Hurricane Sandy: One Year Later

Late last October, Hurricane Sandy tore through the Atlantic Coast, claiming hundreds of lives and causing billions of dollars in property damage in the Caribbean and the United States. The National Hurricane Center ranked Sandy as the second costliest hurricane with an estimated cost of $50 billion (only Hurricane Katrina, with a cost of $105.8 billion, outranks Sandy).

A total of 24 US states were in some way impacted by Sandy, but the storm hit areas of New York and New Jersey particularly hard. According to the New Jersey state taxation division, more than 40,000 properties sustained a total of $4.3 billion in lost value as a result of Sandy. Business on the East Coast ground to a halt as the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq closed for two days and airlines cancelled tens of thousands of flights. Many more people lost power, suffered flooding, or missed work as a result of Sandy.

While many businesses have resumed operations and residents have regained power, the scars left by Sandy have been slow to heal for some. The New York Times reports that a Staten Island resident who lost both her husband and daughter in the storm will be the first homeowner bought out under New York City’s Hurricane Sandy recovery program.

The goal of such programs is to reduce the number of properties in flood-prone areas by giving homeowners the pre-storm market value of their homes so they can buy property elsewhere (the woman had been sleeping in the rectory of the church where she works as a teacher). A $400 million recovery program led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo is offering similar buyouts to homeowners in Oakwood Beach, Staten Island.

Beyond buying out residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy, New York City is offering resources to nonprofits and businesses struggling to bounce back from the storm. The NYC Nonprofit Recovery Loan/Grant Program is available to nonprofits that have applied for assistance from FEMA and may need help to bridge the gap between expenditures and FEMA and insurance payments. The NYC Restoration Business Acceleration Team (RBAT) offers resources and grant information to for-profit businesses impacted by Sandy.

In response to extreme weather disasters of the past few years, US Strong, a new nonpartisan New Jersey-based nonprofit organization, is urging leaders in Washington to create a dedicated national funding source to assist with damage caused by storms like Sandy. FEMA is a response agency that deals with the immediate impact of a disaster, but it doesn’t address farther-reaching damage to infrastructure, and private insurance doesn’t cover all storm damage. The proposed superfund could be financed through a levy on atmospheric carbon emissions, US Strong suggests.

The wide-ranging impact of Sandy and other natural disasters underscore the importance of hurricane preparedness, especially for those who live or work in hurricane-prone areas. Having a carefully thought out plan of action could reduce the chance that you and your loved ones would suffer the devastating impact of a hurricane.

FEMA recommends creating a disaster supplies kit that contains basic items your household or business may need in case of emergency. Disaster situations can escalate quickly, so it’s important to build the kit before an emergency arises. Electricity, water, gas, and telephones may be cut off for days at a time, so your kit should include items to help you manage a potential outage, including enough water and nonperishable food to last a minimum of 72 hours.

Your household should also have a communication plan, so that friends and family members can contact one another if they are not at home when a hurricane hits. FEMA suggests designating an out-of-state family member to serve as the main point of contact for separated family members and agreeing on a meeting spot in case of emergency. In cases where the local network is disrupted, family members should text each other with updates. Check out FEMA’s family communication plan template for more information. It’s also important to learn about your community’s evacuation routes and any plans emergency personnel may have for dealing with hurricanes or other disasters.

If you manage a business, your company should have its own emergency communications plan and identify critical business systems. Also make sure employees know and understand the emergency plan to minimize panicking. The Small Business Administration offers resources on preparing for a disaster to minimize the financial impact and prevent harm to your customers and employees.

If you need to evacuate your home or business due to a hurricane, it’s a good idea to secure the structure by reinforcing doors, covering windows, and clearing the property of outdoor furniture, garbage cans, and decorations. Keep essential documents such as emergency contact lists on your person when you evacuate. A list of additional North Carolina emergency management resources is available through the UNC School of Government.