OEM: Brooklyn residents need to prepare for next disaster

Advice at Borough Hall forum

September 18, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
OEM Commissioner Joseph Esposito at Tuesday’s Emergency Preparedness Forum at Borough Hall. By Mary Frost
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At Brooklyn’s Emergency Preparedness Forum on Tuesday night, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Commissioner Joseph Esposito told the packed Borough Hall courtroom, “The main thing is, be prepared. Get your plan, know your zone, and be ready to put that plan into effect if any disaster happens.”

Borough President Eric Adams hosted the program with speakers from the NYPD and FDNY, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), the American Red Cross, Con Edison, and National Grid.

“Disasters [put] an awesome strain on city agencies, so it is of the utmost importance that we prepare ourselves as individual citizens for when disaster strikes,” Adams said.

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Advice from agencies

* Rachel Sulaymanov, OEM’s director of intergovernmental affairs, said residents should make themselves familiar with NYC’s new hurricane preparedness and evacuation zones. and sign up for NotifyNYC ( to receive emergency alerts.

“Pack a Go Bag for each family member and pets,” she said, and also stock a supply of necessities in order to “shelter in place”– items like flashlights, water, candles and batteries.

Sulaymanov also encouraged attendees to become involved in OEM’s Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT). CERT members undergo a 10-week training program that provides basic response skills needed during disasters.

* Chief Gerald Nelson, NYPD’s Brooklyn North commander, told audience members to call 311 for assistance in evacuating home-bound individuals during an emergency. More than 4,000 nursing home and 1,500 adult home residents in New York City had to be evacuated following Hurricane Sandy.

* Iris Espenhart, FEMA’s Region II representative, said that FEMA provides housing assistance, financial assistance for home repair, crisis counseling, disaster unemployment insurance and other help for those hit. In a major incident, FEMA will gather representatives into a one-stop “supercenter.” She advised home owners to prepare by taking pictures of their homes before anything happens. After a disaster, contact or 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), she said.

* Red Cross Brooklyn Disaster Program Manager Ed Torraca said that since Sandy, the organization has developed borough managers “to be on the ground to coordinate relief efforts to prepare a more relevant response next time.”

* Kathleen Murray, representing National Grid, said the company needed contact information from home owners. “We have to gain access to each and every building,” she said. “Sometimes we need locksmiths to get in. It’s important we have your contact information– email addresses, cell phone numbers. Let your neighbors know where you’re going if you evacuate.”

Audience concerns

An audience member asked how to help homeless people during a disaster. “Let the police know through 311 there are homeless people– these people can be included in a homebound evacuation,” said Esposito.

Attendee Dr. Jon Berall commented that he was particularity concerned about the emergency medical system in Brooklyn following the closure of Long Island College Hospital (LICH). He said LICH saw 60,000 people a year in the emergency room, “who are now going to the other hospitals, and the hospitals can’t handle it.”

“It’s a very good point, but the closing or the opening of LICH is not really for this forum,” Esposito said. “We have a protocol. If one hospital is over capacity, we will reroute those ambulances to another facility.”

Sue Raboy, founder of Patients for LICH, said her concern was for the Red Hook community. “Ambulances for LICH were stationed in Red Hook, which has a very intricate street layout. If there is another disaster, is there any training being done now so the 911 responders know the streets in Red Hook?”

“FDNY’s deployment matrix is constantly updated,” FDNY Chief James Lenard said. “LICH ambulances were immediately replace by FDNY ambulances, stationed at Bond and Carroll, which supplies the ambulance service to the Red Hook area. They’re well aware of their neighborhood.”

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