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Interview with Alyssa Durnien, full time volunteer and affected resident, New Jersey

Phone interview with full time volunteer and affected resident Alyssa Durnien on the Jersey Shore
Interviewer: Max Liboiron
May 14, 2013.

Interviewer: Okay, so could you start by stating your full name and affiliation? And your affiliation is just what sort of role you played during Sandy.


Alicia: My name is Alyssa Durnien and I live in Keansburg, New Jersey. And I’ve been an organizer for Occupy Sandy New Jersey since about January, though I’ve been doing volunteer work since the storm.


Interviewer: You were doing what? Sorry.


Alicia: Volunteer work since the storm.


Interviewer: Oh, okay. And what kind of volunteer work were you doing?


Alicia: I was on the fire department Ladies Auxiliary and I was evacuating and knocking on doors, moving people, cooking for the fire department and the EMS and police department in my town for twelve days. I was effectively doing everything.


Interviewer: So you had a lot of interaction with the fire department?


Alicia: Yes.


Interviewer: That’s not something we’ve heard a lot before. Can you tell me how you sort of got involved with them?


Alicia: I was on the Ladies Auxiliary, and my brother–my ex-brother-in-law was on the fire department.


Interviewer: Okay.


Alicia: And I just–I’ve been a part of the organization Fire Corps.


Interviewer: Okay. And you were cooking for them, you said?


Alicia: Yup, I was cooking and cleaning up the fire house. I was helping them basically keeping them in good spirits while they were out doing evacuations and clean-ups.


Interviewer: Uh huh.


Alicia: Three days after the storm we were able to go out and I was able to assist them doing control—so if there was a gas main leak, moving clients and moving people away from the area that was affected.


Interviewer: Uh huh. And then tell me about the canvassing you did as well.


Alicia: The canvassing we did started around December and January. We started going out with a needs assessment form. Occupy Sandy New Jersey was a group of volunteers basically asking what kind of supplies people needed. What they needed immediately, advocacy, you know, whether they registered for FEMA or if they needed help registering for FEMA. Insurance questions. Seems like so long ago. Whether they needed work done on their house, if they needed people to gut and do muck out. What kind of volunteers they need in their community to help rebuild the area. And that’s been ongoing since the storm.


Interviewer: Were you involved in creating some of those canvassing forms?


Alicia: I piggybacked what Occupy Sandy New York had done and then added a few things. At the beginning of the storm we had partnerships with non-profits groups. I was serving hot meals out of the back of a U-Haul.


Interviewer: Oh, okay.


Alicia: That’s actually how I got involved with Occupy Sandy New Jersey. But we piggybacked on what they were doing in Occupy New York. Took their form and just made it–we did a little creative work. We added some questions.


Interviewer: What did you add? What did you tweak?


Alicia: We just added if people could use hot meals, if they needed food delivered to them, what time of the day would be best for them. And we also had non-perishable goods.


Interviewer: Uh huh. And did–


Alicia: [Inaudible 3:43]


Interviewer: Sorry. What was the last part?


Alicia: We had non-perishable goods. Same with [Inaudible] beginning right after the storm, and ongoing.


Interviewer: Uh huh.


Alicia: And we’re still doing that for certain families. As the numbers increase and they’re getting the ability to start working on their house, one of the things that I tend to tell people is if I can save you fifty dollars on non-perishable foods, you can put that fifty dollars back into replacing your house or fixing something within your dwelling to make it easier. And it took them awhile to catch on. And we weren’t going–I’m not going away. And now they’re opening up and accepting help more easily.


Interviewer: Okay. And so what are the numbers compared to when you first started to now, as to the number of people that you’re interacting with and helping out?


Alicia: In the beginning, it was about fifteen to twenty families a day. Now it’s up over forty a day. We have…we have a food pantry that’s set up that was only servicing its own–it was in a church, so it was only serving its own parish. And how it’s serving over a hundred and twenty families a week.


Interviewer: Uh huh.


Alicia: And it’s also attached to a soup kitchen, which was feeding about twenty to thirty meals a day. And now it’s over a hundred every single day, seven days a week.


Interviewer: Okay. And when do you see–like so one of the questions we’re asking people is how long they think recovery will take or how long do you think you’re going to keep doing this, this sort of food aid?


Alicia: When I first started, I thought it was going to be a couple of weeks. Now it’s more feeling it’s going to be over a year at least. I’d like to see people getting back into their houses feeling more comfortable coming and getting the services that we’re offering. But the numbers are increasing, not decreasing. And that’s kind of eye opening because people–I had students from Montclair, which is about an hour north of where I live. They came here yesterday. And we drove into one of the devastated areas. And a school bus full of students became–like you could hear a penny drop on the floor. They didn’t even know what to say. And they’re like “this is your life. This is what you do every day.” And I was like, “yeah, you mean it’s not normal?” Like, but they got a lesson, and they also realized that we are not back to normal and everyone thinks we are. They think that the storm is past and the damage should be over. And there’s houses in this community that haven’t even been touched yet. And there’s, you know, people just starting the cleaning process. And it’s six months later, so now they’re tackling mold and mildew and a lot of other issues that we didn’t think existed prior. It was eye opening. I mean they refreshed me, the students coming down.


Interviewer: So why do you think the numbers are increasing so much?


Alicia: I think the numbers are increasing because in the beginning, everyone relied on the FEMA hotels and the, you know, the places they were able to go and be housed. And as that runs out, people then have to start working on their own home. It kind of kicks the community into overdrive because a lot of the areas we’re dealing with don’t know how to deal with such mass casualties. They don’t–you know, our building department–my building department in Keansburg consists of two people. And one of them is a paid position. So it’s really one building inspector that has to inspect an entire house for thirty years. And now he’s being forced to inspect thirty homes a day. You know, it’s a higher increase in number and he just doesn’t know what he’s dealing with, how to do it. And he’s just trying to make it up as we’re making it–enforcing the issue of trying to get him to do it.


Interviewer: Right.


Alicia: And trying to talk. But now people who want to get warm, you can stay in your house without heat from [sneezes] Pardon me. Weather conditions are a little bit better so if you are stuck without electricity, you’re uncomfortable but you’re not to the point where you could die, or you’re living in a desperate situation. And people just flat-out can’t afford to stay out anywhere else. They need to start moving back into their homes even if it’s on a second floor or different part of the house that’s not damaged. That’s played a huge part in what’s going on.


Interviewer: Right. Just to follow up with something. So when you were talking about tweaking the forms that came over from Occupy Sandy New York, and you added mostly it sounded like hot food and service food sort of stuff, is that because you had a partnership with the U-Haul folks who had the hot food or is that for other reasons?


Alicia: I was part of a group called “You Hungry Too” in the beginning. And we were servicing hot food out in the community. And when we did the canvassing, I wanted those services to still be available. Even though I wasn’t necessarily with that group anymore, they were still in the area and still wanted to keep running. It got to be–the dead of winter, January, February, the weather got to be pretty much our worst enemy. And it got to a point where we couldn’t continue doing hot food because we just couldn’t keep it hot enough. You know, we were getting very sick and they ended up up dissipating and disappearing, which is why we opened the soup kitchen at the CCR, Center for Community Renewal.


Interviewer: Oh, so all the volunteers got sick.


Alicia: I’m sorry?


Interviewer: The volunteers got sick?


Alicia: Yeah.


Interviewer: Huh. Okay.


Alicia: [Inaudible 10:07] I’ve had upper respiratory coughing, bronchitis like pneumonia for like two and a half months. And it’s basically because I keep exposing myself to mold, mildew, the environment which is outside in our community. I just got sick again. I was doing well. I was ok for a couple of weeks but somehow I got it again.


Interviewer: I’m sorry to hear that. Is there a lot of–or is there any support for volunteers for that sort of thing?


Alicia: Nope. I said that kind of silly but there isn’t. And the worst thing is mostly all unpaid, being a volunteer. And that means there aren’t many of us that are going to be here long-term, which is the frustrating part. I mean I stood on the long-term recovery group meeting since December. The first one I went to was standing room only. You couldn’t get in there. And now you can not only get there, you can get there an hour late and still get a seat because people, just like everywhere else, the hype is gone. There’s no longer excitement and “what can we do?” It’s now just a waiting game on how we can help people, what are we doing next.


Interviewer: What kind of groups?


Alicia: We need to pace ourselves.


Interviewer: What kinds of groups are sticking around for the long-term recovery meetings?


Alicia: Well Occupy Sandy New Jersey. We’re very active in that. And then there’s like more retired people or more faith-based industries are there. That’s really about it.


Interviewer: Yeah. Yeah, we’ve heard that the interfaith and sort of houses of worship of– continued staying involved in stuff in other places.


Alicia: Yeah.


Interviewer: Yeah.


Alicia: Also the places that were already receiving a paycheck for doing this kind of work are still there. And the ones like myself who aren’t, are falling by the wayside. And people are–seem to forget that.


Interviewer: So how do you see needs changing from sort of when you first started working to now? What sort of used to be the biggest needs and what are now the biggest needs?


Alicia: The biggest needs now are building supplies. Sheet rock, you know. Things like that. That’s been really important. But still the major needs are cleaning supplies, food, making it so people can get back in their homes. Their dishes, their pots and pans, their silverware are all garbage. They’re not able to use it. So if people could give us supplies or give us gift cards, and we can go purchase the supplies. A lot of local businesses are more supportive of our kind of work and are willing to work with us. Home Depot’s been awesome. I’ve been working with them very closely. We built a sustainable garden in [Inaudible 13:25]. That’s been a big part of it too.


Interviewer: When people are rebuilding, do you think they’re building the same as before or do you think they’re building differently because of the storm?


Alicia: They’re being forced to build differently. They’re being forced to raise their homes if they have fifty percent or more damage. Which is a crucial hold up. And I think there are people who are afraid to rebuild that are not damaged that bad because they don’t know what the future could hold. There’s a lot of information about climate change about the different changes that are happening and the different things that people need to be worried about. And that’s all playing a part in this.


Interviewer: So are people talking about climate change where you are?


Alicia: We are talking about climate change. I’ve been very active with talking about climate change because we had two storms in fourteen months and one was bigger than the other, which basically leads me to believe it’s going to happen again and it’s going to keep getting worse. And I’m all about awareness.


Interviewer: What’s the general response to that?


Alicia: At first they thought I was crazy but the more statistics and facts I’m able to give them and the more things I’m able to teach them, the better off you’re to do. And that’s really where we’ve been. We’ve been able to help people be more aware of what’s going on and why it’s happening and what’s going to happen in the future.


Interviewer: Uh huh. So what’s your specific area in New Jersey that you’re working with? Or is it specific?


Alicia: I’m working from Union Beach to Seabright.


Interviewer: I’m sorry. From where? I’m just–


Alicia: Around the [Inaudible] Bay area.


Interviewer: I don’t know where that is.


Alicia: We’re actually directly across the bay from Manhattan.


Interviewer: Oh. [laughs] Okay.


Alicia: That might help. People want me to come to New York City all the time. I’m like I don’t even know what to do there. What would I be doing there?


Interviewer: So how do you–?


Alicia: And I keep trying to get there. I’m just not able to.


Interviewer: Uh huh. Yeah. So how do you think the experience from people in that area might be different from other people’s experiences?


Alicia: I think it’s the same across the board. I think that people who are handled in the disaster don’t know what to do and what they’re supposed to do. But lots of people they’re able to help themselves. I don’t want to think we’re any different than anyone else dealing with this. But I mean I’ve driven all up and down the East Coast pretty much from here to Cape May. And it all looks the same to me. It looks like devastation. All of our areas are affected really bad by the storm.  My fear is coming in the hurricane season, and it can happen again.


Interviewer: Right. Is there a lot of talk about that?


Alicia: No. People are afraid to talk about it because awareness and you’re, you know–then you’re leaving yourself open to have that succession of feelings. And people shy away from that.  Unless you’re like me and you have to deal with that.


Interviewer: Right. So why do you think that you’re still going and other sorts of volunteers aren’t still going?


Alicia: I think I have a certain calling for this. I think there’s a reason. I take it very personally because I am a Jersey shore resident. I think that I always needed to find my place where I fit in and what I wanted to do when I grew up. And helping people has always been a really strong part of what I wanted to do. And now I just found a place to do it. And so far I haven’t had anyone tell me I stink at it. [laughter] So I just keep doing it, you know? I just keep doing the best I can every day and keep plugging away at it. As resources dry up, I find other resources. I find other ways to plug in and do what I can.


Interviewer: Uh huh. So how do you support–?


Alicia: I have–


Interviewer: Oh, go ahead.


Alicia: I’m sorry?


Interviewer: Go ahead. Sorry.


Alicia: I have more contacts in the government agencies than I ever had in my entire life.


Interviewer: What sort of government agencies are you working with?


Alicia: I’m working with the Governor’s Office. I work with my local government every day, whether it’s advocating with the Building Department for homeowners and renters. They’ve also come to me for supplies, saying hey, “this person needs hammers. We have no way of getting that.” And I put it out there, and we get help. It doesn’t always make sense, and it’s probably not the easiest way to do it. But we make it work.


Interviewer: So how–?


Alicia: I don’t stop.


Interviewer: So how do these–are they partnering with you in particular or Occupy in general? Or how do these partnerships come about?


Alicia: I kind of went after them. I’m very outspoken. So I decided to go in, introduce myself and show them what I’m able–capable of doing. And sometimes they call, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it takes a few times to go in there and be like, how can I help you? Or I just help one family, and then that family tells another family what I did and how we did it, through Occupy Sandy New Jersey. And then they call us back and ask us, hey, if you can come over here, can you do it for us? And I’m like, okay.


Interviewer: Okay. And you think those partnerships are going to stay long-term?


Alicia: I hope so. [laughter] They seem to be pretty happy with what we’re doing. I know our local government is very hand’s off. Don’t help us: “you’re fine.” And I just kept on it because I knew the people in my community weren’t fine. I live in a middle to lower-class income environment already prior to the hurricane, Superstorm Sandy. So I knew that they would already be in trouble once the storm hit. We did our first huge giveaway March 15th. That’s how long it took for them to be like, “fine, you want to do it? Go ahead.” I was like, “alright!” We helped over twelve hundred families that day. So we handed out three thousand meals, Hungry Man meals, comforters, jackets, you name it. And people were very responsive to that. And the Good Will newspaper put my phone number in it. So you can just imagine what my life has been like since then. [coughs]


Interviewer: Yeah. So could you talk a little bit more about social or racial or gender inequity in sort of the work that you’re doing? Like what you’re seeing or what you’re finding.


Alicia: My work really isn’t based on any of that. If you’re a person and you have a pulse you’re in need, I help you. Really… it isn’t gender. It isn’t by any of that. I mean the worst thing that’s happening is if you didn’t have insurance or you aren’t eligible for FEMA and you’ve kind of fallen through the cracks of all the other organizations that are out there. I personally don’t ask for that. We just make sure we’re a voice of reason for people. We try to point out whether they filed for FEMA, whether they filed for the SBA loan. You automatically need to be denied for both of those to be able to be able eligible for other resources that we know are out there. But if you’re not, if you didn’t do that, and it’s past the time you can do that, I’m not going to turn away from someone and be like you’re [Inaudible 21:55] And that’s what a lot of organizations are doing. I’m going to help that person regardless.


Interviewer: Uh huh.


Alicia: Because that’s not what it’s about for me; it’s about making sure people are okay, kind of making sure they can get back to what they thought was normal prior to Sandy. But of course the new normal is a lot different than what the old normal was.


Interviewer: Can you talk a bit more about this new normal? That sounds interesting.


Alicia: The new normal is trying to hear kids playing outside and appreciating the smaller things in value. There’s a lot more to life than materialistic things. We’re trying to help the community rebuild itself and empower them to do these things, trying to make more stable environments. We’re trying to start a children’s art program here because a lot of things that have happened are the children have been forgotten and think that they aren’t affected by what happened. And they’re directly affected and directly feeling the struggle with the everyday. We had a beach cleanup, and about ten or fifteen of the kids didn’t want to go onto the beach. They said they’d clean up by the dunes because they’re afraid of the water. Being a Jersey shore town, that’s why we all live here. And we found it beautiful to just go up and be able to have our own little part of town on the beach. So we’re trying to encourage them to feel more comfortable. It’s where we live and awareness is just educating them what we can do to make it better, how we can plant things. You know, plant things up there on the dunes. [Inaudible] Dune preservation is a large one up here. Without the dunes there will be no town.


Interviewer: So do you think the efforts and the in-roads you’re making generally being successful?


Alicia: I hope so. I question myself on it every day. Every day another phone call comes through and I think I have it all planned and I know exactly what I’m going to do, and it changes…it changes like that, and I just roll with it.


Interviewer: Right.


Alicia: I used to get really upset and I used to be like, “I can’t keep doing this.” There’s a reason it happens. And I stopped questioning and wondering why. I just have to work to see what’s in front of us and keep going.


Interviewer: Do you have a data management system to help you figure out all this stuff or keep track of it?


Alicia: I went through the CAM training. I’m in the process of meeting up with the folks from Occupy Sandy New York. Apparently when it was set up, it was set up under one. So they have to grant me access to that, which is going to be a huge, huge support system because all these resources nation-wide on there. So–and not to mention I’ll be able to see what other organizations in the area are doing for people or have done to help the people I’m helping. So it will make sure we’re not crossing resources and we hope to make some steps with our efforts going forward.


Interviewer: So you’re going to get access to the volunteer database, basically?


Alicia: Yes.


Interviewer: Yeah. Have you been using anything until now to sort that stuff out?


Alicia: Occupy Sandy New Jersey helped with CIVI I have not been in much use with that because I am Amish and don’t know how to use it. We’re working on that. But really it’s just been word of mouth. It’s been a collaborative effort by everybody who’s in our group. Making strides to do a good thing. They have a PR Department that consists of three people who put out a blast weekly. They ask me what kind of things I’m doing. They send out a blast. People email me and we put them in contact with the right folks. And that’s just really has worked.


Interviewer: Uh huh. So you just keep it in your head and whatever–and just sort of do it as it comes up?


Alicia: Yeah. It’s the way I’ve always done it. Obviously, my cell phone plays a major part in everything. I use the calendar. I just got a Google-related phone. It will make our Google calendar [coughs at length] Sorry. Google calendar will work with my calendar so I don’t cross book things, which will make a big difference moving forward. The more committees you’re on, the more conference calls, and the more things you have to do.


Interviewer: Um, are you on the weekly conference calls?


Alicia: I am.


Interviewer: Okay. Alright. Let’s see.


Alicia: We talked yesterday. They all thought I was dying.


Interviewer: Because of your coughing?


Alicia: Oh yeah. They’re like, “we can’t hear you.” I’m like, “I know!”  I’m like “I have no voice and I feel like poop!”


Interviewer: Yeah. Do you take time off?


Alicia: I learned in the past month or two that I need to. Prior to that, no, I did not. I am forcing myself to take time off and do things, trying to make my life more sustainable. I have damage in my own home that I kind of put on the back burner right after the storm but now I’m starting to work on that. I’ve been just enjoying the nicer weather and how things have gotten better, moving forward.


Interviewer: Do you have a job or a way to support yourself while you’re doing all this advocacy work?


Alicia: Currently, no.


Interviewer: Oh, tricky.


Alicia: Yeah, it’s worked so far and I don’t question it. I was a very good saver for most of my adult life in case tragedy ever happened. And I feel like there’s a reason this is going on. So I don’t question it. I just kind of work with it. It’s a crazy feeling sometimes but it works.


Interviewer: Uh huh. Do you have any other insights that I haven’t asked about that you think we should know about?


Alicia: I just think making people aware of what’s happening and what’s going is the most important– I went down to Washington D.C. in February. And a reporter asked me one day, “say, if you could talk to the president and had thirty seconds to say to him, what would you say?” And all I said to him was “I’d tell him to put on his boots and come sit down in my community. And if he didn’t have a place to stay, let him stay in my moldy shoebox.” And it kind of morphed from that because people don’t think we’re living in the conditions we are and that help is so needed. And I just want them to be more aware that there’s so much that still needs to be done. And the knowhow to do that is powerful. After a point it was really easy just to get a bunch of people to come out and spend and do anything. Now more skilled laborers are needed and more direct volunteers are needed. And the volunteers have fallen by the wayside because they think the crisis is over. It’s actually a current condition. As it gets warmer, mold grows faster and it’s getting worse for the people who live here.


Interviewer: Huh. Do you have the case–we have the case in some places in New York where people are just now coming back for the first time because when it–they just–they left for the cold weather and now they’re coming back, and they’re opening their houses for the first time. Is that happening where you are?


Alicia: Yes it is, every day.


Interviewer: Yeah. And do you guys have it–?


Alicia: And then–


Interviewer: Oh, go ahead.


