websites and a mobile app. Residents can use  Nextdoor to get to know their neighbors, and exchange local advice and recommendations. Nextdoor has already created more than 1,800 neighborhood websites across the city and the city will be able to target specific postings to specific neighborhoods, such as evacuation notices. “Nextdoor gives New York neighbors an easy way to connect and communicate with those who live around them,” says New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It also provides the City with a direct line of communication to residents about important and often critical updates.”
  • The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched an ad campaign about Project Hope, a free, confidential crisis counseling services available to help New Yorkers cope with the effects of Hurricane Sandy, especially in hardest-hit Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Crisis counselors, in identifiable blue vests, can make home visits to provide emotional support and help people find ways to cope with the traumatic impact of the storm. The ad will run in subway cars, on buses and on the Staten Island Ferry through August.

“Months after the storm, many New Yorkers are still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Sandy – both physical and emotional,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, MD.  “Anyone still experiencing stress after the storm can call 1-800-LIFENET to receive free support from a Project Hope counselor.”

The decision to launch to program came in part from a December 2012 Health Department survey conducted in South Brooklyn, the Rockaways, and Staten Island, among areas of the city most hard hit by the hurricane last fall, and found that almost one-third of adults reported experiencing symptoms of serious psychological distress six weeks after the storm and one-third of children surveyed had at least two psychological symptoms such as sadness, trouble sleeping and nervousness.

Project Hope is a strong example of local, state and federal resources converging after a crisis. It is a program of the New York State Office of Mental Health, administered by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and overseen by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Project Hope has counselors that can speak the most common languages required in New York City including Spanish, Russian, Cantonese Mandarin and Arabic, and are working in private homes and at schools, and with community organizations and faith-based groups to identify and connect with people who could benefit from their services.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.