Hurricane Sandy has prompted many affordable housing providers to analyze and revise their emergency plans and engage residents so they are better prepared when disaster strikes.

“Most of the work is in preparedness,” says Bomee Jung, deputy director of Enterprise’s New York office. “The ability to respond effectively during the crisis time is [based on] how well the organization has positioned itself to be prepared.”

The Jersey City Housing Authority is taking several steps to be more prepared than it was for Sandy.

Acting executive director Patricia Madison says first and foremost, it’s important to partner with other agencies and companies that have been through a disaster, to learn best practices.

“It’s always a learning experience, and the hope is that we can be better prepared in the future for whatever happens,” she says.

The first change the authority made after Sandy was to get a seat on the city’s Office of Emergency Management Incident Command Center to better coordinate with local efforts.

In addition, the housing authority is finalizing a disaster plan that details what staff should do and where alternate communication centers should be set up when a crisis happens. And it will be doing resident engagement training this fall to put more processes in place, such as creating resident liaisons for each building during a disaster.

Based on Community Investment Strategies’ (CIS’s) experience during Sandy, its big initiative outside of physical improvements is preparing and educating residents for a disaster.

“What we found, which was very interesting from a developer standpoint, is that we became a social service provider in the aftermath,” says owner and CEO Christiana Foglio. “There was an enormous dependence on us as landlords during the emergency.”

Barbara Schoor, vice president at CIS, adds that one thing property managers saw during Sandy was that multifamily residents weren’t as prepared as homeowners.
Foglio says the firm is making residents think about if they have the resources to take care of themselves during a disaster.

“There has been a tremendous amount of education in terms of what we need residents to understand and how our managers and maintenance people need to respond,” Foglio says.

CIS is also equipping each apartment with an emergency kit with a flashlight and backup batteries so residents are more prepared.

Learning Collaborative for Multifamily Housing Resilience partner Lower East Side Peoples Mutual Housing Association (LESPMHA) had several older apartment buildings near the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive in Manhattan that were affected by flooding.

“We were significantly impacted by the storm,” says Richard Ramirez, LESPMHA property manager.

The nonprofit is setting up an incident command system, which provides a detailed chain of command and guidelines for responses to different emergencies. Incident command systems are commonly used by government agencies, the military, and commercial sectors but are fairly new for residential organizations.

“It helps you communicate with federal government and city and state authorities,” says Ramirez. “If you’re operating the same way they’re operating, it makes communication a lot easier.”

None of LESPMHA’s affordable housing units were damaged, but many of the buildings’ basement areas were submerged in water, damaging elevator equipment, electrical panels, hot-water heaters, and boilers.

Ramirez says it’s important to analyze your buildings prior to a storm and stock up on replacement parts for mechanical systems that might be most impacted.

Other practical pre- and post-disaster tools that developers recommend:
¦ Have emergency staffing lists and resident call lists off site, in paper form, in case of power outages or fires;
¦ Have residents include emergency contact information on leases;
¦ Make cash cards available to building operators so they can quickly access funds for supplies and equipment for repairs;
¦ Have a plan in place to save receipts for repairs that are completed; and
¦ Make sure you have photos of properties in good times, and then take photos of all damage for insurance purposes.