Alicia: Every day it’s happening and people don’t know how to deal with the initial overwhelming feelings they have because it’s like it’s too fresh for them. And they were able to go away for six months and not have to deal with that. And now it’s right in their face again as kind of a constant reminder of what happened. And now we’re almost dealing with worse scenarios and worse situations because of the mold and the spores and the things that are happening where the damage was.


Interviewer: Do you guys have any sort of support for mental health?


Alicia: We do. We actually have many organizations that have worked through Center for Community Renewal, different counselors that come in and out of there that people can schedule time with. There’s actually a great psychiatrist that’s here in our community because there were a lot of people who had mental illnesses prior to the storm and got off their medications because their medications were too expensive when they lost their jobs. So they no longer have that. We’ve been doing a lot of all of it. We try to stay ahead of it, you know.


Interviewer: Uh huh. Do you guys have a tourist season coming up? Do you guys have a big tourist industry where you are?


Alicia: We do, but our boardwalk is pretty much in dire straits. The theme park is open, but families for generations have been coming here. One thing nobody hears in the newspapers or the news is we had a rollercoaster that was on our boardwalk called the Wild Cat and it was in our Bay, and it was not returned to our boardwalk. So it’s kind of going to be interesting to see how that’s going to play out. A lot of the business owners on our boardwalk had to rebuild from Irene and now Sandy. And they didn’t rebuild. They just walked away. So the hope is that new business owners come in. So is the heightened risk of this being a continual problem. They’re aware of it. They know it, but every season they’ve been on that boardwalk for years. And this season, they’re not there. Our boardwalk now is normally open Saturdays and Sundays. And it’s only been open three days since Easter. And it’s normally open every weekend. So we’re aware of what’s going on. And that’s a big part of keeping things sustainable for the community and just keeping things like I said, old normal and new normal. Easter weekend, you’re at the boardwalk when you live here. And it wasn’t open this year. We just have things to deal with for the people that have been doing that for thirty years.


Interviewer: So one of the hubs in New York got moved because Memorial–or got evicted –because Memorial Day holiday is coming up and the higher ups in the local government wanted them to move the hub so the tourists didn’t see it, basically. Is anything like that happening where you are?


Alicia: That is not happening where we are, because actually our Memorial Day Parade is cancelled.


Interviewer: Oh.


Alicia: We did a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. That was run by the town. And the Memorial Day Parade is cancelled because of funding. And those are the kinds of things that make a big presence in our community. We’re currently–Occupy Sandy New Jersey is trying to gather owners of businesses to make a barbeque – this was part of the community clean up–get the community together and still have a community unit. It’s not a parade but it’s still going to be fun. We’re still going to do the best we can to make our presence known. And we’re not just going to disappear and go away. It’s very important to us.


Interviewer: Uh huh. So how badly was your house affected by the storm?


Alicia: My house has shifted off of its axis. Basically the entire house has shifted. The issue is [Inaudible 34:56] flood damage. And we don’t know whether it is because I had over a foot of in my crawl space. Every single window in my house is impossible to open and close. Doors in my house don’t work. More of a mess than I like it.


Interviewer: And you’re living in it?


Alicia: I also–I’m sorry? Yeah. I’ve been in it since weeks after the storm. The front door and the back door work. And the windows we didn’t realize until a couple of weeks ago when the weather got nice. But the hallway door and the bedroom door didn’t work. And I basically went, huh, that’s weird.


Interviewer: So instead of– I’m sorry. Go ahead.


Alicia: It’s easier to think of other people than it is about your own situation.


Interviewer: Yeah, I was going to ask about it. It sounds like you’ve been putting your stuff on hold to help other people instead of doing your stuff.


Alicia: Yeah. I mean I did. And I did it because I live by myself with a cat and a dog. And if the door doesn’t shut, it’s not that huge of a deal. But working families that don’t have a place to call home hits me harder. I still have a roof over my head. I’m still in an environment that’s still, at this stage of the game, healthy. I did mold remediation about two months ago. That was part of the contribution to why I was getting sick.


Interviewer: So have you applied to FEMA and the other loans?


Alicia: I did.


Interviewer: Okay. And have you heard back from them yet?


Alicia: I heard back from FEMA that I had–they had to go through my insurance company before they could do it. And I went through the SBA loan, and my credit is good enough to get a loan. But I did not get the loan. I don’t know what the heck I’m supposed to do, you know. The damage to my house–the talk is still that all the houses need to be lifted. If that’s the case, I would not be able to lift my house in the current position it’s in.


Interviewer: Because you can’t afford it?


Alicia: No, because if it’s shifted, then when they try to lift it, it’ll waffle.


Interviewer: Oh, okay. Okay.


Alicia: And then the whole thing got a little [Inaudible 37:18]


Interviewer: Have people in your community been talking about debt at all?


Alicia: Talk about debt?


Interviewer: Yeah, debt. Like because of the loans and because of rebuilding–


Alicia: They are. And they have a lot of misconceptions with a lot of the loans that are going on. There’s a lot of issues with the talk about the FEMA money and the money from the insurance companies going to mortgage companies. That’s actually what we were talking about last night on the conference call. Because everyone feels like their mortgage company is stealing their money. It’s not the case at all. What happens is they take the check because they’re the payee. And then they issue it out with installments because they are invested in keeping the property and what in the standing structure needs to be fixed. During Hurricane Katrina, all the money that went out to insurance companies [Inaudible] home owners. They took thousands of dollars in checks and just left and left the affected home and everything else. So not only did those people have a mortgage they weren’t paying; they got hundreds of thousands of dollars and just left the area. The mortgage companies are playing it a little bit smarter. And a lot of the area in, like, Keansburg–they’re covered under one large company. And they’re just trying to protect their investments, but you know. It’s a very hard subject to talk to people about, especially when they’re–like I said, they were already struggling prior to the storm. And now it’s just a hundred times worse.


Interviewer: Alright. So who do you think has been most helpful for you as someone who has had your house shifted and sort of all the mold problems and stuff like that? Is there any group that you find most helpful for your situation or are you–?


Alicia: I went…I went directly to AmeriCorps. I’ve been working hand in hand with them the entire time they were here. They directly gave us aid and assistance in the program. Any muck out or job that I sent their way. They were very hand’s on in sending lots of people through the process. They actually did the mold remediation of my house. I supplied them with the Tyvek suits and [Inaudible 39:55] for a long time, but they have since dissipated and are no longer here, which is why mold remediation is becoming a huge problem.


Interviewer: Have people been talking about other–? Go ahead. Sorry. Go ahead.


Alicia: If you’re not skilled in doing mold remediation, you can get very sick.


Interviewer: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So have people been talking about other forms of contamination and sort of health affects besides the mold situation?


Alicia: There is a Sandy cough. We’re concerned about what that is and what that means. There is concern about upper respiratory infections and things of that nature. I have asthma and I’ve been sick pretty much on and off for six months. And I’m going to continue to be sick. It’s kind of like the new normal for me. A couple of days ago I was talking totally normal. And now I have bronchitis again. And you know, at first I got really frustrated. And then I’ve kind of come to terms with the fact that that’s going to happen. It’s going to be an ongoing battle that I’m going to deal with. And I don’t like the sound of it but it’s the truth. When the doctor saw me today, she’s like, “you know what you have. Why didn’t you just call me?” I’m like, because it gets worse if continually come in, you know? And that’s the truth about it, the very hard truth about what’s going on. And I know I’m not alone. I’m just more aware than some people because I’ve been doing this every day. So I’m more concerned about the people who, like we said, weren’t around. They were away for months and now they’re coming back. And they’re thinking that they can just bleach it. One of the easier things for us to get was bleach, and bleach doesn’t kill mold.


Interviewer: Bleach, right?


Alicia: Disinfectant.


Interviewer: Right.


Alicia: You know, it’s just like, why is bleach the easiest thing for me to get? I don’t understand but really the way it’s been. It’s kind of tough. And you know, I just–that’s why I feel like education is very important and making people aware of what’s going on and what they can do to make sure they’re doing it in a healthy way. I tell everybody there’s no stupid question. I’d rather you ask a question any day. You know, they call me. I have my cell phone on my all the time. I usually answer it. I email. I answer them within twenty-four hours as soon as I get them. And I make sure people know that. And if I’m not able to answer it, I have volunteers that have been working with me. Can you do me a favor and go through these with me when we’re driving from point A to point B. And I ask them just write on the bottom of the email given to by, you know, whatever. And it’s worked this far. So we just keep rolling with it. When I’m not able to do it though, Occupy Sandy New Jersey, an entire group of us, do it together as a group. And if I don’t know the answer to a question, I call them all the time with crazy questions because that’s what we do to get the answers to those tough questions.


Interviewer: How did you get involved–?


Alicia: You know, there’s twenty-two of us.There’s only twenty-two of us. But we’re spread from Bergen County to Cape May down. That’s–I mean we’re a small group but we’re getting stuff done. And that’s one thing that I pride myself on, that twenty-two people can make a difference for an entire state.


Interviewer: How did you get involved with Occupy Sandy?


Alicia: I met Amanda, Nate, and Dylana at a group function. And they said that they liked me and they thought that I could help. And I said “what can we do?”


Interviewer: Ah.


Alicia: You know, and we’ve been buddies ever since. I told them to come down and see what’s going on in my area. And they took me up on it. And I’ve taken them up on, you know, offers that they’ve had to go help in other areas. And you know, Nate and Dylana are more on the advocacy than I understood and they basically educated me on the things that people need to be aware of and what’s going on and what’s happening. And I just basically get the information from them and pass it out. And then I–you know, our finance working group works hard to make sure we have the supplies we need. And what it takes for us to get there is sometimes not the easiest stuff. We are a consensus-based group, which at first drove me nuts, but at the same time, I’m starting to like it because I know that it’s in the best interest of the people we’re helping as well as it’s making our funds last longer than [Inaudible 45:08] Buying brand new refrigerators for fifty families versus making five hundred families have the supplies they need, [Inaudible] and that kind of thing. It’s definitely a learning experience.


Interviewer: Yeah.


Alicia: Don’t quote me on that though. Then they’ll know


Interviewer: Those are all the specific questions I have. Do you have any questions for me?


Alicia: No. I mean was I helpful?


Interviewer: Absolutely, yeah. There aren’t too many people we’ve spoken to who were both affected by the storm and doing relief work full-time. In fact, you’re the only person we’ve spoke to. So it’s a really interesting, unique–


Alicia: I’ve been hearing that and it’s kind of like what are they doing? It’s just like–


Interviewer: Yeah.


Alicia: I would say that I’m just trying to make sure that not only am I taken care of in the best possible way; we’re taking care of the people, you know, the best we can. And it’s kind of like a double-edged sword. You just want to do what’s right, you know. And I feel for the people in my community because I can totally understand that they feel like they’ve been forgotten and they’re not being helped. And I hear the level of frustration in people I see every day. We live in a small town. But we’re a good town, so anyway.


Interviewer: Alright, well that’s it. I’ll be in touch.



End of recording


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FEMA’s Keansburg page.

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Interview with two Occupy Sandy New Jersey organizers

Occupy Sandy New Jersey Organizers
Interviewer: Max Liboiron

Interviewer: Okay, if you could start by saying and spelling your name for the record, and then what your affiliation as far as Sandy goes was, that would be great.

Nate: My name is Nate Kleinman, N-A-T-E-K-L-E-I-N-M-A-N. I’m an organizer with Occupy Sandy New Jersey. And I got involved because before that –and still I’ve been involved with InterOccupy.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dylana: My name is Dylana Dillon, D-Y-L-A-N-A-D-I-L-L-O-N. And I’m also an organizer with Occupy Sandy.

Interviewer: Are you in New Jersey?

Dylana: Yes, primarily focused in New Jersey. Though I have trouble with the discerning titles. So I like to just say Occupy Sandy.

Interviewer: Okay. Can you guys start by just telling me what your sort of experience of dealing with Sandy was? Either your own personal one or via Occupy Sandy?

Dylana: Well, it’s been…it’s been a really interesting journey for me. I haven’t–I’m from the East Coast but I haven’t lived on the East Coast in three years. I’ve been living abroad. And so I came back, and then shortly thereafter, the storm hit. And I was up in Vermont. So my initial response was ‘I got to get down there and do something and help out and jump right in.’ So it was a very kind of crisis mode from the very beginning, I think, getting swept up in a lot of the media stuff and then immediately connecting with the Occupy folks who I had never worked with before and never been a part of but had been really–I have a lot of friends in the movement and was really interested in how this all came to be and how Occupy Sandy kind of rose to the top of being the first responders in and after the storm. So I came down and just started volunteering. And then because I had flexibility–have sort of flexibility to be able to be in different locations, I’ve just been roving and helping out as much as I possibly can since the beginning.

Interviewer: What do you mean when you say swept up by media stuff? What do you mean media stuff?

Dylana: Well, meaning that, you know, I think the storm and weather events in general has become increasingly kind of broadcast and increasingly dramaticized–dramatized as of late. And so in saying that I mean that because I wasn’t on the ground and the hurricane wasn’t very bad in Vermont other than watching and seeing the sky moving really, really rapidly, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I knew that it was going to be big. And so–and that’s what the media was saying as well.

Interviewer: So is it fair to say that the media’s sort of what gave you the impetus to, like, get down there and do things, or–?

Dylana: I think it’s probably more fair to say that I was–I would say it was an equal combination between understanding and having, you know–predicting that a storm like this was going to happen and doing–you know, being involved in the environmental movement and understanding the projections that have been coming for a long time, so understanding the reality of it. A combination between that, the media, and then my need to, like, get out and get something done as well. I’d say it was a combination of all of those things.

Interviewer: And was the media mostly social media or mainstream media that you were looking at?

Dylana: Um…Social.

Interviewer: Like Facebook?

Dylana: Yeah, social media, but also–yeah. And talking to people–I mean I have family down here and a lot of friends. So, a combination.

Interviewer: Nate?

Nate: So I was involved in Occupy Philly since October, 2011. And I got involved in Occupy Wall Street as well. And I was one of the early…early folks involved with InterOccupy, which is a communications platform for the movement. I also have a lot of friends here in New York, and a lot of them who are InterOccupy people were some of the first people who started Occupy Sandy, who got in their cars and friend’s cars and drove to the Rockaways and drove to Red Hook when–right after the storm. And I was reading–I read about the reports from them, and I was excited about what they were doing. I live in Philadelphia, and the storm–the eye of the storm kind of went right over Philadelphia, but we didn’t have very much damage at all. I knew that Jersey had gotten slammed, but most of the barrier islands and the parts that were easily accessible from Philadelphia were closed. I was hearing from the media that you couldn’t get onto the islands, the police were turning people back, even the people who live there. And they had fully evacuated most of those…most of those islands. And you know, they said New Jersey was–there were four-hour gas lines, and it was just ‘don’t go there,’ which would have been my first inclination. But some friends of mine with InterOccupy got in touch with me and said ‘hey, we really could use…we could really use some help with New Jersey. We know you guys are in Philadelphia and you’re close.’ They knew that I knew how to work the conference call technology. And, um, so we called a conference call. And it was an Occupy Sandy, New Jersey call about a week after the storm. And there were seventy people on that first call, from across the state, from New York, from Philadelphia, from Michigan and North Carolina. And everybody just wanted to…wanted to help. And we decided on that call that we were going to have calls every night at nine o’clock until we…until we needed less calls, basically. So it was a few more days before I actually got to the shore, and then really a few weeks before I got to some of the…some of the harder hit communities, and the ones that are not at the shore as well, trailer parks in Bergen County and some of the Bayshore towns in Monmouth County. So being involved on the, the conference call level and from Philadelphia, I pretty quickly got a broad understanding of what was going on in New Jersey from all of the–from having different people on the call every night. The numbers went down from that peek of seventy, on the first call. And we settled in for the first few weeks at probably twenty-five or thirty people on most of the calls. After a few weeks we…we…we settled on three calls a week. And then, and now we’re still having one call a week every Monday. And that’s become the decision-making body for Occupy Sandy, New Jersey, which has increasingly become more like an organization than just a…just a disconnected network. We’ve got different working groups like an advocacy working group, PR working group, finance working group, um..

Dylana: Outreach.

Nate: Outreach. Case management. And a lot of our–a lot of the people who were on the first call have, um, have stuck with it and are part of this core of organizers up and down the state. We–yeah, that’s probably a good start.

Dylana: She only asked you about the beginning. [laughter]

Nate: That’s true.

Interviewer: So can you tell me about sort of what your main tasks were at the beginning and how those have changed over time since it’s now, you know, April sixteenth and you’re still having calls? So clearly you’re–

Dylana: And what I was going to say too is, just to make a full circle, is I actually–I came down originally and was working and volunteering in New York. And through a friend of a friend, I found out about the conference calls. And the conference calls was what—that brought me on board and to get to New Jersey. So it’s a key part of our organizing work.

Nate: And it’s been a key for outreach too, because the calls are all public. We’ve had…we’ve had organizations from AmeriCorps to–

Dylana: FEMA.

Nate: –FEMA to the teacher’s union, to Sierra Club getting on the calls to tap into what we’ve been– we’ve been doing.

Dylana: You should get on some of them.

Interviewer: What are the calls…what are the calls mostly for and about? What do they…what do they do?

Dylana: [sighs] It varies. We’ve been trying to generate structure. Like he said, through doing the working groups, we’ve been trying to filter a lot of the work. I’ll first speak to your previous question about the tasks. I think it will help sort of show the progression. I mean initially, when I came down, I took a bus to Philadelphia. And they were like, ‘we have a warehouse hub. We need people to come here and help organize’. So I went down. And the TWU had given us a–their warehouse space to use in Philadelphia as a distribution hub. So at the beginning, it was primarily receiving donations and getting them out to who need–and distributing them. And also receiving volunteers and directing volunteers to the locations that we knew needed help the most. And that’s still happening. I guess at the beginning we were kind of referring to it a lot as triage work although I’m not sure how I feel about that term. And really just kind of scrambling to get people whatever they needed and, you know, resources as well. And I think the system that we used to organize is a database, which we are still not completely on the same page about, but kind of generating resources and also generating directories of people with resources and people with skills as one of the main things that we’ve been able to do that’s really valuable and has started since the beginning. So just really matching…matching people in need with resources. And at the beginning–and it still is the beginning. In a lot of ways, it was very much, you know, kind of just scrambling to be like, okay, donation– And people were giving so much stuff, clothing, I mean tractor trailers of clothing ,like, every other day. So much clothing, food, cleaning supplies–I guess those are probably the main thing. I remember thinking back, and it seems so long ago, but like one of my quotes when an interviewer came to–when a reporter came to interview us at the warehouse is like–what was it? “We need drywall, not deodorant.” [laughter] Or something like that, because it was just, you know–we were recognizing the scale of it and trying to match the needs as best we can. And you can speak more to that, Nate.

Nate: Yeah, she mentioned the database. Oh, for–and TWU is the Transportation Workers Union, the Philadelphia local. They gave us their space probably three…three weeks after the storm or so. And, uh. We’re not using that space anymore. We don’t have a warehouse in Philadelphia because it was too far away and it wasn’t working out. But yeah, that database we use is called the CiviCRM, and it’s an open-source database system. What do they call that? Constituent something Resource Management or something. I’m not a tech person.

Interviewer: It’s like small “civi,” big “CRM?”

Nate: Yeah.

Interviewer: I’ve seen it, yeah.

Nate: And CiviCRM I got–I became familiar with it because we used it for InterOccupy. That was how we kept track of our email list, how we sent blast emails. And the InterOccupy team very rapidly focused all of our energy on Sandy. So we had people in Buffalo, New York and in Indiana who were– and Michigan who were reading the inbox, the Occupy Sandy inbox that was–that all the traffic from the website was going to. And there were times when, I mean, when the website, the InterOccupy website was getting more traffic in a day than we had gotten in the entire existence of the organization in over a year. So the–there was an urgent need to figure out how we were going to keep track of all of the volunteers and also of, um, survivors that we met. And so one of the things that we did really early on that I was involved with was develop a needs assessment form that took a couple of different forms early on. And we put that on the website. And we had a paper copy as well that we got out into the field. And so people were…people were out collecting that information from people and then entering it directly into the website so it would go into the database. And that was our way of keeping track of needs. And then because we had–we had been using it already to keep track of volunteers, folks with Occupy Sandy, New York had already set up a volunteer form online. The volunteer list really quickly got up to, like, thirty thousand people. Because they were able to check boxes with what skills they had, we were able to connect volunteers with certain skills to people who needed help.

Dylana: Right, and also filter it, be able to search …filter for certain skill sets.

Nate: Right.

Interviewer: How did you determine what counted as a need or what counted skill in the early, sort of, forms?

