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One Year On

Superstorm Research Lab hosted a public event on Monday, November 11th, featuring an afternoon of workshops and an evening presentation of SRL’s forthcoming white paper, A Tale of Two Sandys.

Members of SRL, leaders from various non-profit groups, and scholars led the working groups.  These groups covered post-Sandy topics like best practices of grassroots disaster data collection (Max Liboiron, SRL); insurance, risk and financialization (Michael Ralph, Social and Cultural Analysis, NYU); establishing community cooperatives (L.A. Murphy and Nathan Kleinman, Occupy Sandy NJ); Renters Advocacy, post-Sandy (Melissa McCrumb, Make the Road NY). and mobility choices (Noah Budnick, Transportation Alternatives). In the coming weeks, SRL members will be blogging about each of the breakout sessions and the resulting conversations.

Photograph of insurance workshop with Michael Ralph.

Photograph of risk and financilization workshop with Michael Ralph.

The second half of the event featured a presentation of SRL’s white paper, A Tale of Two Sandys. Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge, kicked off the event by introducing the work and contributions of Superstorm Research Lab.  He acknowledged how SRL has formed many networks and partnerships throughout the New York area, allowing them to amass a great deal of data. This white paper launch served as a reminder to all in attendance that there is still more work to be done, especially as we discuss the implications of Sandy one year later. Many of the effects of the storm not only linger, but in some cases, are only now emerging.

panel intro

Following the introduction, two SRL members, Max Liboiron (Post-Doctoral Researcher, Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, Northeastern University) and David Wachsmuth (PhD Candidate, NYU Sociology) presented the basic findings of SRL’s white paper. A Tale of Two Sandys describes how preexisting differences in geography, socioeconomic status, health and social networks means that there are profoundly different experiences of the same disaster, resulting in “more than one Sandy.” Based on 74 interviews, ethnographic observations, and analyses of canvassing forms, public reports, and academic literature, SRL found that responses to Hurricane Sandy consistently clustered into two types: on the one hand, it was an extreme weather event that created physical and economic damage and temporarily moved New York City away from its status quo; on the other hand, it exacerbated crises that existed before the storm and continued afterwards in heightened form, including poverty, lack of affordable housing, precarious or low employment, and unequal access to resources. Elite actors such as government actors, large institutions, NGOs, and large businesses tended towards the first definition of disaster, and residents who were personally affected, small business owners, grassroots first responders, and community based organizations tended towards the latter.

The SRL presentation addressed how these two definitions affected disaster response in terms of discussions of equity versus equality; the use of non-emergency population categories versus indicators of vulnerability; and how climate change debates have shifted from discussions of prevention to adaptation. At the conclusion, SRL acknowledged meaningful points of intervention that can amend such trends and help everyone be better prepared for and recover from the next extreme weather event.

Following the presentation, panel members including, Lisa Cowen (Red Hook Initiative), Susannah Dyen (Alliance for a Just Rebuilding), Ayasha Guerin (PhD Student, NYU American Studies), and Melissa McCrumb (Make the Road New York), responded to the paper. Each raised interesting comments and responses that drew on their own experiences from Sandy and with disaster recovery. They pointed towards efforts to change the city’s discourse surrounding response and recovery, and the continuing financial difficulties of those affected by the storm—long after many forms of aid had ended. Panelists acknowledged the importance of treating disasters as “unbounded” events – there should not be a finite time to register for aid or expectations of recovery nor are there specific non-emergency population categories (like homeowner, student, etc.) that should be drawn upon during response and recovery efforts. The conversation was then opened to questions from the audience who contributed to a thoughtful discussion on the implications of how “the two Sandys” could affect response, recovery, and issues of social justice.

SRL would like to extend our thanks to all of the attendees, panelists, and workshop leaders who helped make this a successful event. In a few short days, SRL will release A Tale of Two Sandys. Be sure to sign up for our mailing list to receive notice of its release.

— Alexis Merdjanoff