Building disaster preparedness into disaster response on Long Island

August 26, 2015

In the midst of responding to Superstorm Sandy, Catholic Charities of Long Island, New York, found that three groups of people were the most vulnerable to disasters: seniors, immigrants and people with disabilities. They needed more help recovering and they needed to be better prepared. So even as the agency responded to help folks recover from one disaster, they seized the opportunity right then and there to help people prepare for the next one.

After Sandy, the agency quickly launched a disaster case management program, but to reach seniors, immigrants and people with disabilities more effectively, they went into parishes to provide information and resources-both the kind to help now and help later.

“Everything we did we tried to use as a platform for disaster preparedness,” said Laura Cassell, executive director of Catholic Charities of Long Island. “In real time, as we were responding, we looked at how we could encourage preparedness.”

The agency also started working to enhance its own preparedness through a parish-based plan. The agency began developing Disaster Action Response Teams in parishes through a grant from CCUSA. Members on each team have counseling and pastoral experience and are trained to be sensitive to the particular needs of seniors, immigrants and those with disabilities. When disaster strikes in a neighboring parish, the teams will go in, visiting door to door and making contact with people, asking how they can help and letting them know about recovery resources.

“If we can be a catalyst to form these teams in parishes throughout the diocese, we’ll have a much greater opportunity to assist people after the next disaster,” said Cassell.

Superstorm Sandy hit Long Island much harder than many people expected, particularly along its southern coast. The high winds uprooted trees, tore pieces from buildings and took down power lines, while the storm surge flooded countless homes, damaged others beyond repair and even carried whole houses away. The devastation was shocking to Long Islanders who had never experienced a storm like Sandy.

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