Nate: Most of the needs were things like “clean up,” where people needed someone to muck out their house or they needed transportation. They needed to get–they were displaced and they needed to get to a doctor’s appointment back where they lived or something like that. So it was a lot of that just trying to…trying to pair people up. And a lot of it was trying to just figure out how to make this system work. Because it was–because it’s complicated when you’re dealing with–we had hundreds of people in the database, in the needs database, and then thousands of people in the volunteer database. We didn’t have enough people out there doing needs assessment. And we needed–we also realized there were a lot of challenges in needs assessment in general. We couldn’t get to–for all the people who were displaced, we didn’t know where they were. We tried to get lists of hotels where displaced people were, but FEMA wasn’t sharing that. And so a lot of it was kind of happening at an ad hoc basis. And so–because we were–so many of us were in Philadelphia or in New York and trying to kind of cover the entire state of New Jersey, we ended up only being able to focus on the places where we had people on the ground who were regularly participating in the calls. And so our efforts became focused in those…in those areas. And it’s really about four counties in New Jersey. And they are some of the hardest hit counties but there’s definitely been gaps from the beginning. I mean this was a massive disaster, and it’s still— We’re still uncovering communities that haven’t been visited. Just last week, we were at a couple of trailer parks in–outside of Wildwood, New Jersey all the way south in Cape May. And these were places where people had two feet of water. It wasn’t–you know, it wasn’t massive destruction, but they’re still living in moldy…moldy trailers, getting sick. And nobody has ever knocked on their door until…until people from Occupy Sandy came. And one of our organizers got–was the person who actually got FEMA to go knock on doors themselves. But FEMA has gone once since then, knocked on doors. Plenty of people weren’t home. And so some of those people haven’t applied for their benefits, and the deadline is now coming up May first. So it’s a constant scramble to make sure people are applying to FEMA, applying to the Small Business Administration for a loan, which they need to get denied in order to access state grants later. And that just brings up–I mean a big part of our role has been just trying to wrap our heads around the official response, the official process because it’s such a bureaucratic mess. It’s almost impossible for people who are kind of trying to watch objectively to wrap our heads around. I can only imagine how impossible it is for people who are suffering from the trauma of the storm and trying to get their lives back in order.

Dylana: Yeah, and I think that kind of summarizes where we’re at now compared to where we were five months ago, in terms of really just trying to get to the core of a lot of these processes, understand them, and either be liaisons, you know, or facilitators for communities and survivors, and, um, just trying to strategize and figure out, you know, what the best way forward is and how we can communicate that, develop proposals, develop platforms to be able to make sure that, you know, everybody’s needs are taken into account, and that–you know, we’re just being innovative about the solutions and…and making sure that everybody is getting their fair share and also that, you know, we’re rebuilding sustainably and making sure that it’s all part of the process, so. And it’s interesting to me, you know, as an activist coming into a situation like this, which involves many–a lot of the same issues that we deal with all the time, but based around–it’s just– It’s a combination of so many things, all in this very specific kind of bubble that is the official response in dealing with disaster recovery work, and also so new to everybody that’s doing it. I mean even the folks from the quote unquote “official response,” haven’t really had to do it in this part of the world before. So it’s a lot of initial conversations about systemic issues that we’ve all been talking about for a really long time, on many different levels. So we think for Occupy Sandy and our role as organizers, there’s like being the liaisons and sort of the middlemen for a lot of these conversations is a big part of what we’re doing, yeah.

Interviewer: Can you expand on what some of these system issues that you mentioned are, that have going on?

Dylana: [sigh] Oh. Yeah. Well, unemployment–huge one, people not having jobs. Health issues–really serious health issues. Nate mentioned the trailer parks. I think out of eight of the people that we visited, one was on dialysis, one person’s liver was failing, kidney failure–

Nate: Congestive heart failure.

Dylana: Congestive heart failure.

Nate: Cancer.

Dylana: Cancer. Like everywhere we go, there are really serious health issues that have only been exacerbated by the storm and living in mold and not having all the proper things that we need. So the health issues, unemployment. I mean…

Nate: Mental health.

Dylana: Mental health issues.

Nate: Substance abuse.

Dylana: Substance abuse.

Interviewer: Has debt been coming in at all or is that part of–?

Dylana: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, that’s a really good point actually because the way that the FEMA applications and the way that the money is being distributed is through the SBA loans, the Small Business Association. And so yes–

Nate: Administration.

Dylana: Administration. Isn’t that what I said?

Nate: Association.

Dylana: Administration. So yeah, I think that’s something that really needs to be looked at because people don’t want to apply for a loan because they’re already so far in debt. And I actually haven’t had a specific conversation about that with anybody but I’m sure that that is a big reason why a lot of folks aren’t applying. And that’s the only way to get benefits, and the only metric that the government is using to gage who is out there, what they need. And so it’s really backwards.

Nate: Right now, the SBA person we talked to said that it’s sixteen percent of people who–of the people who have applied with FEMA, only sixteen percent of the eligible people have applied for the SBA loan. So there’s eighty-four percent of people out there who need to apply for these SBA loans. They’re not – they’re not going to. And that’s…that’s just of the people who they know are eligible. Then there’s people–if you actually look at the bulk numbers, it’s about–it’s slightly less than ten percent of all the people who’ve applied to FEMA for aid have applied for an SBA loan. And we’re–we keep hearing that the state of New Jersey is going to use the SBA applications to determine who gets…who gets the state grants when they start giving those out. And so if you don’t get a denial letter from the SBA, if you don’t apply for an SBA loan, you’re not going to…you’re not going to even be eligible for a state grant. So we’re looking at ninety one percent of people who’ve applied to FEMA will be ineligible for any further aid potentially. And, um. And yeah, it’s a real–and I’m sure that there’s some–that for some people it has to do with debt– I’ve had people tell me that they’re not interested in a loan because they can’t…because they can’t go into debt anymore. So they don’t think they should even apply.

Dylana: Yeah.

Nate: And you’ve got some FEMA people telling people that they should–that ‘oh, you’re not going to qualify, so don’t bother applying.’ And then you have the SBA people saying ‘everyone should apply because you’re not going to be able to get grants later.’ So one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. And you know, the flood lights are gone. The media glare has shifted. And so it’s hard to get these stories out to a wide audience. And it really takes one on one communication with people, knocking on doors. And the government is just not doing it. They may have the resources but they’re not…they’re not expending them on actual outreach to people. They are still relying on people to come to them. And so many people just, for many, many systemic reasons, are not.

Dylana: Yeah. And I think also, you know, the main one is just–you can call this systemic or not, but just the dependency on external sources that I mean everybody that we’ve seen pretty much, that’s been the most affected by the storm, it’s because they didn’t have access to food or energy or healthcare or support systems in any capacity, and are just really reliant on external sources to come in and fill those gaps after the storm hit, so.

Nate: And one of the other big problems that we keep running into is displaced people. And I know it’s a problem in New York as well. In Jersey, when people were displaced from their communities, if there wasn’t–if the hotels nearby were full or there wasn’t available temporary housing, they were sent very far away from their homes. Some people were sent an hour or two away with– their cars were destroyed or they didn’t have a car. And so they’re just–they’ve essentially been dumped. And people are…people are moving to new communities where they weren’t living before, hours away, and in other states in some cases. But we’ve been dealing mostly with the people who have been internally displaced in New Jersey. And there’s no–it really seems like there’s no process for it. The only kind of aid that they’re getting is the transitional shelter, the TSA assistance.

Dylana: Which expires May first.

Nate: And that–yeah, that’s going to expire May first. But there’s been so many deadlines that keep passing. So people are constantly living on edge that they’re going to be…that they’re going to be kicked out of the hotel that they’ve been staying in. People are cooking all of their meals in microwaves. Just there’s absolutely no stability. And when they…when they’re finished, especially people who are renters, they have no…no home to go to. The landlord has, in many cases, told them that they’re not–there’s no place for them anymore, that they’re still fixing it up, or that they’re selling it. And in this trailer park in Holgate in Long Beach Island where I think a hundred forty families lived. And they–there was so much devastation there that they were just told ‘we’re closing.’ This is—‘we’re not…we’re not going to be a trailer park anymore.’ And I just heard yesterday that the property was sold for forty million dollars.

Dylana: Yeah, so control of land, another huge thing that we’re trying to advocate on and maybe hopefully develop some community land trusts for the future. And what was the other thing that I wanted to make a point about? Oh, the lack of public transportation. There has been no increase in public transportation. In fact, it’s been the opposite, which has created–a lot of people have lost their jobs. We’re working with the community up in Queensburgh, New Jersey. And because a lot of people commute into the city and to New York to work and couldn’t, many, many, many of them lost their jobs. There was nothing put in place to make sure–I mean you can take a boat over. You know what I mean? We have boats in this country. Like, — its just– the lack of innovation from the government and the lack of–I mean the army hasn’t been present. Like nobody has been on the ground. So it’s just–it’s really unbelievable.

Nate: Yeah, and now almost six months after the storm some of these communities are still–you walk into them and it’s as if the storm happened yesterday except that there’s sand drifts that have gone into the buildings now and you can tell that it’s been a little while.

Dylana: Yeah. And in New Jersey, because a lot of the communities on the shore are summer communities, it’s like a new wave is just starting to hit right now because everybody’s scrambling to open for the tourism season. So A, that creates a problem because it’s going to kick all everybody out of the hotels that’s been living their temporarily. And also, landlords, many of whom–I mean most of the population doesn’t live here in the winter. So people are going to be coming back, opening their houses for the first time. We had just saw that the other day. We went into this guy’s property, he’s a — He’s a man that lives in Delaware–came back. Really one of the worst cases of mold I’ve seen in his basement in an apartment building. So this is affecting everybody in the community. People are going to be opening these doors. These mold spores are going to be flying everywhere. And I think that’s something that’s definitely a little bit different than the New York situation.

Interviewer: I’ve been hearing a lot of people–that it’s not going to be different because a lot of people left and went far away. And now that it’s warm enough, they’re like okay, now I won’t freeze to death ‘cause it’s not winter, now they’re coming back and the same thing’s happening.

Dylana: Yeah. Right.

Nate: And there’s still–there’s so many places where people still can’t come back, like places where the–where no one’s allowed to live because the natural gas lines haven’t been repaired and they’re not letting people in until they fix them. Places on the Delaware Bay shore, which is really far from the main devastation, where bulkheads were destroyed, and so houses that were already on stilts, even if the houses survived and they weren’t damaged, they’re not connected to the land anymore.

Dylana: Right.

Nate: So people can’t…people can’t get into them. And I was just in this community that I hadn’t been to yet called Bay Point, that’s a really small community. And it was–I had no idea but it was just abandoned. There was nobody there. And it’s a poor community. So it’s not like some of the places–some of the richer places in New Jersey, there’s still police cars guarding the roads all the time where most of the destroyed houses are to prevent looting. But in some of these poor communities, there’s just… nothing. Anyone can go in and walk around.

Dylana: Yeah. Just one more thing. I mentioned dependency before. But I didn’t say specifically the dependency on fossil fuels is one of the biggest issues, in my opinion, obviously. [laughter] And many of our opinions. So I just wanted to say that before I forgot. Can I–is there a bathroom close?

Interviewer: Yes. It’s a little complicated to get to.

Dylana: Okay, sorry.

Nate: It’s going to be in the transcript.

Dylana: I don’t care.

[laughter] [quiet directions] [long silence]

Interviewer: Alright, we’ll do a little one on one while she’s–

Nate: Can I really take books from that…from that shelf?

Interviewer: Yes. You’re welcome to it if that’s what makes you happy. Yeah.

Nate: It does.

Interviewer: Excellent. So can I ask a little about the data stuff, because you sound like you’re more involved in the data stuff than she is? A little bit? Okay.

Nate: Yeah, she’s gotten as involved pretty much.

Interviewer: Okay. So where does this data go? How do you…how do you verify it? How long is it around? What is the data supposed to tell you about the shape of the crisis?

Nate: We’ve not exam–the data that we have is so spotty it hasn’t even really occurred to us to examine it kind of holistically and to look at it as a data set. We’re really looking at it as individual cases, a bunch of individual cases in there.

Interviewer: It’s like a collection of case studies as opposed to–?

Nate: Yeah. And it’s for case management really. We have case management software in the database. We haven’t really been using it. We’ve kind of been figuring out our own case management style for it. The official response has–they use this system called CAN, Coordinated … Assistance Network or something. And that’s a Red Cross-implemented program. It’s a database that they create. And all of the agencies that do case management all can tap into it and add information that everybody gets. But it’s been months. And in some places, they’re just now starting to use that database. So for months we even had a lot of interest from local long-term recovery groups in the places that set up those groups early and were unable to get access to the Red Cross database early enough. They were really interested in using the Civi database that we had. But some were nervous because we were Occupy and they didn’t want to trust data with us. And we were already building our own database ourselves. And so some of these communities we go–now we go to the long-term recovery groups. And they’re talking about–you know, they’re talking about the couple of dozen cases that they have. And we have—we say, well, we’ve got a couple of hundred cases already. And…and so that data is–

Interviewer: [to Dylana, who has discovered the free book pile] It’s not as good as it looks, by the way. Look at the table of contents. Sorry. Go ahead.

Nate: So that database is on–it’s online. And anybody who we trust, we give access to only people who are going to be using it. It’s–we keep the data. The data’s been pretty separate. So most of the people who have access to the New Jersey data only have access to New Jersey data. And yeah, it really has just been used as a way for people who in the field to keep track of all of the data and for people who may encounter our website, read about Occupy Sandy, and look up the website–can click a link and input the data themselves. And yeah, it hasn’t been–we haven’t used it as much as we would like. And again, it’s been a matter of not having enough people, not having enough bodies on the ground to do needs assessment, and then the people being scattered around. So–and then also reluctance on the part of some organizers on the ground, especially some of the local organizers who are uncomfortable with technology and are getting the data but keeping it on paper themselves and not entering it. So sometimes it takes awhile for us to get it into the system. But as long–we’re comfortable with that as long as they are on the ground dealing with the needs as they arise.

Interviewer: Okay. I just want to make sure I’m not– Okay, so there’s two more main topics. Well, actually, before we move into that, so you guys have already been talking a bit about the temporal extent of the storm and how you’re just beginning, right, even though the government is like, May first, you’re done. Can you guys talk about maybe how you see the extent of the crisis going? Like will there be an end? Will there be a recovery? Is “recovery” a horrible word? Like what…what do you guys think about that sort of topic?

Nate: Yeah.

Dylana: Yeah.

Nate: It’s a long process.

Dylana: I don’t–I prefer– I don’t know. We’ve been talking a lot about recovery as… And I mean one of–our main thing is called “Community Recovery Network,” building a Community Recovery Network.

Interviewer: Like a working group?

Dylana: No. It’s kind of–I mean, what would you say? I guess it’s almost our mission in a way, although we haven’t really defined any of that, like solidified it, but yeah. You know, we saying working to build a community recovery network.

Nate: And it’s a mutual aid network really to–

Dylana: Right.

Nate: –to build a network that…that will allow people to drive their own recovery process and not be reliant on the government or the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, because the skills and the generosity exists in the community to make it–to really make things better than they were before the storm. It’s a matter of convincing people that they can do it and that they should do it. And then having the people on the ground speaking for themselves and saying what they need and requesting what they need, and actually working with the people who can provide it to make sure that they’re getting what they want and not getting–

Dylana: Right, and just–

Nate: –forty million dollar developments instead of a nice place to live.

Dylana: And having–I mean I know this wasn’t the question, what we provide, but just to finish that thought, you know, Occupy Sandy provides a pretty cushioning network. We’re a vast network of people. So we can really kind of advocate…advocate well for some of this stuff just naturally by the nature of our network. I think though in terms of what’s the future has in store, I mean, I’m really worried about the progression in a lot of ways. You mentioned developers; that’s a big, big concern that a lot of these people–you know, we’ve seen it in history all over the world. After a natural disaster, tsunamis, etc, all of the folks who live there, especially in areas of tourism, get kicked the heck out. And up go new hotels. And we already are seeing that happening, so. I don’t think there’s any way to actually define it. I mean I think–yeah, I think it’s really tough. I think recovery is weird word. Resiliency is good, is a good word to use. And measuring that, I mean I see–I guess I see the recovery effort and it kind of serving as a platform to create a lot of the change starting from the grassroots up, that will prevent some of these atrocities from happening in the future. But it’s tough to predict. We’ll see. I mean.

Nate: I think a lot of us in Occupy Sandy have been viewing this as a classic crisis slash opportunity. And it’s…it’s an opening for so many conversations about climate change, about economic justice, about food justice. And I think dealing–using this storm and the resources that are coming and the opportunity to bring communities together towards a project of long-term recovery is a really…is a really unique opportunity. And we have the chance now to make a big difference, I think, to make–to really, yeah, to really use this time to help communities and help people in communities come together around a bigger…a bigger mission.

One of the things we’ve been starting to explore is helping to develop worker cooperatives because there are so many…there are so many unemployed people, so many people with skills who are ready to work but just nobody’s ready to hire. But they could be…they could be creating opportunities for themselves and for their communities. We’re starting to–now that it’s spring, we’ve really gotten…really gotten excited about agricultural projects. We’re–on Sunday, we’re putting in a sixty foot by sixteen foot community garden at a church in Queensburgh, where they’ve had a food pantry for months that’s–in order to supplement what they’re giving out because people are eating all of this horrible crappy packaged food instead of fresh local, organic vegetables. We have a possible opportunity to start a community farm somewhere inland, an area that’s not likely to be flooded, that wasn’t flooded, on a six-acre spread. And I’m really excited about the opportunity to give- to create jobs for people, to create a livelihood that doesn’t involve the existing system and doesn’t involve people being exploited by people, people making opportunities for themselves.

Dylana: Yeah. And I would sum that up by saying an opportunity for lots of projects is on the table. But it’s going to be a continuing battle to figure out how to funnel the resources into the right places.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Okay, so there’s two more points that our research interests that we haven’t hit on. I feel like class has been really implicit in a lot of what we’re talking about, but race and gender as categories of difference that are often systematically disenfranchised in disasters and other times. Have they been? Could you talk maybe about how you’ve noticed or not noticed race and class playing into this? Or sorry, race and gender playing into this?

Nate: Class and gender, you said?

Interviewer & Dylana: Race, class, gender.

Interviewer:  I made a mistake. Got it straightened out.

Nate: Got it. Okay. Got it.

Dylana: Yeah, I mean we have honestly, as a group, been addressing them more internally. I mean the way that our dynamics have been working–it’s open to everybody. So everyone can come on board. But there are very specific kind of ethos behind Occupy and behind activism and within our groups. So we keep a lot of that in check and are constantly talking about it internally as a group. I think moving forward we’re hoping to be able to address that more in the form of conversations, workshops, trainings, etc. on the ground and, like, out with a lot of the communities that we have been working with. And in terms of observations, I mean… in what I’ve seen just in terms of having conversations about horizontal organizations or cooperatives, it’s hard for people to accept, in terms of race and class–race and gender– I think it’s been–I’ve noticed, like for example, when we have conversations about having a cooperative, right, people are like, “well who’s the boss?” Like “I want to be the boss.” You know, “I’m the boss.” And I’m just trying to think if I’ve seen that more in men or women. And to be honest, not really. Moving forward, I think it will, once we actually implement a lot of the stuff that we’ve been trying to for a long time, which is like assemblies and meetings and workshops. It’s certainly something that I’m sure will come up more. And I’m just trying to think–I mean I guess, yeah, like single moms have been an issue. I don’t know, Nate. What do you think? I’m trying to think of specific examples.

Nate: I–yeah, I’ve noticed there’s– From the beginning, there’s been a real disparity in the official response. And in the media attention –seems like based on race because you have in New Jersey some large urban areas like Newark and like Atlantic City where the population of people of color is much higher than in other parts of New Jersey. And the attention has been focused on the places where there was big dramatic-looking damage. And so there’s always been cameras at the shore where a bunch of white people live and rich people live.

Dylana: Primarily second homes.

Nate: And then there hasn’t been much attention to the places where people live in basement apartments that are flooded and lives were destroyed and they’re renters and they’ve got nothing now. But yeah, they come from already marginalized communities, and so there’s been very little attention paid there. And those are some of the places that Occupiers went to immediately after the storm and were much more involved in. But in a lot of those places we’ve had trouble…we’ve had trouble kind of establishing a foothold. I think in many ways it’s because the communities–because these communities were so ripped up by the storm. And they were relatively disconnected before the storm as well. And you have people who are forced to–people who have nowhere to go. And they can’t stay with a neighbor because all their neighbors are in the same situation. So they’re just going to totally random places. So the communities don’t have places to gather anymore and they’re just–they’re not communities anymore in some cases. There’s been–it seems as though there’s been less–there’d be a lot of less attention and energy paid toward immigrant communities as well. Although I’ve–in the last week I’d been to two long-term recovery group meetings, one in Cumberland County and one in Cape May County. And both of them–people who were heavily involved–and in one case the chair of the long-term recovery group mentioned the specific outreach that they were doing to immigrant communities and specifically to undocumented immigrants. And I was kind of surprised by that, but I think…I think people are recognizing that those communities were really hard hit and there’s extra challenges there because they’re unwilling or afraid to accept government help. So they know that they’re in a position where they can help these people without turning them in, and they’re not going to get in trouble for that. And I think some people are taking that seriously. There seems to be a lot of genuine energy there.

