Let's Get Ready

HSC's Disaster Forum Sparks Inter-Sector Dialogue and Spurs Planning Efforts

On August 3, HSC asked a gathering of more than 100 leaders from NYC’s human services sector and the City, State, and Federal government: if we are beset by another disaster such as 9/11 or Sandy, Are We Ready?

The answer, decidedly, was No — but with the acknowledgement that we have achieved significant progress and that we are poised for an upgraded partnership between the human services sector and government that will position us to bring post-disaster support to affected communities in ways that are faster and better coordinated than ever in the past.

New York City Deputy Mayor Dr. Herminia Palacio, a veteran of the Katrina recovery, provided opening remarks that established a collaborative if sobering tone.  She spoke of the vital nature of the joint effort that must occur between government and human services organizations and she contradicted the axiom that disasters do not discriminate. Inequities with which low-income populations are already suffering are only amplified after disasters, she commented, and she asserted that our planning must take this factor prominently into account.

Following Deputy Mayor Palacio, HSC Executive Director Allison Sesso also expressed the importance of a structured and ongoing relationship between the human services sector and government, and she highlighted the findings of a just-completed research effort led by HSC in cooperation with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and CUNY Baruch that gauged the degree to which the human services sector is prepared for disaster.

Among numerous recommendations, the report calls for:

§  establishment of a high-level City government office charged with coordinating with the human services sector and relevant government agencies regarding disaster-related matters;

§  better engaging grassroots organizations in disaster planning and response; and

§  ensuring that human services are financially equipped to deal with disasters.

For a summary of the recommendations, click here.

The session concluded with a panel entitled “Pushing Forward,” designed to arrive at consensus about the priorities to be collectively addressed. The group agreed about the imperative of a relationship between the human services sector and government characterized by candor and flexibility; a need for clarity about the roles and responsibilities of government entities; and that strenuous efforts should be made to ensure that human services organizations engaged in disaster work are equipped to do so while also continuing to pursue their everyday missions.

“We’re pleased about the tenor of this discussion and we expect that our collective state of readiness will improve, said Allison Sesso. But goodwill and a good conference cannot be cause for contentment.  We need to move forward aggressively.  What if disaster hits tomorrow?”