Dylana: I’ve also seen tension in responders, like groups working on the ground trying to figure out how to identify people that need support. And I have seen racial tensions in there too, like people coming in that may not have had a home that was flooded but really need food and really need support, and people being resistant to that because they’re doing Sandy relief work. And definitely some tones of racism in there. I mean I’ve heard people saying “they’re not storm victims; they’re just, you know, the Mexicans from around the way.” That kind of thing. And so it’s definitely a thing that needs to be addressed. And again, trying–positive. I think that this has opened an opportunity to have a lot of these conversations with people that might not normally be open to having them. Yeah.

Interviewer:  Alright, in our last ten minutes, it’d be great if we could talk about climate change. These questions are couched for people in case they’re climate change deniers. But I’m assuming that you’re not based on what you’ve already said. But something like: okay, some people say that the storm was caused by climate change or at least we’ll have more storms like it going forward. What do you think about this? And also, if it is connected to climate change, how do we go forward to make sure that this sort of thing doesn’t keep happening or keep getting worse or having the same effects as Sandy?

Dylana: We have to completely overhaul developments and get all of the money and resources to go towards green and sustainable developing and contractors and construction, and do training based around those for all of the people who are working on the ground.

Nate: We got to use this moment to mobilize a new community to advocate for massive change in policy and energy use across the country. Obviously, the U.S. uses so much more energy and contributes so much more than our share to green house gas emissions, yeah.

Dylana: Yeah. It’s been interesting. On this point as well, folks are definitely resistant to change. But I mean the best–I mean I do some environmental consulting. And the best argument and best thing we have is it actually ends up saving people resources, whether it be money or anything else. So I think making sure that we’re being strategic about our frameworks, how we’re framing the conversation, what it looks like, what the benefits for all parties are. And we’re currently trying to bridge this gap in terms of development. We’re actually meeting with somebody, a community planner and developer at three o’clock today to talk about how we can start to create some of these proposals that are going specifically towards green development, green building, and I think–well, I said before–overhaul the entire thing. Well, of course we’d all love for that to happen. I think that starting small, I mean, and looking at some of the smaller–we mentioned that mobile home park in Wildwood. And looking at each individual ecosystem and how it might best function in sort of using permaculture and other design systems to really figure that out. I think the opportunity is there because people need new homes and new structures, so. What was the original question?

Interviewer: Just how climate change fits into this giant mess moving forward.

Dylana: Yeah. So generating small scale community-based alternative energy systems like mini, hydro, solar so that people are not dependent on the grid, decentralizing completely for a lot of these places, using wave energy. I haven’t really seen anybody talking about that, so.

Nate: And yeah, part of that first question–I think so many people are increasingly aware that this is–we keep hearing people say that this is the new normal. And so they’re not just–so many people are not just trying to recover from the storm; they are trying to prepare for the next one at the same time. And whether it’s being mandated by government slash insurance companies or when it comes to raising homes up or just deciding where you’re going to live. And people in that trailer park were talking about how everybody’s planning to leave because they know…they know it’s going to happen again. And I think there’s some–there does seem to be an increasing awareness that this is sadly the new normal, and if anything, it’s likely to get worse.

Dylana: Yeah.

Interviewer: Is there anything else that you want to mention that I didn’t ask? Are there any other questions I should have asked?

Dylana: Well the role that, like, the insurance companies are playing within this all I think is really important because they are controlling a lot of what’s going on. And there’s complaints across the board, across all classes. And I think that’s something that we really need to advocate for and rethink in our systems. And yeah, there’s a lot to do. I mean building coalitions is really–and this is the main streak of every effort that we see and that we talked to, and everyone we talked to is just making sure everybody is building alliances and communicating and building this network and finding our own niches within it all so we can all kind of tackle part of it without duplicating efforts all over the place and just really making sure we’re being strategic about best practices and the best way to move forward and making sure that each community are the ones that are communicating that to begin with and just facilitating the conversation.

Nate: And we got to tell this story better.

Dylana: Telling the story better, yeah. We’ve been bad in Jersey about doing that.

Nate: We had our hands full.

Interviewer: Yeah, well thank you so much. I appreciate the talk. And I might follow up with, like, just email questions for things that I was thinking of that left my head. And once everything is transcribed, I will send it to you guys so you guys can look at it. First, I look at it to look at transcription errors and stuff like that. And then I’ll send it to you guys if you’re like, oh yeah, I just sent the whole thing up or, like, this should probably not be public or I didn’t really mean that or whatever.

Nate: Can we ask you a few questions?

Interviewer: Absolutely. I’ll interrupt the recorder for that.

Nate: We were curious. We were talking beforehand about whether…whether this– [phone rings] Sorry. That’s my phone telling me I have to move my car in twelve minutes. We’re a block away. Whether your research collective is interested in kind of collaborating with some…with some of the work that we’re doing and developing some…developing some research projects. We were thinking specifically about diet. That’s one we’re really interested in, the diet of people since the storm because it’s, from our experience anecdotally, it’s been terrible. Probably a lot of people had terrible diets before the storm, but I’m sure it’s–it seems like it’s only gotten worse.

Dylana: Or more generally just helping to do the needs assessment piece of it because we’ve been doing canvassing since the beginning. Other people are doing canvassing. But they’re looking at very specific metrics that aren’t addressing a lot of what we were talking about, the systemic things, things like climate change, and kind of gaging where people are at. And I know that’s what you all are doing. But it would be really great if maybe we could do a study on the ground. I know some other universities are doing, like, resiliency studies, very, very small scale though. And it might be interesting to kind of put something out through our network and throughout the state to kind of generate some results to see what the community needs are so we can know best where to focus efforts now.

Nate: Yeah, so much of what we’ve been asking has been geared towards the immediate triage, immediate needs. But we haven’t been–

Dylana: We have questions about environmental campaigns.

Nate: We do. Whether people want to engage in our activism, we do ask questions like that. But–

Dylana: Would you like to be put on the list?

Nate: But we haven’t been asking kind of the questions that would help…help drive long-term advocacy and things that could be…things that could be used as ammunition essentially in our…in our advocacy efforts and in grant applications in requesting funding for certain things. So yeah.

Dylana: It would just be really great for academia to fill that niche, because we don’t have the resources between the, you know, twenty-something core organizers that we have. So talking or really starting the conversation about developing some sort of research partnership or cooperation would be really awesome.

Interviewer: We are fundamentally interested in collaborations. There are only nine of us, and we all have specialties. And half of us are graduate students. And one of us is an undergraduate. They’re still doing coursework.

Dylana: Okay.

Interviewer: So we have different sort of abilities to do that. But what we can do is that we’re also a clearing house. Like people who are interested in Sandy come to us, and we have networks or alliances of other academics who we can always circulate calls and stuff like that as well.

Dylana: Exactly. And like in NYU, maybe in some of the different departments they would be interested in doing a qualitative study or something.

Interviewer: Yeah. We also–we have collaborated with someone–I think it was Occupy data people–on a survey. And basically our big intervention was people say, and do you have clean water? Do you have a job? Our intervention was, and for how long has that been the case so that we could turn from the triage to the systemic, recognizing that, like, trauma is ongoing and a storm is a punctuation mark. But yeah, I mean whenever we can help, we do try and help. And if we can’t help, we try to find people who can, so.

Dylana: Yeah, survey. That’s a good idea. Yeah.

Interviewer: Yeah, so we have something called a “salon,” which is a name that don’t–but that’s what they’re calling it.

Dylana: I love salon.

Interviewer: Oh, really? They make me feel like they’re snooty French people there. And sometimes there are. But where we try to get a bunch of people in the room who would benefit from concrete networking on projects from journalists to activists to academics.

Dylana: Great. Yeah, good.

Interviewer: So we’ll start–we’ll include you guys’ names on the next one, which will probably be after May once course work is done.

Dylana: Perfect. Okay, perfect. That sounds great.

Interviewer: Yeah, this is an ongoing issue.

Nate: Give that to Amanda.

End of recording

Download transcription here.

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New report on the roles of activists and community-based organizations after disasters.

“Sandy brought out the best in people, and the worst in systems.”

Research and experiences shows that people run towards, not away from, disaster. The very first responders to an event-based crisis are always disaster survivors, followed by locals. Then, at some point, the official response, NGOs, and other disaster experts arrive. These later groups are also the first to leave while community and activist groups remain for long term recovery. The North Star Fund has released, “From the Edge of Disaster: How Activists and Insiders Can Use the Lessons of Hurricane Sandy to Make the City Safer,” a research and recommendation report drawing on 30 interviews with community-based organizations (CBOs) and participation in dozens of meetings and conferences across the city over the past two years. It is a preliminary report; a longer and more detailed version is forthcoming.

“It was a no-brainer, these are our community members, we had to do something. We had long-time relationships, people knew to come here, to send supplies to us. Some police were trying to shut down our relief work, but other police were referring people to us. The Red Cross didn’t come in for a week. Across the board, we were disappointed with every single level of the social infrastructure response.”
— Helena Wong, Executive Director of CAAAV

Post-Sandy reports, whether authored by government agencies, community-groups, activists or survivors, agree that activists and community-based organizations were the main sources of aid after Sandy. “From the Edge of Disaster” argues that,

“many of the capacities and skills that make CBOs effective advocates and organizers [include:] the deep relationships and mutual trust they have
built within the communities where they work; their local geographic knowledge of institutions and the makeup of their communities; their experience with door knocking; their commitment to letting the people affected define the problem; the flexibility, creativity, and resourcefulness which has always allowed them to do much with few resources; their ability to reach out to allies across the city; and perhaps most importantly, their deeply felt sense that people who live in these communities are not victims per se. Rather they are people who can take constructive action for themselves and their neighbors, once they have the necessary information and connections…. They saw that the disaster affecting the most vulnerable communities after the storm is strongly tied to the more protracted disaster that is the economic inequity and inequality within New York City.”

Such statements resonate with what we have found at Superstorm Research Lab (A Tale of Two Sandys): the notion that the most pressing disaster is the long-term, unequal division of wealth and resources, while Sandy was a punctuation mark that made such disparities more apparent. This definition of crisis results in fundamentally different notions of aid and action compared to the official response, which understands the crisis as a short-term weather event. This definition also argues that “‘recovery’ measures should not replicate the circumstances that made so many New Yorkers
so vulnerable in the first place.” Many of the report’s recommendations for rebuilding are based on the idea that resiliency, or the ability to bounce back after extreme weather crises, are skills developed at the local social level, the domain of CBOs. Yet, the support of government and philanthropy is essential due to the balance of resources in these institutions. Thus, recommendations are about proposing and strengthening partnerships between community groups, government, and philanthropy with the goal of enabling CBOs to take a lead in local expertise.

Summary of Recommendations from From the Edge of Disaster: How Activists and Insiders Can Use the Lessons of Hurricane Sandy to Make the City Safer

Recommendations for immediate relief work:
1. Map every community
The report calls for a tangible, common map that lists the “relevant assets and capacities in an emergency.” Versions of such maps listed include New York Disaster Interfaith Services map of faith communities, the Red Cross mapping project, and the Pratt Institute maps that show levels of social vulnerability in impacted areas. SRL also found that the NYC Department of Sanitation had excellent maps and local knowledge at the capillary level of streets, alleys, and households.

2. Designate gathering spaces
Consistently, research finds that centralized locations where information and gathering can take place are not only essential to disaster relief, but occur as a matter of course. These tend to be churches, libraries, or community organizations that are already known and trusted as public space before crisis. From the Edge of Disaster argues that these should be designated ahead of time.

3. Clear lines of communication between CBOs and the City
A great deal of energy and time is spent on figuring out who is in charge of what during a disaster. “The city must determine and then communicate who is in charge, and which is the first point of communication for CBOs so that communities know how to coordinate their work with government efforts.”

4. Plan for access to technology
During Sandy, power, cell phone service, and even landlines went down. Yet, Twitter, FB, phone hubs, and other networked technologies central to relief.

5. Support local relief organizations
Address the gap between local organizations and their expert local knowledge and elite institutions with their greater resources but less knowledge of what communities want and need.

6. Create system(s) to dispatch volunteers across the city
The report flags the strain of finding, dispatching and managing volunteers as a major challenge for the CBOs: “While some communities were flooded with help, others did not have enough.” Various systems were used to deal with the problem from the sloppy but immediate use of Twitter to the database-driven CiviCRM system used by Occupy Sandy to coordinate tens of thousands of individual volunteers, the largest effort in the City.

7. Develop and regularly test emergency plans
Many groups and residents are frustrated by the readily apparent under-use of disaster management plans developed before disaster. While there are reasons for this under-use (see “The Fantasy of Disaster Response Documents“), the report calls on government to determine if such plans are relevant or feasible.

Recommendations for rebuilding and long term recovery:
1. Prioritize social infrastructure along with physical infrastructure as a resilience strategy
This recommendation reinforces the notion that the real disaster is long term economic inequity and injustice. The report asks for a single point person and office that organizes all government resilience efforts–both infrastructural and social.

2. Strengthen community responders, including institutions and leaders
Here, the emphasis is on climate-related planning during calm and developing CBOs capacity and resources during disaster events.

3. Provide grants, loans and credit to individual disaster victims and small businesses
This reccomendation is mainly for philanthropists, many of whim requested that CBOs act as go-betweens for micro-loans and grants. The report requests that they same thing occur, but without CBOs as in intermediary, which often caused strain for such groups already overwhelmed with providing other forms of aid.

4. Monitor rebuild spending and priorities
This is a major issue after Sandy, and is laid out in the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding report “How Sandy Rebuilding Can Reduce Inequity in New York City.” 

5. Strengthen sustainability in a new climate
The report calls for concrete plans for physical and social structures that both mitigate and adaptat to climate change.



Other Reports on the Community/Activist Response to Sandy:

Department of Homeland Security First Responders Group and Virtual Social Media Working Group, “Lessons Learned: Social Media and Hurricane Sandy,” June 2013.

FEMA, “A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principals, Themes, and Pathways for Action,” December 2011.

New York City Office of the Public Advocate, “Supporting Community-Based Disaster Response: Lessons Learned from Hurricane Sandy.” June 2013.

Pipa, Tony. “Weathering the Storm, The Role of Local Non-Profits in the Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort,” Aspen Institute.

Public Reports: Community Based and Grassroots Organizations

Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, “Turning the Tide: How our Next Mayor Should Tackle Sandy Rebuilding.” July 2013.

Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, ALIGN, Urban Justice Center, Community Voices Heard, Faith in New York, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, Good Old Lower East Side, Red Hook Initiative, and New York Communities for Change, “Weathering the Storm: Rebuilding a More Resilient New York City Housing Authority Post-Sandy,” March 2014.

North Star Fund, “From the Edge of Disaster: How Activists and Insiders Can Use the Lessons of Hurricane Sandy to Make the City Safer,” April 2014.

Occupy Sandy New Jersey, “OSNJ Statement on NJ’s Disaster Recovery Action Plan,” March 2013.

Red Hook Initiative, “Red Hook Initiative: A Community Response to Hurricane Sandy,” June 6, 2013.

Sandy Regional Assembly, “Recovery Agenda. Recovery from the ground up: Strategies for community-based resiliency in New York and New Jersey,” April 2013.

Sandy Regional Assembly, “Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) Analysis,” July 2013.


Interview with new resident of the Rockaways

Interview with new resident of the Rockaways
Interviewer: LP, Brooklyn College

Q: Okay, so, for number one, can you begin by telling me briefly about your experiences with Sandy?

A: Well we, rather unique, because we moved in, my husband has owned this house for a while, but the circumstances he wasn’t living here, and then moved in the Thursday before the storm. So we actually moved everything here from New Jersey, and then Sandy came.  When, when we heard the news, we weren’t quite sure if we should evacuate or not, because our area was, basically were told to evacuate, and we ultimately did.  Read more

Occupy Sandy’s Trenton Occupation: “Camp Sandygate”

Tomorrow Occupy Sandy launches Camp Sandygate, a protest outside the state Campitol against the misuse of Sandy funds by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Details are below.

Camps Sandygate
Time: This Saturday, January 18, at 12:00pm until Wednesday at 9:00am
Location: World War II Veterans Memorial – 140 West State St, Trenton, NJ 08608
FB event page

From OS NJ:

“In light of the recent disturbing disclosures concerning Governor Chris Christie’s flagrant misuse of federal Sandy aid money, the collective of storm survivors and their allies who organize under the Occupy Sandy New Jersey banner are calling on residents of New Jersey to join us in Trenton to Occupy outside the Capitol starting this Saturday, January 18th, at noon. We intend to maintain our camp through Chris Christie’s re-inauguration festivities on Tuesday, January 21st.

In particular we invite Sandy survivors to make the trip to Trenton (we’ll help you get here if you reach out: call 609-318-4271 or email to tell your stories to the state and national media already camped out nearby. We know that the people of New Jersey have stories to tell, to Chris Christie and to anyone willing to listen, and we plan to provide a safe space from which to do so.

Since our Sandy recovery work continues on a daily basis—indeed, some of our volunteers and organizers may not even be able to make it to Trenton due to responsibilities in the field—this will only be a four day Occupation. However, should the administration fail to quickly fix its broken response to the storm and shift its attention to the state’s residents who are most in need, we will not rule out returning to Trenton again soon. Governor Christie must understand that the last people he should be bullying right now are Sandy survivors.

#OccupyChristie starts at high noon this Saturday at the State Capitol. Bring tents and sleeping bags.

Partial Schedule of events:

Day 1 – Saturday
Noon – Occupy.
6pm – Community Dinner & Assembly
8pm – Memorial Candlelight Vigil for Sandy’s victims

Day 2 – Sunday
9am – Breakfast
1 pm – Community Lunch & Assembly
7pm – Sunday Dinner

Day 3 – Monday
9am – Breakfast
11am – Press conference
1 pm – Community Lunch & Assembly
7pm – Dinner

Day 4 – Tuesday
8am – Breakfast
11am – Sandy Survivor Speakout
1pm – Lunch
7pm – Dinner

Day 5 – Wednesday
9am – Breakfast and Break Down Encampment

For more information, please contact Occupy Sandy NJ at 609-318-4271 or”

Union of Concerned Scientists: Sandy, One Year Later

UCS Science Network

Save the Date!

Join us for our Sandy, One Year Later: Looking to the Future forum in person or via live webcast.

Date: Tuesday, October 29
Time: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Location: Monmouth University, West Long Branch, NJ

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Sandy, One Year Later: Looking to the Future
Part of the Lewis M. Branscomb Forum series
One year after Superstorm Sandy made landfall, the Union of Concerned Scientists will co-host a full-day forum to discuss what we’ve learned and what we still need to do in order to make New Jersey more resilient and help the region plan for the future. The event will be held at Monmouth University and will be webcast live nationwide.

Save the date and RSVP here to secure your spot at the forum today!

Sandy, One Year Later: Looking to the Future
Part of the Lewis M. Branscomb Forum series
When: Tuesday, October 29, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Where: Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey

Presented by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Monmouth University, New Jersey Future, and New Jersey Recovery Fund.

If you are unable to attend the forum in person, click here to register for the live webcast. And invite your friends and colleagues.

The danger from extreme weather events, particularly coastal flooding, will increase in the coming years. As we brace for more damaging storms, we must: improve prediction, response and recovery; better integrate science in risk assessments; create more resilient infrastructure; and ensure that communities have what they need in order to make good planning decisions that benefit all community members. The forum will bring together individuals from a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds for a frank and honest discussion of the challenges we face and the choices we have to make.

An agenda and speaker list will be available on the forum webpage soon. I hope you can join us.

Danielle Fox
Danielle Fox
Outreach Coordinator, Center for Science and Democracy
Union of Concerned Scientists

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.
Union of Concerned Scientists
2 Brattle Square
Cambridge, MA 02138-3780
Phone: 800-666-8276
Fax: 617-864-9405

Public Bibliography on Occupy Sandy

Several partners have asked for research on Occupy Sandy, one of the largest grassroots relief organizations to coordinate aid following Hurricane Sandy’s landfall in the New York/New Jersey area from October 2012 until the present day.

In response, we’ve created a public bibliography on Occupy Sandy. The bibliography is meant to be curated (selected for usefulness), rather than exhaustive. It includes a mix of academic literature, journalism, websites, graphics, documentaries, presentations, and even some internal documents from Occupy Sandy. If you have anything to add, please let us know in the comments section. This list is also available via Zotero public groups, where you can add your own citations, comments, and annotations.

Occupy Sandy is a grassroots, non-hierarchical community-led disaster relief network whose organizational structure, values, and practices came out of experience in the Occupy Wall Street movement focused on wealth disparity and the corporatization of politics. Following Hurricane Sandy’s landfall in the New York City region, Occupy Sandy coordinated more than 60,000 volunteers and raised nearly one million dollars in disaster aid. Some researchers have called Occupy Sandy a “grassroots disaster relief network” rather than an “emergent response group” or formal, institutionalized response groups such as the Red Cross, and are primarily interested in how Occupy Sandy operated so successfully with a relatively novel organizational structure (Ambinder 2013). Others write about how their politics created a certain type of organization and genre of aid different from the official response (Kilkenny 2012; Giraud 2013). Yet other sources simply describe how Occupy Sandy worked, take issue with particular events, or document the network in action.

Access the bibliography here.

Ambinder, Eric, and David Jennings. 2013. The Resilient Social Network @Occupy Sandy #SuperstormSandy. Falls Church, VA: The Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute: 12-13.

Giraud, Esteve. 2013. “Interview with Devin Balkind: Sahana and Occupy Sandy Relief Efforts.” Sahana Software Foundation.

Kilkenny, Allison. 2012. “Occupy Sandy Efforts Highlight Need for Solidarity, Not Charity.” The Nation, November 5.

OS Bibliography


This bibliography is designed for people who are doing research on Occupy Sandy. As such, the bibliography is meant to be curated (selected for usefulness), rather than exhaustive. It includes a mix of academic literature, journalism, websites, graphics, documentaries, presentations, and even some internal documents from Occupy Sandy. If you have anything to add, please let us know in the comments section. This list is also available via Zotero public groups.


Ambinder, Eric, and David Jennings. 2013. The Resilient Social Network @Occupy Sandy #SuperstormSandy. Falls Church, VA: The Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute. (Public Report)

Brown, Pamela. 2013. “The Limits of Local.” Social Text Periscope. (Academic)

Cornish, Flora, Cristian Montenegro, Kirsten van Reisen, Flavia Zaka, and James Sevitt. 2014. “Trust the Process: Community Health Psychology after Occupy.” Journal of Health Psychology 19(1):60–71. (Academic)

Feuer, Alan. 2012. “Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief.” The New York Times, November 9. (Journalism)

Flash, Zakk. 2013. “The People’s Response: How OpOK Relief Is Rebuilding (Blog post)

Fox, Josh. 2012. Occupy Sandy. (Documentary film)

Giraud, Esteve. 2013. “Interview with Devin Balkind: Sahana and Occupy Sandy Relief Efforts.” Sahana Software Foundation. (Blog post)

Gottesdiener, Laura. 2012. “After Sandy, Communities Mobilize a New Kind of Disaster Relief.” (Bjog post)

Greenberg, Miriam. 2014. “The Disaster inside the Disaster Hurricane Sandy and Post-Crisis Redevelopment.” New Labor Forum 23(1):44–52. (Academic)

Greenfield, Adam. 2013. “A Diagram of Occupy Sandy.” Urban Omnibus. (Blog post)

Heindl, Matt. 2015. “Occupy Sandy’s Happy Hackers.” Razorfish Buzzcut. (Blog post)

Islam, M. M., J. V. Vate, J. Heggestuen, A. Nordenson, and K. Dolan. 2013. “Transforming in-Kind Giving in Disaster Response: A Case for on-Line Donation Registry with Retailers.” Pp. 191–96 in 2013 IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC). (Academic)

Jaleel, Rana. nd. “Into the Storm: Occupy Sandy and the New Sociality of Debt.” Is This What Democracy Looks Like? (Blog post)

Kaplan, Michele. 2013. Small Kitchen, Big Impact: Accessibility, Eating Green & The Relief Efforts. (Documentary film).

Kavner, Lucas. 2012. “Occupy Sandy Emerges as a Relief Organization for 21st Century.” (Blog post)

Kilkenny, Allison. 2012. “Occupy Sandy Efforts Highlight Need for Solidarity, Not Charity.” The Nation, November 5. (Journalism)

Kilkenny, Allison. 2013. “Occupy Sandy: One Year Later.” The Nation, October 28. (Journalism)

Knight, Sam. 2014. “Occupy Sandy and the Future of Socialism.” Truthout, April 6.

Lerner, Sharon. 2012. “How Sandy Saved Occupy.” The American Prospect, November 27. (Journalism)

Liborion, Max, and David Wachsmuth. 2013. “The Fantasy of Disaster Response: Governance and Social Action During Hurricane Sandy.” Social Text Periscope. (Academic)

MacFarquhar, Larissa. 2012. “Occupy Sandy.” The New Yorker Blogs. (Journalism)

Malsin, Jared. n.d. “Best of Enemies: Why Occupy Activists Are Working with New York City’s Government.” Time. (Journalism)

Marom, Yotam. 2012a. “Occupy Sandy, from Relief to Resistance.” Waging Nonviolence. (Journalism)

Marom, Yotam. 2012b. “The Best Response to Disaster: Go on the Offensive.” Waging Nonviolence. (Journalism)

Mohrit, Nastaran. 2013. “On the Margins of Disaster, Revolutionary Acts of Care.” Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy (4). (Academic)

Muriente, Sofia. 2013. Occupy Sandy a People-Powered Emergency Response. TEDxHampshireCollege. (Presentation)

Occupy New Jersey. 2013. OSNJ Statement on NJ’s Disaster Recovery Action Plan. (Press release)

Occupy Sandy. n.d. “Meeting Minutes | Occupy Sandy Recovery.” (Internal documents)

Occupy Sandy. n.d. “Occupy Sandy Project Spokescouncil.” Occupy Sandy Recovery. (Website)

Occupy Sandy. n.d. “Occupy Sandy Relief NYC Fund.” Occupy Sandy Recovery. (Website)

Rugh, Peter. 2012. “Occupy Sandy Relief Turns to Protest.” Dissident Voice. (Blog post)

Rugh, Peter. 2013. “Occupy Sandy’s Collective Recovery.” Dissident Voice. (Blog post)

Sandy Regional Assembly. 2013. Recovery Agenda. Recovery from the Ground up: Strategies for Community-Based Resiliency in New York and New Jersey. (Public Report)

Shepard, Benjamin. 2013. “From Flooded Neighborhoods to Sustainable Urbanism: A New York Diary.” Socialism and Democracy 27(2):42–64. (Academic)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 2013. Hurricane Sandy: Youthful Energy and Idealism Tackles Real-World Disaster Response. (News post)

West, James. 2013. “What Happened to the Money That Occupy Sandy Raised?” Mother Jones. (Journalism)

Williams, Ian G., and Robert Preti. 2013. “Ecological Crisis and Tactical Self-Awareness: On Being in Social Work School During and After Hurricane Sandy.” Voices: The Silberman Journal of Social Work. (Academic)

2014. “Occupy Sandy.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.



Missing something? Let us know in the comments section.

The temporality of disaster

*This post originally appeared on the Disaster STS network by SRL member Max Liboiron.

Last week, a coalition of of Hurricane Sandy survivors, Faith New York, Make the Road New York, Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, and several NYC councilmembers delivered a report to New York City Mayor de Blasio on the front steps of City Hall. The report, “How Sandy Rebuilding Can Reduce Inequity in New York City,” highlighted how the effects of Hurricane Sandy are escalating, rather than diminishing, for many survivors.

One of the people who delivered the report was Davon Bennett, a young man from Far Rockaway, Queens.  He addressed the crowd on the steps: “In the process of repairing our house, my parents have depleted their savings, their retirement account, and my college fund. Now after waiting sixth months for help from the Build it Back program, the city is telling us we need to raze our home.” Bennett’s experience is a personal portrait of the data in the report, which draws on Sandy Tracker to evaluate the failure of several recovery projects: Build it Back, the city’s main housing recovery program, has awarded less than one percent of applicants for single family homes have received an award, and none have started construction. Only 3 of 1,051 registrants to the Multi-Family Building Rehab program have begun repair work nearly two and half years after Sandy hit New York City.

Screen shot 2014-03-04 at 6.49.22 AM

NYC Sandy Funding Tracker, Multi-Family Building Reconstruction, Program Milestones as of January 28, 2014.

The story of disaster aid causing new disasters is also common on Sandy Storyline, a public oral history archive of Sandy survivors, where narrators tell of “the time between.” As they wait for building or rental aid, their houses go into foreclosure, their rents increase, they exhaust their savings and go into insurmountable debt, and they live in overcrowded, over priced apartments. Likewise, an interview in May 2013 with a local New Jersey relief volunteer reveals that the need for free meals is increasing, rather than decreasing, as time goes on:

“In the beginning, it was about fifteen to twenty families a day. Now it’s up over forty a day. We  have a food pantry that’s set up that was only servicing its own parish. And how it’s serving over a hundred and twenty families a week. And it’s also attached to a soup kitchen, which was feeding about twenty to thirty meals a day. And now it’s over a hundred every single day, seven days a week.”

DeWolfe, D. J. (2000). Training manual for mental health and human service workers in major disasters.

These stories and data counter the traditional view of the temporality of disasters. The image above is was first published* in a Training Manual for Mental Health and Human Service Workers in Major Disasters published in 2000, and is currently used by the Center for Disease Control and various crisis counseling services for disaster survivors. Yet, rather than a teleological climb back to normalcy, there are two ways that many on-the-ground experiences of Sandy create a different temporal pattern. First, people who were relatively resilient and able to deal with adversity before the storm are now vulnerable. Secondly, for populations that were already vulnerable due to poverty, lack of access to health care and education, and precarious employment or housing, not only are they in increasingly dire situations, but a return to “predisaster” normalcy can hardly be called a recovery.

I’m working with Sandy survivors, grassroots and community-based groups, and some other researchers to find alternative timelines to define the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as the disaster deepens for many survivors.

From "How Sandy Rebuilding Can Reduce Inequality in New York City" (2014).

From “How Sandy Rebuilding Can Reduce Inequality in New York City” (2014).

*This may not be the first publication of this image. If you know if an earlier source, I would love to know (email:

Superstorm Sandy Oral History Workshop December 7

The largest collection of Superstorm Sandy Oral Histories was released recently at Monmouth University, in West Long Branch, NJ.  Anthropology Professor Edward Gonzalez-Tennant and his students collected and transcribed nearly 30 oral histories from residents impacted by the worst natural disaster ever to hit New Jersey.

Dr. Gonzalez-Tennant is presenting an oral history workshop focusing on the recording of personal histories. The recording of personal histories is increasingly viewed by researchers and members of the public as a vital source of information regarding the past. Everyone has a story to tell and oral history recognizes the importance of personal experiences in understanding our shared past.

This workshop will introduce participants to the standard methods of oral history and will  include a discussion of interviewing techniques, pointers for collecting personal stories, and a discussion on  the use of digital recorders in oral history. An overview of the transcription process will also be presented.

When:  Saturday, December 7 from 11am to 1pm

Where:  Upper Shores Library, 112 Jersey City Avenue, Lavalette, NJ


About the Superstorm Sandy Oral History Project

The recording of personal histories is increasingly viewed by researchers and members of the public as a vital source of information. Everyone has a story to tell and oral history recognizes the importance of personal experiences in understanding our shared past. The purpose of this project is to document personal testimonies related to Hurricane Sandy.

Our primary research question seeks to contextualize extreme weather within the daily lives of New Jersey residents. This type of research recognizes that disaster is a complex process. Risk and vulnerability are concentrated in specific locations and locally-based research is required to fully understand its lingering effects.

Oral histories provide an important response to regional and national coverage of the event for several reasons. They provide in-depth accounts of everyday individuals and their strategies for preparing and surviving such events. In addition, our project continues to collect interviews as a way to showcase the long-term effects of these kinds of events.

If you have any questions or would like to participate in the project, please contact Dr. Edward Gonzalez-Tennant via email at or phone at 732-571-4458.

To access a sample of the oral history interviews, please click here.

Sandy Mold Remediation

Mold remediation. Image by Respond & Rebuild

Mold remediation work. Image taken by an organization that does mold remediation work post-Sandy.

This past Sunday, October 13th, was International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR), a day that not only celebrates how people and communities are reducing their risk to disasters and raising awareness for Disaster Risk Reduction, but also encourages every citizen and government to take part in building more disaster resilient communities and nations.  As New Yorkers reflect on the approaching one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy and recall the many residents that are still recovering from the storm, we are also thinking of how to build more disaster resilient communities and nations.

This year’s IDDR theme, “Living with Disability and Disasters”, focused on some one-billion people around the world living with some form of disability, representing one-fifth of the world’ population who are often overlooked. In that spirit, this blog post focuses on mold remediation. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with a first responder, who later became a mold remediator, to learn about the specifics and the importance of mold remediation.

What at first began as simply providing water pumps and generators to locals and homeowners and helping homeowners pump out water from their homes for the interviewee, eventually turned into something bigger. And although the interviewee had a full time job before and during the storm, they never went back to it after and wounded up doing disaster relief work full-time. As a result of these and other efforts, an organization was formed.

The organization immediately realized that a lot of homes in disaster zones were not having the proper site safety checks, and so the group went into homes to look for serious hazardous damages, from oil spills to natural gas fumes. During this process, the organization recognized the acute lack of awareness of and knowledge about the mold that was growing in homes.

We noticed that nobody knew what to do about mold and that since like this area has really been spared a lot of extreme weather in the recent past.  People just didn’t really – people didn’t know what it was going to be like.  We knew that mold was going to grow.  We knew a little bit, we knew that we couldn’t use bleach to get rid of it.And so, [mold] became our focus right away just because that’s actually a really serious public health issue and, you know, can really degrade the structural integrity of a home.

Mold remediation is something that people often shrug off because it doesn’t seem like an acute danger when they are rebuilding previously flooded homes. The most common remedy that people use is bleach, but that is actually not an effective or sustainable solution. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, biocides such as chorine bleach are substances that can destroy living organisms but it is not recommended as routine practice because even by sterilizing the affected area, background level of mold spores still remains. [1]

Mold growing inside a flood damaged New Jersey home. Source:

Mold growing inside a flood damaged New Jersey home. Source:

There have been many organizations post-Sandy doing “mold suppression,” but the interviewee noted that there is actually no such thing as “mold suppression” and in actuality those groups were usually spraying bleach, which does more harm than good by giving homeowners a false sense of relief and security.

Mold grows in moist conditions and often times grows deep within infrastructure. Bleaching only offers a temporary and surface solution because while molds seemingly have gone away, they are still growing internally within the walls. In addition to bleach, there are other over-the-counter mold remediation products offered, but those are also potentially harmful because most of these products contains ammonia and when ammonia is mixed with bleach, it releases dangerous toxic fumes. [2][3]

To ensure the proper and full removal of mold and spores from homes and other types of buildings, there are actually other various crucial steps and procedures that, depending on the type of building and severity of the problem,  one can and should take instead of just using bleach and other ammonia products.

Some very brief and basic steps include, but are not limited to:

  1. Eliminate or limit water or moisture sources.
  2. Decontaminate or remove damaged materials, as appropriate.
  3. Dry any wet materials by opening doors and windows and using fans or dehumidifiers to dry out the building.
  4. Scrub affected areas to remove visible mold and let it settle after for at least 30 minutes. Remove all porous items that have been wet for greater than 48 hours and that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried.
  5. Vacuum all surfaces from top to bottom.
  6. Wiping and disinfecting areas by using warm water mixed with a mild dish detergent, and damped cloth rags.
Image by Respond & Rebuild.

Mold remediation protective wear. Image taken by an organization that does mold remediation work.

Attached here is a brief mold remediation guide from US Environmental Protection Agency. And  here is another brief guide for mold remediation from Respond & Rebuild, an organization that does mold remediation and Sandy relief work.

It is easy to forget the small yet critical aspects of recovery, like mold remediation. Mold is one of several invisible, chronic, accumulative effects of disasters that stretch the crisis beyond the storm event and its immediate aftermath. One year after Hurricane Sandy, mold has become  an even more apparent and increasing problem. Schools and buildings that have had mold remediation work done has recently found mold resurfacing. [4] There has also been an increasing number of mold-related respiratory diseases. As local governments begin to offer mold remediation assistance and along with varying organizations begin and continue to offer mold remediation courses, it is essential that we need to build more mold awareness for a better and more resilient storm recovery.


[1] and [2] A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home.

[3] Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments.

[4] Sandy left NJ shore with massive mold problem.

Community Voices on the Recovery: Sandy and the Election, Part 1

The Alliance for a Justice Rebuilding at City Hall on July 31, 2013. Photo by Max Liboiron.

Members of the Alliance for a Justice Rebuilding at City Hall on July 31, 2013. Photo by Max Liboiron.

Almost a year since Sandy ripped through New York, the media gaze has mostly shifted to other topics. But with the municipal election falling on November 3, less than a week after the Superstorm’s 29 October paper anniversary, Sandy’s aftermath and projects for reconstruction could re-emerge as a key campaign issue. But will community voices be heard? As I’ll discuss here, community groups have already laid out top priorities—for after-Sandy reconstruction and more general disaster preparedness—that warrant both voters’ and candidates’ attention.

Here at the Superstorm Research Lab, we’ve made an effort to include a cross-section of voices in our research, from the people affected directly by the storm to volunteer and professional first-responders, to all manner of NGOs and institutes, to government actors. As we’ve prepared our forthcoming White Paper, we’ve seen again and again that the view from below often differs starkly from that from above.

Over at our Resources HQ, we have a “Public Reports” page where visitors can download the 37 reports on Sandy that we’ve compiled so far. Of these, just four were written by community-based and grassroots organizations—the Sandy Regional Assembly (Assembly), the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding (Alliance), and Occupy Sandy New Jersey (Occupy).

The Assembly and Alliance feature overlapping memberships, but the Assembly is mostly composed of environmental justice groups, while the Alliance has a stronger labor membership

The Assembly’s reports are the most detailed. Its “Recovery Agenda”, released in April, outlines an impressively documented set of priorities and makes a compelling case that “low-income and communities of color be an integral part of the Sandy Recovery decision-making process.” It’s packed with tables listing existing and potential local projects alongside prospective funding sources.

Its second report, a “SIRR Analysis” issued in July, evaluates Bloomberg’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) plan and makes recommendations for the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

The Assembly’s three over-arching goals are integrating regional planning with local resiliency priorities; strengthening vulnerable communities, especially with respect to public health; and expanding community-based planning on climate issues. Overall, while the Assembly agreed with a number of the mayor’s SIRR report’s concrete recommendations, the Assembly was disappointed by its neglect of “the existing vulnerabilities of environmental justice communities.” This was no surprise. The Assembly also reported with dismay that there had been minimal grassroots group input in the plan’s formulation; and there was little envisioned in SIRR’s provisions for implementation.

The Alliance for a Just Rebuilding’s report “Turning the Tide” echoes themes from the Assembly reports. Its topline focus is the need for rebuilding to create local, well-paying jobs. Both reports emphasize sustainable transit—with special focus on Bus Rapid Transit, the one piece of New York’s public transit system over which the mayor has direct authority. Both also emphasize the importance of building up affordable hosing—especially, as “Turning the Tide” puts it, in places “where Sandy overwhelmingly displaced Very Low Income families”. The Alliance proposes upgrading NYCHA buildings to combined heat and power (also called cogeneration), which can cut energy costs by a third to a half.

Most profoundly, the Alliance report echoes the Assembly’s argument for embedding after-Sandy policies in a broader social framework. The Alliance writes:

Bloomberg’s blueprint promises to make the City of New York more resilient to future disasters. But “resiliency” must apply not only to physical infrastructure, but also to economic and social infrastructure that can strengthen struggling communities and ready them for future crises. And “recovery” measures should not replicate the circumstances that made so many New Yorkers so vulnerable in the first place.

The Occupy Sandy New Jersey response to the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery “Action Plan” (compiled by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs) closes along similar lines, emphasizing ordinary people and a broader perspective:

Overall, we believe that the “Plan” falls short in a number of areas. It focuses on traditional “economic revitalization,” including support for tourism and small businesses, but it leaves out home-based businesses and takes no steps to build a green economy. It pays lip-service to the public health disaster caused by the storm, but offers no real public health plan and ignores mental health. It deals with housing, but focuses on property owners while leaving renters and the traditionally marginalized on the sidelines. Unfortunately, given the lack of public input throughout the recovery process, none of this is too surprising.

For the shift in orientation community groups are calling for to actually take place will require leadership from above and pressure from below. Take New York. When the Bloomberg administration initially crafted PlaNYC, the city’s first big sustainability plan, it neglected to include community-based and environmental justice organizations in its key planning processes (Rosan 2011). And neither of the two panels on climate change that Bloomberg established—one on science, one on adaptation—included any representatives from these organizations either.

As the mayoral election campaign heats up, let’s hope that the public engages not just with candidates’ glossy campaign literature, but also the detailed, thoughtful proposals and arguments that the region’s community-rooted organizations have put such effort into producing.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our series on Sandy and the Election on the Superstorm Research Lab blog.

What Use Is Disaster Planning? Hurricane Sandy’s “Fantasy Documents”

Disasters do not respect jurisdictional boundaries. The problems caused by Superstorm Sandy prompted action from hundreds of different government agencies across multiple states, and even within the New York City municipal government alone, dozens of different agencies needed to coordinate responses. For precisely this reason, governments make disaster plans. They prepare for complex, fast-moving situations by specifying chains of command, operational protocols, and collaborative best practices. And Hurricane Sandy was the first time since September 11, 2001 that New York City faced a full-on emergency that implicated nearly every aspect of the city government. So what happened to the disaster plans?

In New York, as in many other localities across the country, the job of intergovernmental coordination in an emergency is supposed to be handled by the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). New York State also has an OEM for statewide emergency planning. At the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security coordinates disaster policy, chiefly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In addition, New York City participates in various regional collaborative governance efforts, including the Regional Catastrophic Planning Team (RCPT)—a Department of Homeland Security initiative bringing together emergency managers in the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

The organizational chart from the Regional Catastrophic Planning Team.

The organizational chart from the Regional Catastrophic Planning Team.

Between all these different agencies, the amount of planning that is done for potential disasters is enormous. And what did it amount to, during Superstorm Sandy, a natural disaster unprecedented for the New York region? Not much.

Our research—including confidential interviews with top officials across city and state governments—reveals that Mayor Bloomberg and his top deputies marginalized OEM from the first moments of the storm’s arrival, and instead coordinated city emergency functions directly from the mayor’s office. OEM’s extensive hurricane planning was barely touched. One senior member of the city administration said:

“What was surprising is, I work a ton with OEM and I knew there were plans for all of this.  And what was surprising is they were sidelined right away.”

Another official, when asked about their opinion on the OEM plan, responded:

“So I have never seen the plan. I have no familiarity with the plan. I have no idea basically, like, what was supposed to happen in a disaster like this. And I still don’t understand the plan. So…so to some extent that’s a comment in and of itself.”

Staff within OEM, understandably, were not happy about what transpired. One staffer there said:

“We spent so many years in developing this plan and to have it tossed aside it just—it was ridiculous. It tore the gut out of this agency and the morale here suffered tremendously.”

While there were some personality clashes at work here, other levels of disaster planning didn’t fare any better. The extensive planning done by the RCPT remained on the shelf as well. (The same OEM official who described the hit to OEM morale when its plan wasn’t used described the RCPT planning exercise as “bullshit”.)

The sociologist Lee Clarke argues that many disaster plans should be understood primarily as “fantasy documents”. They have little probability of ever being implemented, and instead effectively serve to project confidence from the planners—to rhetorically “convince audiences that they ought to believe what an organization says” (Clarke 1999: 2). The co-chair of one of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s post-Sandy commissions provided a similar perspective:

“On paper, there’s a lot of things that are written into policies that look like…we do have control over this. So we do have national and local planning documents and frameworks for making those kind of decisions and who’s in charge. I think my conclusion is that all of that is somewhat delusional…. We are basically kidding ourselves when it comes to really defining how we’re going to operate in a disaster. There are just too many conflicting interests—some of which are even constitutionally or legislatively in stone in a sense—and we can’t really adapt well when a disaster comes.”

The outcome of disaster plans, in other words, is not to actually to make disaster recovery more effective (although this is certainly the intention of the people who work hard to prepare the plans), but rather to convince people—members of the public, other bureaucrats, bosses, funders—that disaster recovery will be effective. Disaster plans are attempts to make unknowables knowable, or at least thinkable within an ordered, rational framework.

In practice, during Hurricane Sandy, state actors generally performed the complex tasks of emergency response—coordination, setting priorities, and decision-making with limited or incomplete information—not by following the plans that had been established ahead of time, but by improvisation and contingency. Multiple respondents said that officials who preemptively took charge were generally not challenged regardless of their position on the organizational chart, and that where the designated leader was failing to lead effectively, other people stepped up. After all, as one city economic development official described,

“You know, as much as there may be a handbook, there really is no handbook for dealing with something like this. And a lot of people stepped up. A lot of people’s job descriptions like mine changed.”

The problem with this kind of improvised state action is that response priorities were often not set deliberatively or collaboratively. Jurisdictional boundaries—one of the main things disaster planning is supposed to help overcome—reasserted themselves, and key areas of the response (most glaringly, evacuations before the storm and conditions inside NYCHA public housing after the storm) were not given the attention they should have been.

The way government responded to Sandy is only part of the story, of course. Much of the disaster relief that occurred was spearheaded by community networks, Occupy Sandy, and NGOs. Current SRL research is comparing organizational logics that guided state actors and grassroots community actors in their respective Sandy response efforts, and we will report on these findings in the weeks and months ahead.

Further Reading:

Lee Clarke. 1999. Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Opportunity to join HUD’s Rebuild by Design public conversation workshops: Sept 12- Oct 28


Rebuild by Design is a multi-stage regional design competition that will develop innovative approaches to enhancing resiliency in Hurricane Sandy–affected communities. The competition is looking to learn from direct experience, local perspective, and citizen insights as communities across the region begin to rebuild and renew.

Ten international teams of designers and resiliency professionals are now embarking on an eight-month research and design process that will generate innovative planning and design approaches to the region’s post-Sandy challenges. Join us at a series of public meetings held throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, where neighbors and community leaders will play a crucial role in helping shape competition priorities and outcomes.

At each regional meeting below, we invite you to share your experiences and ideas for your community with the participating teams. Your on-the-ground perspective will help Rebuild by Design develop appropriate solutions that respond to local and regional needs.

The first round of public meetings is as follows:

Thursday, September 12 — RSVP
6:00 p.m.
74 Trinity Place, 2nd Floor
New York, NY – map

Wednesday, September 18 — RSVP
7:00 p.m.
Berkeley Hotel, Kingsley Ballroom
Asbury Park, NJ – map

Thursday, September 26 — RSVP
7:00 p.m.
Staten Island, location TBD
(Updated location information will be sent to those who RSVP)

Saturday, October 5 — RSVP
10:00 a.m.
Bridgeport Holiday Inn, Main Ballroom
1070 Main Street
Bridgeport, CT – map

Save the Date:
Monday, October 28

Design Research Presentations: The ten teams will present their research and multiple design opportunities to the public and the jury. 

About Rebuild by Design

Last August, the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force announced the selection of ten multidisciplinary design teams to participate in Rebuild by Design, a unique competition that responds to Hurricane Sandy by asking the world’s most talented design professionals to envision solutions that increase resilience across the Sandy-affected region.

These teams, who will now proceed to the competition’s research and design development stages, were selected from more than 140 applicants representing the top engineering, architecture, design, landscape architecture, and planning firms as well as research institutes and universities worldwide.

Your personal experiences related to Hurricane Sandy’s impact on your neighborhood and the events that followed will serve as essential underpinning for the teams’ research and design. The competition’s goal is to conceive and execute resilient recovery projects in our region that are both fundable and achievable with the purpose of rethinking how we build our cities and towns.

A three-month research and analysis process is underway to identify key design opportunities in the region. At the end of the competition next spring, the resulting proposals will be evaluated by an expert jury, and winning design solutions may be able to be implemented with disaster recovery grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as other sources of public and private-sector funding.

To learn more about Rebuild by Design, please visit



This data resource is part of SRL’s larger mission of promoting mutual aid within research and knowledge communities.
We invite you to submit any data you have that may benefit other researchers, Long Term Recovery Groups, policy makers, and groups engaged in rebuilding.

Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 10.01.57 AM Google Crisis Response Map. Last update January 17, 2013. Including: Emergency Alerts, Post-Sandy Imagery, Damage Assessments and Power Info, FEMA Disaster Declared Areas, Main Distribution Hubs, Shelters and recovery centers, Red Cross shelters, NYC evacuation centers, and more.
Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 11.46.56 AM Pratt Institute maps of vulnerability. The residential maps document the number of homes directly affected in Coney Island and the Rockaways, and show how vulnerable many residential neighborhoods remain to future storms. The NYCHA map, in particular, illustrates the storm’s disparate impacts on low-income New Yorkers.
election-map Esri maps. Including: Sandy Election Impact Map, Demographic Impact Map, Hurricane Sandy: The AfterMap (before and after areal images), and a Photo Tour Map.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 10.14.31 AM Estimated number of residences damaged by Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey. Calculated by cost of damage. April 2013. Source: New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 10.20.26 AM NYC Evacuation Zones. Includes: NYC Evacuation Centers, NYC Evacuation Map, Storm Surge. Street Basemap, Topographic map, and Photos from Flickr filtered by: “#flood OR #surge OR #damage.”
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 10.29.39 AM New York Times’ interactive map of evacuation zones and emergency shelters. Including: addresses of Evacuation sites and emergency shelters by borough and an address search.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 10.31.57 AM New York Times’ storm-tracker map. Last updated October 29, 2012. Shows location of Superstorm landfall.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 10.36.08 AM New York Times’map of Sandy’ s aftermath and early recovery efforts for infrastructure. Includes: Subways and buses; Power Failures (time lapse); Tunnels, Trains, and Airports; Wastewater; Flooding; Fires; Wind. Interactive.
wind-data-oct-30.js Wind map by Hint.FM. Has current windmap for United States, as well as an archive for Hurricane Sandy on October 29th and 30th.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 11.00.16 AM Staten Island Damage Assessment Maps. Superstorm Sandy FEMA Damage Assessments on Staten Island: Number of Homes Affected; CSI, CUNY HPCC.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 11.23.37 AM Ersi Sandy impact and demographic map. Demographics: Over 64 years of Age, Home Ownership, Median Home Value, Household Income, Diversity. Uses Census data.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 2.49.18 PM FEMA food distribution and availability map. New York City and Long Island. Last Modified: July 22, 2013
1029sandy_nyoutages_wednesday Huffington Post map of power outages in NYC and other states. Using Consolidated Edison sources. Data for October 31, 12pm EST.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 3.03.21 PM USA Today‘s Map of Poor Flood Preparation ratings given by FEMA to Sandy affected areas.
NYC Floating Sheeps’ geotagged tweets from October 24- October 30. #Sandy.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 11.03.35 AM Timeline of regional transportation recovery in aftermath of Sandy on Staten Island. To December 3, 2012. By CSI’s Afrona Kaziu.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 2.40.43 PM Aerial imagery of affected coastline from NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey overflights. October 31-November 6, 2012.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 2.44.39 PM NASA Earth Observatory images and visualizations of Hurricane Sandy. October 23-November 1, 2012.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 2.52.31 PM Before and After slide bar images from NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey. Last updated. November 7, 2012.
Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 3.10.27 PM Boston Globe incident report map of Hurricane Sandy on Boston using social media via geotagged photos.
 Screen shot 2013-07-29 at 3.48.26 PM Social Vulnerability Map by the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, University of South Carolina. Based on data from 2010 Social Vulnerability Index.
Screen shot 2013-08-02 at 8.58.19 AM Hurricane Sandy in the Catskills. From Watershed Coverage. Coverage area is roughly 5-counties.
Screen shot 2013-08-02 at 9.01.40 AM FEMA’s Best Available Flood Hazard Data. Last Modified: July 18, 2013.
Screen shot 2013-08-02 at 9.04.26 AM FEMA’s NFIP Flood Insurance Policies In Sandy Affected Areas.Count of policies within 1km grid cells. Last Modified: December 3, 2012.
 Screen shot 2013-08-02 at 9.06.56 AM CrisisCamp DC’s Crowdmap of Sandy in Washington DC. October 27-November 20, 2012.
 Screen shot 2013-08-02 at 9.11.52 AM  Crowdmap of Hurricane Sandy Communications: “Tracking and visualising communication network outages and recoveries.” October 30-November 24, 2012.
 Screen shot 2013-08-02 at 9.15.14 AM Crowdmap of Hurricane Sandy Coworking spaces: “a map of area business helping each other out. Here you will find locations to work, recharge, and reconnect.” NYCEDC verified spaces. October 31 to November 20, 2012.
 nyc gas map sandy Justmapit NYC Gas Map (#NYCgasmap) showing crowd sourced information on gas shortages. November 3-6, 2012.
sandy A time lapse of Foursquare activity in NYC during Hurricane Sandy. Lower Manhattan. October 29- November 2, 2012.
slr_planning_tool_nyc NOAA Sea Level Rise Tool For Sandy Recovery. Last modified: June 20, 2013

This data resource is part of SRL’s larger mission of promoting mutual aid within research and knowledge communities.
If you use it, we invite you to submit any data you have that may benefit other researchers, Long Term Recovery Groups, policy makers, and groups engaged in rebuilding.

Add your data!

We invite you to submit any data you feel would benefit other researchers, Long Term Recovery Groups, policy makers, and groups engaged in rebuilding. This data resource is part of SRL’s larger mission of promoting mutual aid within research and knowledge communities.

Available resources currently include interviews, tweets, public reports, canvassing data, volunteer group meeting minutes and transcripts, sermons conducted immediately after the storm, and more. While our current data is centered on New York City and New Jersey, we welcome all types of data, both qualitative and quantitative, for all locations. We are only looking for data about Hurricane Sandy, rather than other disasters, at this time.

Please email with data or questions.


Public Reports

Hurricane Sandy satellite image
This data resource is part of SRL’s larger mission of promoting mutual aid within research and knowledge communities. If you use it, we invite you to submit any data you have that may benefit other researchers, Long Term Recovery Groups, policy makers, and groups engaged in rebuilding.

Public Reports: Government 

City of Summit, New Jersey, “Hurricane Sandy After Action Report,” no date.

Congressional Research Service, “Analysis of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013,” March 2013.

Department of Homeland Security First Responders Group and Virtual Social Media Working Group, “Lessons Learned: Social Media and Hurricane Sandy,” June 2013.

FEMA, “A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principals, Themes, and Pathways for Action,” December 2011.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Hurricane/Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy, October 2229, 2012,” May 2013.

New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, “New Jersey Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan,” April 2013.

New York City, “Hurricane Sandy After Action: Report to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg,” May 2013.

New York City Department of City Planning, “Coastal Climate Resilience: Designing for Flood Risk,” June 2013.

New York City Department of City Planning, “Coastal Climate Resilience: Urban Waterfront Adaptive Strategies,” June 2013.

New York City Office of the Public Advocate, “Supporting Community-Based Disaster Response: Lessons Learned from Hurricane Sandy.” June 2013.

New York City Panel on Climate Change, “Climate Risk Information 2013: Observations, Climate Change Projections, and Maps,” June 2013.

New York State 2100 Commission, “Recommendations to Improve the Strength and Resilience of the Empire State’s Infrastructure,” January 2013.

Public Service Commission of Maryland, “Hurricane Sandy Multi-State Outage & Restoration Report,” February 2013.

Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR), New York City, “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” June 2013.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “First Interim Report, Disaster Relief Act, 2013,” March 2013.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “Second Interim Report, Disaster Relief Act, 2013,” May 2013.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “HUD Housing Counseling Program Guide for Superstorm Sandy Disaster Relief,” March 2013.

U.S. Senate, “Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy Recovery: Preliminary Response & Recovery Report,” February 2013.


Public Reports: Community Based and Grassroots Organizations

Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, “Turning the Tide: How our Next Mayor Should Tackle Sandy Rebuilding.” July 2013.

Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, ALIGN, Urban Justice Center, Community Voices Heard, Faith in New York, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, Good Old Lower East Side, Red Hook Initiative, and New York Communities for Change, “Weathering the Storm: Rebuilding a More Resilient New York City Housing Authority Post-Sandy,” March 2014.

North Star Fund, “From the Edge of Disaster: How Activists and Insiders Can Use the Lessons of Hurricane Sandy to Make the City Safer,” April 2014.

Occupy Sandy New Jersey, “OSNJ Statement on NJ’s Disaster Recovery Action Plan,” March 2013.

Red Hook Initiative, “Red Hook Initiative: A Community Response to Hurricane Sandy,” June 6, 2013.

Sandy Regional Assembly, “Recovery Agenda. Recovery from the ground up: Strategies for community-based resiliency in New York and New Jersey,” April 2013.

Sandy Regional Assembly, “Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) Analysis,” July 2013.


Public Reports: NGOs and Institutions 

American Association of Retired Persons, “AARP Survey on the Impact of Superstorm Sandy on the 50+ in New York,” no date.

American Institute of Architects (AIA) Post-Sandy Initiative, “Building Better, Building Smarter: Opportunities for Design and Development,” May 2013.

American Red Cross, “Superstorm Sandy: Six-month Update,” April 2013.

Center for American Progress, “Shelter from the Superstorm: How Climate Preparedness and Resilience Saves Money and Lives,” July 2013.

Climate Central, “Sewage Overflows From Hurricane Sandy,” April 2013.

Make the Road New York, “Unmet Needs: Superstorm Sandy and Immigrant Communities in the Metro New York Area,” December 2012.

Make the Road New York, “One Year of Sandy Response,” December 2013.

Mormon Helping Hands, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints: Hurricane Sandy Relief Report Nov 1, 2012‐ Dec 31, 2012,” January 2013.

New York University Division of Operations, “Hurricane Sandy Preparation and Response Performance Review Report to the Community,” July 2013.

New York University Furman Center for Real Estate and Public Policy & Moelis Institute for Affordable Housing Policy, “Sandy’s Effects on Housing in New York City,” March 2013.

New York University Rudin Center for Transportation, “Transportation During and After Hurricane Sandy,” November 2012.

Rockefeller Foundation’s Informal City Dialogues, “The D.I.Y. Disaster Plan: How Informal Networks Battled Bangkok’s Worst Flood,” 2013.

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, “The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey: A Macroeconomic Analysis,” January 2013.

Urban Green Council, “Building Resiliency Task Force Full Report,” June 2013.

Urban Land Institute Disaster Combined Advisory Services Panel, “After Sandy: Advancing Strategies for Long-term Resilience and Adaptability,” July 2013.

Utility Workers Union of America, “The Impact of Hurricane Sandy on Consolidated Edison of New York: Assessment of Restoration Efforts and Recommendations for the Future,” February 2013.

Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, “Superstorm Sandy After-Action Report,” March 2013.


Public Reports: Businesses and Industry 

Aon Benfield, “Hurricane Sandy Event Recap Report,” May 2013.

This data resource is part of SRL’s larger mission of promoting mutual aid within research and knowledge communities. If you use it, we invite you to submit any data you have that may benefit other researchers, Long Term Recovery Groups, policy makers, and groups engaged in rebuilding. If you know of a report that is not listed here or a link is broken and you want the report, please let us know.

Data Sets


This data resource is part of SRL’s larger mission of promoting mutual aid within research and knowledge communities.
Many of these data sets are donated by other researchers. If you use them, we invite you to submit any data you have that may benefit other researchers, Long Term Recovery Groups, policy makers, and groups engaged in rebuilding.


Canvasing Data

Occupy Sandy’s door-to-door canvas data for the Rockaways, Staten Island, Red Hook, and New Jersey

Occupy Sandy Data: Highlights and Preliminary Findings


News Media

Every New York Times article in the print edition that mentions Sandy, with meta-data and URLs but no content. October 26, 2012- July 30, 2013. Approx 1,800+ items. .xls file.

Various media that mention Sandy with uniform meta-data & URLs. October 24, 2012- July 30, 2013. Approx 1,200+ items. .xls file.


Occupy Sandy Wedding Registries
(data for donated materials by hub)

Amazon Wedding Registry for Jersey City Sandy Recovery distribution center at Barrow Mansion

Amazon Wedding Registry for The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew 520 Clinton Ave, Brooklyn

Amazon Wedding Registry for St. Jacobi’s Church, Brooklyn

Amazon Wedding Registry for Occupy New Jersey, King of Kings Community Church, Manahawkin, NJ

Amazon Wedding Registry for Saint Margaret Mary’s, Staten Island

Amazon Wedding Registry for New Hope Baptist Church, Newark, NJ


Other Data

Superstorm Sandy Oral History Project, Monmouth University Library, ongoing.

Directory of Historical Occurrence of Coastal Storms in New York City. Updated: Feb 26, 2013.

City of New York, Facilities and critical assets located within the Category 4 SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes) zones. Updated: Feb 26, 2013.

FEMA’s Advisory Base Flood Elevations Map with Red Cross Shelters: shows a more current picture of flood risk for several communities in New Jersey and New York affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013. Graphs and monthly reports on Sandy financial data on funds obligated and outlayed by program.

Major Events during the storm. Fusion table. Last edited. November 2, 2012. All events verified by The Guardian.

New York City 311 calls 2010-present.

Occupy Sandy Donation and Drop off Locations. Last edited March 25, 2013. Fusion table.

Occupy Sandy Flickr Account

Sandy Story Line: Participatory story collection of those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Photo repository. 429 photographs by both professionals and citizens with captions.

The City of New York Primary Land Use Tax Lot Output (PLUTO) database. Date of Data: February 2013 – May 2013

Monmouth University’s poll of New Jersey residents in hard hit areas about recovery one year later.  Released September 25, 2013.



In compliance with Twitters API’s terms and conditions, we cannot share Twitter data openly. If you are using tweets for social science in the public interest, or are interested in these resources, we would love to know more about your work and possibly collaborate with you. Email Erin Bergren with a description of your project for more details.


This data resource is part of SRL’s larger mission of promoting mutual aid within research and knowledge communities.
Many of these data sets are donated by other researchers. If you use them, we invite you to submit any data you have that may benefit other researchers, Long Term Recovery Groups, policy makers, and groups engaged in rebuilding.

Call for Hurricane Sandy data

The Superstorm Research Lab, a mutual aid research collective in New York City, is collecting and hosting resources for those studying Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. We invite you to submit any data you feel would benefit other researchers, Long Term Recovery Groups, policy makers, and groups engaged in rebuilding.

Available resources currently include interviews, tweets, public reports, canvassing data, volunteer group meeting minutes and transcripts, sermons conducted immediately after the storm, and more. While our current data is centered on New York City and New Jersey, we welcome all types of data, both qualitative and quantitative, for all locations.

This data resource is part of SRL’s larger mission of promoting mutual aid within research communities.

Please email with data or questions.

Page from The Building Resiliency Task Force report by the Urban Green Council. Available on SRL's resource page.

Page from The Building Resiliency Task Force report by the Urban Green Council. Available on SRL’s page for public reports.

Interview with Organizer for OccupyData

Interview with Organizer for OccupyData.
Interviewer: Max Liboiron

Q: Alright, so because you’ve sort of agreed here to have your name and affiliation recorded for now, which you can redact if you want, could you state your name and the affiliation that you had sort of working through Sandy?

A: Sure, my name is _____, and I am a— I organize some events for Occupy Data, and recently we acquired some data related post-Sandy and up to almost current date, so that’s what I’ve been involved with.

Q: Okay. So, so can you tell me about how Occupy Data sort of got involved in Sandy and what it’s been up to since Sandy hit?

A: Sure. So I guess to start we had a spring hackathon, which was early March.

Q: Some tweets, yeah. [laughter]

A: Yeah I mean I was sort of I—I’m from Staten Island, so I’d actually gone to volunteer, but I was sort of hit with a rather— the volunteer process was a little bit much, and I actually just decided to go down there on my own and do what I could. But, I guess, you know, I was interested in the data all along, especially the canvassing data, which I had seen some of the canvassing forms, and I actually— I’m in contact with, the like a street medic community so— and they’re all over the US, so I had also seen a bunch of e-mails- where– I knew you know— so I was sort of aware of some of the medical issues, especially with you know the lower east side, and the and it’s a New York Housing Authority Project’s over there, and so I, you know, I could see that there was definitely a way– you know this data  was being generated that could point at— it could either be used for advocacy or just to characterize, you know, most immediately just characterize just the extent of what was going on, so yeah I had always been interested in collecting it, and about— I guess it was just prior to the hackathon where I became more proactive about it. We had actually had a discussion about— so we typically pick like a data set or two to focus on, and it just seemed like a good idea to do something Sandy related.

Q: Mhmm, at the hackathon?

A: Yes.

Q: Yep.

A: So I had spoke with— I don’t know how I immediately got into contact with Drew. I actually don’t even remember. But you know, eventually he was the one that I met with that— he made a call out to a bunch of the different hubs and had them send— I think he actually had a form where people could sign up and say what type of data they had, which we only got a small picture of it. You know some people, some places were, and rightfully so, concerned about privacy issues. Also a lot of it hadn’t been—you know it was just paper, so we even said like we’ll enter forms, like I think something like a hundred forms from the Rockaways and you know probably a little over a hundred from one of the sites in New Jersey. So things were at just various stages— were at various forms, but we rounded up what we could get, and I think it was one week to that, prior to that. Well, we knew it was– well, the data was not looking good, and it was also— a lot of it hadn’t been digitized, so you know. And I knew it was International Open Data Day, so I had proposed that we look to just saying like you know “we’ll do this in coordination with Open Data Day” and really the idea was to prepare everything that day for, you know, releasing it to the public. Although it was harder than you know— the data was pretty— well, I think the thing is, a lot of the way data was collected, various formats, you know various granularities, it wasn’t standardized, so even in common boxes you could have somebody putting somebody’s phone number, that type of thing. And, you know, I do work with— I work with data — medical data, and I know that that type of information is sensitive. Maybe it’s not necessarily a security issue, but you know it can certainly be sensitive, so I— it’s— I think it’s to the point now— it’s where, we’re actually meeting on Monday to look at some of the data. I think we’re just going to make sure every single record has nothing personally identifiable and then we will, we’ll post it and make it public. I would’ve like to have—so we have another data set where we were able to merge to find the—so the I think there was maybe four, four canvass—four different sites. Should I talk a little bit about the data?

Q: Yeah. Sure.

A:  Okay so Staten Island, New Jersey, and the Rockaways and Red Hook— so these were the four sites that we received data from.

Q: And did you mostly receive the data from canvassing or, like—

A: For the canvasing data [Q: Okay] there’s actually other types of data sets that I think are very interesting: like food— there’s one on all different foods that were ordered from this one hub— I think it might’ve been the Bay Ridge, the kitchen in Bay Ridge or something, but there’s something like a few thousand meals or something. And you know there— there’s a variety of— I mean I think everything’s interesting like, even forms people have or you know flyers people produce and, you know.  So I should say actually the first— my first glance at this data was being invited to the Occupy Data Google drive folder, which is nebulous [A laughs]. And I think that was my first glimpse into just how fragmented and disheveled I think things were— like a lot of, you know–and they know I’m sensitive to the fact that no, obviously the first priority like immediately post Sandy isn’t making sure all of your forms are standardized, and you know everything’s well organized. And you know things are coming in, and the form is growing and changing as needed, so you know. And there were people sort of started things and dropped forms so there were a lot of these abandoned forms, and I remember I even started to categorize some of the stuff. Like, I think one of the categories was like probably “junk” or something like that and it had like a whole bunch of links— so even just making sense out of that. But there was, like I’d say the data that was collected that I thought was interesting were some of these, you know, things like resources, utilization of different services, there’s some volunteer information, there’s—  I think this got a bit jumbled.  There was medical infomation reported, but at various levels of detail that ranged from specific needs to nothing at all.  Also, another concern I was trying to express is the data we have access to is only a fraction of the Occupy Sandy relief effort.  From what I was told, a good deal of the earlier data does not appear in the files we had access to.  However, in the case of the Rockaways, the contact there gave some us paper forms with earlier canvass data that one of the volunteers entered. Also like locations, like partnering organizations were listed, you know, and there was people’s contact information that sort of information—that sort of stuff. Yeah I think that’s—and definitely like organizing documents. There was one thing I thought was so great. It was like, it was the Rockaways, which actually had a pretty good handle on their data, so it seemed like— so they had used Google Fusion Tables, so like one issue, which a lot of the sites still have, like even a report that says who— what residents don’t have heat right now, they’re unable to generate that. But this had one– It had you know it had a fusion table, with everyone that was canvassed. You could actually—the fusion table you could— one of the maps is the map view, so you could actually see where these locations were. Also with the fusion tables you can create different views of the table, so it’s not like— say if I were to—any volunteer comes in one day and needs to update some information, you don’t have to give them access, or let them view the entire like, you know, all of the information at once

Other issues were like consistency with the reporting, which— well you must be familiar with survey research right? [Q:  Mhmm Hm]   I think this got a bit jumbled.  There was medical infomation reported, but at various levels of detail that ranged from specific needs to nothing at all.  Also, another concern I was trying to express is the data we have access to is only a fraction of the Occupy Sandy relief effort.  From what I was told, a good deal of the earlier data does not appear in the files we had access to.  However, in the case of the Rockaways, the contact there gave some us paper forms with earlier canvass data that one of the volunteers entered.

Q: Right.

A: So all of these kind of really messy real world data issues.

Q: Mhmm. Are you in conversation with people who made the forms to try and figure out how to how to do some of that mapping?

A: We were. So, actually, like Rockaways we were, so they had actually brought us the– you know I, I forget her name— I do remember her name Katie actually.

Q: Mhmm.

A: Do you know Katie?

Q: I don’t think we’ve talked to a Katie.

A: I can give you I’ll pass I’ll pass along her information.

Q: That’d be great.

A: You might have to remind me though.

Q: Okay.

A: But I think they are defunct because they lost their space, so they’re not operational anymore, but she was essentially, like, running (the canvassing operation for) one of those hubs out there. But that was definitely one of the— I actually think that maybe some of the problems with the forms were that there was disconnect between the people actually using them and the people designing them, but I kind of think that some– in these iterations you would sort of see things like resolve themselves, but like one form I think Staten Island, I couldn’t imagine somebody—you know they must’ve conducted, they would’ve had to of conducted like at least an hour interview [Q laughs] to get like all of these. And, and maybe if you’re sitting in an office and you think like, ‘oh well this information could possibly be useful’ you more inclined to add too many questions. 

Q: As an individual question?

A: Yeah.

Q: Right.

A: Which I think some were getting around that by more check boxes. But like I’d say, like a good form that I saw was the Rockaways, which I think they sort of compartmentalized it too into the basic things. So like if somebody didn’t need something, they wouldn’t necessarily have to go to that area but it was like demographics and then like immediate needs, like you know more household stuff, food, and then legal, and then like house and repairs, so— maybe I wonder if I could— do you have access to these assessments?

Q: Not yet. No.

A: Okay.

Q: Eventually we assume we’ll be partnering with Occupy Data and hopefully do some sharing of information—

A: Okay. Yeah, yeah that sounds. That sounds feasible. And yeah I don’t think that— and I think some of them will even have like blank so—you know.

Q: Okay.

A: A lot of them we just—even people brought them in and, you know, they took them with them. So you know although we have the fields, they weren’t, they’re not exactly as they appeared on the form. But some of them we actually have the assessment, which actually I was able to find some of them in the old, in that Google folder too.

Q: Oh, okay. Excellent. Alright, so you’ve just given me a lot of stuff to work with, so I’m going to back up, and we’ll like sort of clarify some of the stuff that you mentioned. So first you said that you live on Staten Island.

A: I grew up on Staten Island.

Q: Okay. You grew up, but you’re not there anymore?

A: No.

Q: Okay. Is there area where you live—was it particularly hard hit?

A: So my street no, [Q: Okay] but where I wrote was being used as a shelter, and I live very near South Beach which was hard-hit.

Q: Okay. And when you first did the volunteer work where you went to Staten Island. You went to Staten Island to volunteer, or?

A: So I had actually, so I was only in New York for a little while, so I figured what might be good and I, I had—was staying with my mom. I had my mother’s car, and she had a station wagon so I thought ‘oh, I’ll be a driver’ you know, [laughs] so I went to—I didn’t go to— I knew there were a lot of things coming from Brooklyn to Staten Island and I don’t think Staten Island had a— I think I actually first went to that Staten Island Recovers and put my volunteer information there, but I didn’t hear anything, so I just went to the volunteer intake in— in I think it’s like Clinton Avenue.

Q: Yeah.

A: It was on Clinton Avenue.

Q: 520 Clinton Avenue. Was it like when the Occupy hub in the church?

A: Yeah. Yes. Which I think– they were conducting the orientation, but I think the thing was they were, you know, it’s like the— it was for essentially everybody that was volunteering where, you know, you know I wasn’t canvassing I wasn’t doing this you know it just seemed… Well anyway I got into the database there and then I got this phone number, so I actually did get asked to come and deliver something, and I came all the way out to Williamsburg, and then about ten minutes before they’re like ‘Oh! You know if you’re there like don’t bother. [laughs] We already got it!’ I was like— and it was the day that it snowed.

Q: Oh yeah.

A: It was like that evening, so I was like ‘oh great’ you know. So then I just— I— the next day I just went down to the one in New Dorp Beach.

Q: Okay.

A: So, you know.

Q: Okay. So you sort of, after some shenanigans with the station wagon, you sort of went to the data immediately is that —

A: Oh no, no. I— I went to— I just went to— this was nothing to do with data at all.

Q: Oh, okay.

A: I just went like to lend hands, kind of—

Q: Okay

A: and bring stuff. Cause I kind of think at that point— I don’t even know if people were— I really don’t even—I had no idea what was going on with all of that. I didn’t see any of the data collection or anything like that so.

Q: Do you think your experiences volunteering on the ground have influenced how you’re looking at the data and how you understand it?

A: [long pause] Well, I think maybe my experience seeing how it affected my community around me where I grew up made, makes me think about these things, and also, you know, I have experience working with data from geriatric patients, and people with medical needs, so I think that also was something that influenced: one, what I thought might be interesting to look at but, also you know, the issues of people with outstanding medical needs and also just seeing like the— they’re not the Occupy medics. It’s more of like, like a national street medic community. Community health worker community. But they were doing their own sort of assessments and I would see these, you know, through the e-mail, they would do like a roundup of the day. So just seeing some of that kind of— like knowing that people needed like diabetic needles that, you know, these types of things or that people were new— needed medication like homebound patients needed medications but were unable to get them, so I, I was kind of looking for some of those things in the forms.

Q: [Q’s phone rings] Sorry. Goodness. [A laughs] It’s a new phone and I don’t know how to use it. Like this. Done now. [A laughs again]. Theoretically. Okay. I finally joined the twenty-first century and got a phone that does all the fancy things and I– [A laughs] it’s too fancy. Okay. So, how you— have you worked with this street medic community before? Like, were you already familiar with them?

A: Yeah, so I’m actually developing some materials and run a private wiki for them at We’re developing some materials for the public –it’s actually at street and then we’re making a mobile app I got involved with them from— I’m at CUNY and we’ve had some issues with increasing tuition and, you know, there was a lot of— and you know just our board of trustees that like sort of surveillance of Muslim students and all that. So students were very upset. We have our own GA and, you know, there were some actions planned, and we breaked— we broke up into different groups and I was on a medical/mental and medical support, so you know, just trying to find resources for things, there were just so many different things to pick from, and it’s hard to tell what’s credible or not so, you know, I started to talk to these medics. They actually did a— so the one in Chicago had actually arranged for an affinity group training at CUNY.

Q: Nice.

A: But I know that they had this handbook, and you know like I had asked can we— it would be great to have these resources available to people, because you know the— like what’s commonly used is a black cross, which is, like, over ten years old now. And then things vary by location, and you know everything’s kind of scattered, but there’s things in there that they felt were sensitive like cultural things or also you don’t want to give people a false sense of empowerment like ‘oh yeah I have this handbook like now I’m a street medic’ [Q laughs] you know?

Q: Right.

A: So you know I’d say over, well probably over the last two years now, I’ve been working with a few of them to kind of put out some of these resources and really it is, you know— they want people to be better trained and they also, there’s sort of a shortage of street medics so also to get like more people involved and, you know, but the idea is to actually create one resource for them which actually has their full handbook that’s like—like right now, they develop all of their materials on this private wiki so there’s definitely this like keeping their own stuff but putting, pushing out what is appropriate for everybody.

Q: And, I’ve heard a lot of people wanting that sort of stuff for like for future crises, right, wanting that kind of handbook— is that sort of part of the impetus behind it?

A: Oh, well I definitely think like, you know, for example, like I remember they were sharing— there was one part of it on — I think there’s a whole chapter on like cold weather or something like that? You know even just hypothermia. And there’s just basic tricks— it’s really just for you know it— it can be for actions or it can just be for low resource environments so, you know a lot of them it’s just like practical advice to kind of keep people prepared. You know, there’s getting into more first aid, but you know a lot of them are licensed— you know a lot of them do practice, but yeah I think just keeping people informed for a variety of situations where resources are scarce and you may not necessarily be able to rely on more formal care Also, attracting new people to the community.

Q: Mhmm. Do you think some of the stuff you’re doing with Occupy Data and the hackathons will also go that way where it can be used in the future for other sort of disaster or issues or is that not something you guys think about?

A: Well, you know I kind of— I initially thought the— I can’t— so I should say the yackathon, so one of the topics I put up there is disaster capitalism.

Q: Oh yes, I saw that.

A: Yeah.

Q: Yeah, I liked that one.

A: [both laugh] I’m not on Facebook or I would’ve liked it too.

Q: Well it’s on the, on the yackathon thingy you can like, like you can give points to certain topics that you would also like to have. It’s basically a like button I don’t know if it was called a like button.


Q: Right.

A: So I hope it doesn’t devolve into all of the meta-hackathon or something, but [both laugh]

Q: Only one-way to find out right?

A: Like “what is a hackathon?” So.

Q: Right, yeah. Okay so let’s— so one of the questions that, sort of we’re looking at and many people are looking at overall is how inequity was exacerbated from the storm. Could you talk about how that may or may not be coming up in the data or your other experiences?

A: Oh, could I just go back to—

Q: Oh, yeah.

A: I just wanted to say that— so one idea we had was to actually you know if, you know communities needed this like to actually help them build a tool, you know we were interested in helping to, more of this like, creating an information system

Q: Like a— like a handbook.

Q: Right.

A: You know you got to let it evolve into what the person is— like a lot of people are volunteering.  Do you really want to force them to like learn your new tool?

Q: Yeah.

A: Like maybe standards is a more abstract way of having some kind of cohesive thing to pull you together, like you know we can share. Like it should be first name, last name and date, you know, and then like we’ll have– Like Rockaways it had— it was like made into five different things and if people could just— you know everyone had their own specific needs, but there were like some broader, general things like electricity, water, food— like that could’ve been uniformly tracked. But there just seemed to be disconnect, and also conflicting interests. But computer people and data people are like that, [Q laughs] you know, like we feel very—you know we’re passionate about our tools, but which I think can come into conflict when you bring the whole human element into the picture.

Q: Mhmm. I did speak with one Occupy Data person who said who, who was sort of talking about this exact issue was like “well maybe we shouldn’t think of like ‘tools’ maybe we should think of a best practice guide” or by like these are the things that will come up and have to be met and however you jerryrig that with what you have. Like if you don’t have electricity, obviously you’re using paper. We’re not going to tell you to use like [A laughs] pro-tools if you have no electricity. So here’s the best practices guide. Fill it out as you will. Right? That sort of, yeah.

A: Yeah, I agree. some recommended practices or something.

Q: Right.

A: And I kind of think in there should be like some like a data model, just a very basic data model. Because people don’t follow something as simple as ‘don’t put first name and last name in the same input field.’

Q: Yep.

A: Which can be, you know— or maybe if everybody, if you’re canvassing everybody on Staten Island, do you really need to have a field for the state?

Q: Right. [Q laughs]

A: You know, which I don’t know how many people had a thing for the state. I think every site but one had like, you know— and it’s like if you’re in the neighborhood you don’t go around saying like, ‘oh that’s 10301!’ You say like ‘oh, they’re in New Dorp Beach’ or you know like ‘they’re down by like Egbert Lane.’ or like you don’t really like, think in these kind of like—

Q: Zip code form fields that are inherited–

A: Yeah! [A laughs]

Q: There it is. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

A: And maybe everyone’s like in the same zip code or two zip codes or something.

Q: Yeah.

A: But, you know there were kind of these like little things that were you know— or just the date. Like come on, put the date [A laughs].

Q: Right, yeah. I talked to someone else who was like a lot of people paid attention to spatial data, but the temporal data was nowhere. Like no one had any idea if it was a follow-up from a previous—like you just couldn’t tell.

A: Yeah.

Q: Cause there was no date. Yeah.

A: And then when they put the two fields in the same—you sometimes you don’t know is that a first name or is that a last name, or you know it can— you know and it’s just like these little things. They just seem so obvious, but you know they’re—they can be overlooked. They seem obvious when you’re entering the data and trying to report on it [A laughs]. But otherwise they don’t seem obvious.

Q: When you’re in front of a person at their door. Yeah. Yeah.

A: But back to inequality.

Q: Yeah, yeah. So that’s sort of part of the larger question where by, I’m really interested in what the data makes apparent— because in retrospect you have the data and you don’t have a lot of other stuff, and so the data’s responsible in a lot of ways of showing what a disaster looks like. Even though, like you said,  a bunch of things are missing and there’s a bunch in the junk folder and all this sort of stuff is happening, and so one of the questions is like what do you think the data makes apparent and how might that differ from what’s happening on the ground? And then the second part of that— well maybe we’ll start there.

A: Well what do you mean by how it makes it different from what’s on the ground?

Q: So, so like I said you’re going door to door, things are messy, it generates a bunch of junk that didn’t get standardized that might’ve been important when someone was having a conversation cause there was a baby, but—

A: Okay. Yeah, yeah.

Q: But then it doesn’t— because it can’t get standardized or because it was— it wasn’t in other areas or something it gets, it gets—

A: Yeah.

Q: Left out.

A: Lost in translation kind of thing.

Q: Yeah, yeah. So, so what do you think some of those things are, and do you think that a, a disaster— what it looks like from the data is, is different from a disaster on the ground? What those things might look like.

A: Well ideally it shouldn’t. Right?

Q: Right.

A: But I think— one thing’s obvious is the level of unmet need and just—

Q: The level of what, sorry?

A: Unmet needs.

Q: Oh unmet needs.

A: Like, you know, basic like food, cleaning products, people to help like with reconstruction, mold issues. I mean they’re obviously there and there’s a lot of them. But because of the variability and how they’re reported, kind of deriving some kind of signal, like the— you know the signal’s being lost, because you know it’s different granularities.. Because if you’re standing there and asking people like all—you know maybe having all of the legal issues and all of that is maybe like a day or two after the storm isn’t necessarily when you want to be recording that, but maybe you know maybe a few weeks later when they have their, you know, claim rejected from the insurance company… So that was another— I think the places I know Rockaways had this, but where when legal was there, you could see that it was being used. But some of the— I don’t think all of the hubs had that type of, were asking that type of information. But maybe it’s because they didn’t have the people to help fill, you know—if you know, if you know people have legal problems but you can’t help them, it’s really not useful to know that right? [laughter]

Q: Right.

A: Better focus on other things.

Q: Okay.

A: But I kind of think though that if the—I mean ideally I would see the form as an actual something to be used in a feedback loop like— you know if you can canvass your population and see that certain things are outstanding, it can help prioritize the distribution of resources in that site and perhaps among, you know— like on Staten Island there were several sites, you know at various points, but maybe if say there’s— I don’t know maybe there’s a generous lawyer that’s willing to give pro bono services and he comes to Midland Beach, but he’s not really that needed but maybe they need him, you know somewhere else, you can— you know it helps information, useful information, to travel quicker and potentially, and support more informed service provision. That’s what I would see in an ideal world. But I kind of think that— my feeling is that that couldn’t have been done in an environment with so much uncertainty and with limited time and resources. 

Q: Hmm. Okay. So two of the frames that people are looking at Sandy in terms of like moving forward – one is climate change and one is inequity. And so let’s start with— let’s start with inequity. So if you could talk about some of your— in terms of race, gender, and class. Those are the, those are the categories—and age to some extent. First, what about your experience on the ground, like seeing or not seeing some of that inequity, and then secondly, how do you think your data is able or unable to reflect some of those queries that might be asked of it.

A: Well I can say that I think the area of Staten Island that was the most affected and still unable to recover is more mixed racially and poorer that other areas that were impacted Great Kills and south.  Although still pretty white, there are more immigrants, blacks and Latinos.  Neglect of one of the communites, New Dorp Beach, was obvious.  Despite the promise of a Red Cross vehicle and showers in Miller Field immediately post-Sandy they were late to come and didn’t have a real presence until after the snow.  Many in this area were without heat and hot water. Further down the beach area got hit too, but this is like where you see like million dollar homes and stuff like people’s boats were on the street. Like come on. Whereas these people like they have no— they’re like digging through these you know cardboard boxes for you know toilet paper and you know clothes and— so and I don’t think the data really captures that. Definitely I mean I don’t see anything on– that I can think of from—I mean I, I would think maybe in relation, so I mean you have needs documented, but you can’t really say that those needs are related to… you know—

Q: Significant differences in population?

A: Yeah, yeah. I mean it could just be — I don’t know — it would be hard to kind of piece that together. I think that most of the medical issues though, like a lot of them would ask about like ‘is there a senior living in your house?’ or something like that. So some of that is I think a little bit more— I even remember like one of the easier statistics we were able to get at is, I don’t know, x percent of people that needed, indicated medical need and had a senior in their home. I also— some of them recorded homebound, so I mean that’s typically something you would refer to as like an older person.

How do you pin—how can you even— it’s not something that just happened that day. How do you slowly build a picture through information that need, can be pieced together that —and I would’ve loved for the like the canvassing data to like say, ‘certain areas needed more’ and be like, if certain areas had more substantial unmet need than other areas, but you can’t really. So I would be afraid of making any sort of like strong statements about you know any of the findings.

Q: Hmm. What, what do you think the difference between infographics and like meaningful statistics are?

Q: Right.

Q: Mhmm, mhmm. My students cite infographics, but.. [Q laughs].

A: Ah really?

Q: Yes.

A: Then maybe I’m wrong.

Q: Was, is, yeah. It’s—

Q: Mhmm. Okay so let’s move— oh, what about gender? Was gender a part of the data?

A: I think they indicated— I mean I don’t even know, to tell you the truth.

Q: Okay

A: I mean it’s—I’m trying to even think if I remember seeing that as a field. Well you know what it was, most people didn’t— they would report a person’s name and then how many people were in the household. And I forget even, like Red Hook called them ‘projects’. So each, each like “house” was essentially a project. So it wasn’t really on— I, I think you know if you thought of a database it wasn’t like these instances were people, they were more like a residence.

Q: Okay. Got it. Okay so climate change. So a lot of people are talking about this storm as one instance of a larger set of instances that we’re going to have because of climate change and you’re nodding you’re like ‘yes’ that is probably the case?

A: Well I don’t know if it’s climate change.

Q: Okay

A: But I, I [A laughs] actually think a lot of it is— so you know a lot of these areas were estuaries at one point, and you know people have been talking about like eutrophication and, and things like the Rockaways is essentially a sandbar. And then there were all these reefs along Staten Island, which I read were essentially to— destructed for building purposes, so I mean I’m— but I do think that. Well, I know just from living here it’s kind [A laughs] of like warmer and warmer, so I used to— my grandmother loved camellias, and when she was alive I always wanted to you know I was a kid I didn’t know any better I was like, ‘oh yeah, oh I want to buy you a camellia,’ but they don’t grow up— they didn’t grow up in this zone, they—they were like right on the border. But now, you can have like there’s no problem you know like kind of the zones change. I mean very little, but, so I think maybe that compounded with some of this building out, and you know. I know that there were some issues with, you know, this like nutrient pollution that was going on over in Jamaica Bay and you know. So I think a lot of the things in, maybe that Mother Nature created that could’ve prevented some of this—I mean, I don’t know about prevented, but maybe reduce the impact? You know, that they’re not in place, but…

Q: So, so regardless of maybe what the cause is, whether you want to say Mother Nature, however you want to attribute what’s going on, how— do you think you’re— so a lot of people are talking about forward thinking like, mitigation of future, cause if, if, if  we’re having more and more extreme weather events for whatever reason, right, we’re assuming that they’ll be and this is one of our first big— well, Irene was the first one, this is the second one, and those happened very close together relative to the one that happened before that which like, I don’t even know what it was, right? So looking forward, what are the sort of things you think we can do either in terms of data or infrastructure or other sorts of things, and do you think the data can help us figure out what some of that might be— right: prevention for the future.

A: Well I do think that there’s definitely best practices that can be learned from looking at the data, and I don’t think those best practices are what it—I think what actually isn’t in the data, you know. It’s what— you know if you think of what the, you know all of this data that could’ve been generated what you know, or was generated and it just wasn’t collected or captured  in a way to inform decision-making at hubs or analysis. I think for advocacy and I wouldn’t I, I don’t doubt that— well I know in Red Hook I think there’s some issues with like people thought with chemicals and leaching and things like that, and I know I had heard a little bit about people wanting to like ‘how do I do water testing’ and all of, you know. We just—there was nothing there to kind of like be proactive about that type of thing. Or even be aware of what the long-term repercussions of not doing that are. But yeah, I guess in terms of the data I think data can be used to advocate for people and also to—I think that it could point at something. Like if there was inequality, if you see disparities in the data, you can find correlations, and you know, perhaps some basis for causal inference or, but, it’s you know. And I, I actually think if just a simple data standard could’ve done that, and that could’ve been just some basic demographics, and then like— well, I also think it changes. Like what if it’s winter next time, and it’s not you know so— or, or I mean it’s summer. No one’s going to be asking about like, ‘oh do you need electricity?’ or you know something I think, and I think it’s like an art, like something that’s structured enough to be meaningful, but also flexible enough to expand to meet the environment— whatever is triggering the use of that form. And maybe that just means fleshing out broad conceptual areas where, you know, these types of — maybe you might want to assess what’s going on with like the elderly, or you know maybe you might want to take some— and I think though people are like— no one wants to tell somebody that it’s coming to their house [Q: Yeah, yeah.], like how much money they make or… But maybe pairing that with like census data or things something like or you know that can help.

Q: Mhmm. How do you think— well. So how do you think that social media might generate some of the data you guys are looking at or the role that it played in what you were doing.

A: Yeah, no, I don’t think it will— I mean I don’t think it will be useful for that. I don’t think that they have that much information. And I was even thinking like something like Occupy Sandy— nobody starting calling it Occupy Sandy like, like that name—

Q: Until later in the game.

A: Yeah, so. And I can’t record, tweet— you know there’s only so much space [A laughs] you know, so. But I think that maybe — you know I actually think that some, maybe some of what’s meaningful, what one could get out of social media is like multi- you know using multimedia inference. So textual things, paired with images— because I don’t think any one of these sources has that much meaning in their own, I kind of think there’s a lot of noise in social media, but I do think that—I think images will be, would be useful. But the thing is I think, I don’t know what the life for, for immediately post Sandy. Or then just maybe some of the like, you know, things that were like homes destroyed and you know, people were definitely taking pictures, but also a good photographer might have that at a later point in time. But like say some of these pictures where people are being airlifted out of like you know their home in Midland Beach and stuff, like, those pictures you can’t find the links to anymore.

Q: Hmm, interesting.


Q: It’s something like fourteen or seven or one or two weeks, yeah.


Q: Yeah. Although the Library of Congress is supposed to be archiving all tweets ever.

A: I heard, I heard.

Q: It’s just that, you just can’t get them yet.

A: But I don’t know. I’m wondering though, are they going to archive the associated image, like, associated media.

Q: Right.

A: Which I kind of think— I kind of think the visual aspect of things is very important, because I’m not going to write out the details of—like if somebody, something’s shocking to me that I see, I’m probably going to take a picture and then maybe write something that actually relates to this image and, you know. Are you guys doing anything with the social media?

Q: We’re trying to. Right, because we—you can do discourse analysis even like just to see which words are most used to describe something and how they trend over time in relation to what.. Even very basically is something we can see and same with image –visual culture sort of analysis, right. We can do that, too. The problem is that we don’t all have the data mining skills to go back and find those things or like— so we’re trying to partner with other people, so I’m very interested in your tweets. And things like that so that, because we have the ability to, to mine them, but not always the ability to capture them, right. Depending on what our skill sets are. We only—we have one guy who specializes in social media in the group, and he’s been trying to capture mostly news stories. So. Yeah.

A: Yeah well let me know. Because I mean I think I could even point you to some other people that might be interested. But just so you know it’s like one day previous to three days aft— so it’s like a four day window.

Q: So like the 28th 29th 30th 31st?

A: Yeah. Yeah so maybe and maybe the 1st of November, you know depending—

Q: Right.

A: Yeah it’s just a—

Q: Perfect, yeah, great. And that you’re I know you’re not tracking them later those are, that’s just the, the immediate—

A: Yeah, that was it.

Q: Yeah. Okay. So how do you think—one of the things we’re asking people about is what is when they think sort of recovery will be over or when the crisis is over, anything like that. Do you have any ideas about that or do your data have any ideas about that?

A: Well I mean I will say in terms of data the— so there’s definitely– there’s a lot less being generated. Like even in the Google forms. I think the only thing that’s really up— I think the only thing that might be updated at all is some of the food kitchen stuff, which I think somebody even said they stopped that, but I’m pretty sure I saw somebody like update that, but and then—

Q: Because the food kitchens are still running, but—

A: I don’t— I thought that they were closed.

Q: Okay.

A: But somebody— I don’t know maybe there’s like—I don’t know, maybe there’s an informal network or I, I really don’t know. But I should say that’s the only documents I’ve seen activity on, so, but canvassing still goes on on Staten Island. I think that they just gave us what they have, you know collected, what they had. You know, it’s not like we have an incoming stream. So Rockaways closed down, I know that. So there’s definitely less data. But I don’t think the crisis—I mean the crisis it— it’s inherent to everything. I don’t think— I think this is the crisis and it’s not going to end if it’s even a crisis—I don’t know, it’s just a situation [A laughs]. I mean, especially with our recent, our mayor and everything I think things are just getting worse. Maybe the next episode I think is a way to kind of you know, but I think the crisis is here to stay [A Laughs].

Q: This—that’s the sort of response that we get from most people who work on the ground.

A: Oh, okay.

Q: While in government, people tend to say “May 1st,” right? And so teasing out some of that difference has been really interesting in ways of how people are thinking. Like when they think crisis, they think the storm like the rain and, and sort of other people in the crisis are the needs and those needs exist before the storm and continue after the storm so it’s been very interesting to hear differences in that and it almost ubiquitously, like people who work on the ground and people who are activists are like [Q laughs] it’s not over it’s never going to be over, it was started before the storm— so that’s super interesting. So you follow the script [Q laughs].

A: That’s good to know that other people say that, too.

Q: Yeah.

A: So I don’t feel like a pessimist or something [A laughs].

Q: Yeah. What’s, well it’s interesting that the data isn’t still being kept up sort of in that spirit, right? That if this is an ongoing crisis, don’t we need more data for that ongoing crisis?

Q: Monitoring particulates, yes, [A: Oh, okay.] but as far as, but, but—

A: What about water?

Q: The DEP is responsible—they— in New York City there’s an average of one water test per minute because New York City doesn’t have filtered water, so that there’s always been a tight regime over that, but I don’t know what the distribution of their sampling is, whether they’ve stepped it up in these areas or not, because of ground contamination.

Q: I think after a certain time like, you might be able to get some of that from the public record from hospitals, like after their quarter or after their—

A: Yeah, I think that’s what—I think they report this every quarter.

Q: Yeah.

A: But I think— I wonder if you could just get it for the entire quarter, but you know, even the spike in activity.

Q: Yeah.  I’ve seen people who research disasters –like that’s all they do– they have that information when they’re number crunching. Like they have the number of emergency room admittances per day. Like Katrina— a lot of Katrina stuff has this, this sort of breakdown, so you can get it somehow. I’m not sure how, but—

A: Well this, this is also, I think, would be interesting to talk about on Sunday—not this Sunday, next one— like, what is it that, what you know. Because it’s one thing to just make charts and graphs or whatever, but, so that this could actually be useful for advocacy or like informing civic action or you know kind of things that people could use as type of like leverage or whatever. Like what is useful. Like what is out there and what is useful to collect versus just collecting everything including the kitchen sink, or you know, collecting nothing. So hopefully you’ll have some idea to that [A laughs].

Q: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Sources. Let’s see, one of the last things, you mention granularity a few times about your data, and you mention scale once. And where I come from those are the same, those are part of the same thing. So I was wondering if you talk about a little bit about scale in the data and how that might be a point of tension or something that’s happening in the data.

A: Where did, what did I say in relation to scale?

Q: You said that there were, it was one of the list you make. There are different scales, there are different granularities, there are different—

A: Oh okay. Like, I think one actually— I think it was New Jersey that asked. Yeah it was New Jersey. Certain needs to rate them from like you know [Q: Oh, okay.] one of these Likert scales, which actually [A laughs] somebody later pointed out well what is really— what are the extremes of the scale? Like it didn’t sort of tell you was like— were supposed to go from like one is low— does that mean top priority or low, low need?

Q: Right [Q laughs]

A: So that wasn’t even on the form.

Q: Right, oops.

A:  Which maybe that was in the orientation or [A laughs] I don’t know. But it’s kind of, you know, sometimes I can space out during an orientation it’s nice to have that there. But I guess in terms of granularity, I just think that some of these— well, each site has— I guess I mean how closely you’re going to look at some particular phenomena, like the resolution in a way.

Q: We have partnered with people who are like ‘can you guys take a look at this survey’ and we look at it and are like ‘whoa, whoa, whoa [A laughs] okay.’ But that doesn’t happen, that happened late in the game, it didn’t happen very often. But yeah, yeah, it’s true.

Do you think that this storm and maybe looking at this data has changed how you see New York City? Or how you understand New York City?

A: [long pause] No. [laughs]. I mean it makes me a little irritated, but no. [Laughs]

Q: Okay. Is there any question that you think I should’ve asked that I didn’t ask? Any sort of interesting things that you’ve come up that I didn’t hit on?

A: I’m trying to think back to the last question about if it’s changed…[laugh]. Well I, I should say that I think there’s a little more cohesiveness in terms of informal structures than, than I think I’ve seen before.

Q: What do you mean by informal structures?

A: Oh, I mean not like necessarily like, you know, some not for profit organization or you know some government organization stepping in.

Q: Meaning like social networks or?

A: Yeah, maybe like social networks. Cause like one thing I was surprised— so I, I was on this New Dorp Beach Facebook site and, you know, they’re talking about writing a letter and blah, blah, blah, and I was just like, well I, I forget how this came up, but it turned into—like we wanted to get money for something or whatever. Like maybe it was like a grant or something, and we—they were like—you were more likely to get it if you had like an organization with 501X status sponsor it. [A laughs] And these guy started getting sponsor it– like some motorcycle club in Bay Ridge [laughs]. So that sort of stuff just blows my mind that, you know, this is kind of what all brought us together, you know. So I mean that what, that kind of—I sort of think that ethnicities have helped to keep in their own little silo and you know. And I should say that, so I’m from Staten Island and we always get ragged on, so if anything it was nice to see people actually like stick up for Staten Island [laughs]. So I should say this is probably the most. I’d say the last year has probably been the best facelift Staten Island has received [laughs]—

Q: Too bad it had  to come around this way.

A: Yes, yeah.

Q: Yeah. Do you have any questions for me? Any things come up?

A: Yeah, so I mean do you have any advice for like, I guess or, or ideas for what we might be able to do with what we have or—

Q: Well I haven’t seen what you guys have—that’s part of why I’m coming to the yackathon, trying to sort of see what else is going on. One other thing I am interested in doing is seeing what kind of data might, like you say like, how you can go from data to activism, right? I’m interested in seeing how, how that can happen, how that can be used to sort of identify priority places to intervene and what those interventions might be— particularly how they might run against, sort of, intuitive ideas of what’s going on cause a lot of our intuitive ideas are inherited from like government and things that didn’t do so hot during the storm. And I’m interested in yeah, like putting together a best practices, like “next storm” or “next crisis here are the things that need to be met and you meet them however you need,” because we just learned that grassroots, localized methods of putting things together are far more successful than top-down sort of— I mean that we have that in abundance in our data already. So how can you take those lessons and put them into the data world or put them into the canvassing world or something like that. Yeah, those sorts of things. Other things— I’m interested in seeing what might come out of the data from long—like even though your data isn’t meant to be long-term, right, it’s all about, you know, immediate needs, health and safety, following the storm, I’m interested in seeing how those may or may not extrapolate into longer term trends where we can talk about, you know, the storm as a punctuation mark over this longer crisis and how might the data support that.

A: Well most of the— I think the data we have is not immediately post storm. I don’t I think that people did collect— I think Rockaways was one of the few places. And I remember when you know she had given me the form, we were talking about like medical needs like she was like, ‘this set—this, these were like the older ones and, and there’s definitely more stuff in there about, like you know, this particular time’ and you know ‘a lot of these Google forms and things like that weren’t this was like weeks, months later.’ I kind of think what was happening immediately post storm was just all you know, people that were dedicated, knew what was going on, knew who needed what— even this woman in New Jersey— this was only like a month ago. She still works off the paper forms, which means, says to me, she must like know— she must be familiar with these people— like could you, would you imagine like having to riffle through all of these forms all the time? Like there must’ve been two hundred forms there. But she knows like she’s familiar with what’s going on and what cases still you know—

Q: Are still open and—

A: Yeah.

Q: Okay. Yeah.

A: So it’s kind of like in some ways I don’t know— I don’t know if these people need the forms like the people collecting the— that want to analyze the data later—like they need [A laughs].

Q: Right, maybe two different things.

Q: Okay.

A: I’ll let you— I’ll just say one more thing.

Q: Yeah.

A: So one thing I found interesting is, I kind of think that there’s a lot of –and it just disappoints me that so many people have personal issues, there’s just a lot of petty squabbling. I’ve seen so many people ripped apart on listserves, and it’s like just, everyone’s here for a good reason. Like, it’s coming from the right place. Why do we have to bring the things that we hate or the things like, why do we have to bring these things into that arena? I kind of think that people are stressed, it’s easy to like have those issues with coping and, you know if you’re seeing horrible things or I don’t know. But you’re disappointed in what you see, and rather than tell—kind of like backlash on other people [both laugh] I kind of think like something in this best practices should be about this kind of—I don’t know what it is, maybe like psycho-social support for other activists or something like that, because I do think it’s like shooting yourself in the foot in a way. [laughs]

Q:  Yeah. Great. Well thanks so much—

[recording ends]

Download transcript here. 

Occupy Sandy Open Data is here.

Blackboard from Occupy Data hackathon on Sandy data. Photo from

Blackboard from Occupy Data hackathon on Sandy data. Photo from

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