Five Years after Sandy – Lessons Learned

Hylton I Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP

Hurricane Harvey.  Hurricane Irma.  Yes, we here in Far Rockaway and the Five Towns can empathize with Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and other areas.  Sifting through the pieces in a vortex of information and misinformation in trying to piece back together lives is not unfamiliar to us.  This past October 28th marked five years since Hurricane Sandy blew her way into our lives, leaving devastation and desolation in her wake, including my medical office, Total Family Care.  With Sandy’s 5-year anniversary just passing, there’s no time like the present to discuss lessons learned.

Preparation, preparation and preparation is the first order of the day.  Every day, and especially on the eve of a hurricane, our homes (and offices) should be ready with flashlights (with batteries that work), bottled water, canned food and other nonperishable foods.  The sprinkler system for yards should be turned off; don’t rely on the rain sensor.  Property should be secured so there are no potential flying objects.  Windows should be taped at a minimum, or boarded up if necessary.  Furniture and other objects should be removed from window areas and moved into the center of rooms.  Make sure laundry is up to date.  If blessed with a full generator for a property, ensure that it has “exercised” regularly and will kick in, should power fail.  Fully charge all cellphones and laptops.

In the Five Towns and Rockaways where your property is located can make all the difference with a storm.  Is your property prone to flooding or water damage?  Put all computers on higher floors or desks to minimize damage.  Not long after Hurricane Sandy, I was interviewed with my wife, Leah at a conference of healthcare professionals on the proactive steps we took to secure our patients important health data.   Here is a clip of the video with our interview by Office Practicum.

Speaking of failed power, walk through your homes in advance of the storm, viewing your home through the lenses of lost power.  Are paths clear?  Can you navigate stairs with minimal or no light?  Assign a place on each floor of your home for key items like flashlights and candles so you can access them easily, with minimal fuss.

Partner with your insurance broker in advance in reviewing your insurance policies.  What does your policy cover and not cover?  Do you have flood insurance?  You may not live in a designated flood zone but you never know.  Are your air conditioner compressors covered if they’re damaged by water?  If you have a full generator, it is not necessarily covered under your homeowner’s policy but requires a separate rider.  Question your broker until you’re clear and he has obtained the facts in writing for you.

This is the perfect time of year with daylight savings time this Sunday November 5, 2017 to check the batteries in your fire alert system and your carbon monoxide detectors.  Many still run on batteries, unless you have a new home and they are hard wired into the electric.  Nonetheless, a great time to test these monitors to be proactive.

Interesting fact we learned as a “by the way”:  If, G-d forbid, there’s be a terrorist attack, your policy wouldn’t cover damage.  You need a rider for it.

Another important avenue of pre-storm preparation is listing the contents of your home and/or office.  Invest the time – even without a superstorm looming – to systematically inventory computer and other equipment, artwork and other valuables, and in the case of my medical office, medical equipment and supplies.  The ubiquitous cell phones with cameras are invaluable; make sure you backup this information to a cloud.  Again, speak to your broker about this. As we approach the end of the year and before tax season,  this is a good time to review your insurance policies – there is no cost in having your agent review your limits and coverages.

Now that your preparations are done and you’re staying put, please think of others.  Speak to your friends and neighbors prior to the storm to ascertain who is home and who might need help.  The Young Israel of Hollywood Florida) set up a system during the recent Hurricane Irma to account for every shul member.  Mi KiAmcha Yisrael.

Are you the parent or a family member of a person with disabilities who needs access to electricity and other amenities?  Evacuate.  Evacuate to a place where the needs can be meet.

Stay home and indoors during the storm.  Wishing to watch the tidal surge and other parts of a storm may beckon but please don’t venture outside.  It’s not the responsibility of the police, Hatzoloh or other first responders to rescue such people from stupidity.

Specific to a medical office, we reviewed in advance out chronic needs patients, contacting and urging those we believed would be best served by bot being in the area during Sandy.  We accessed medical and pharmaceutical information for all patients so there were no gaps in care.  We worked with the local pharmacists to make sure medicinal needs were met.

Had we been more savvy about social media during and after Sandy, we would have conveyed our messages even more cogently in order to help others.  This past week we share an important report on 38.7 million fire extinguishers recalled due to faulty operations on a specific brand.  You might have noticed, we are using social media daily on multiple platforms to share important updates, positive events, news and health tips for our community.   Please be sure to like and follow our page for updates.  To read the full post click here.

Andre Perry and Amy Liu, vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program, writing in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, says that the Trump administration and Congress can take lessons from the Katrina and other hurricane outcomes to show the “speed of action, scale of aid, and interagency coordination can set a strong foundation for helping people and communities restore their lives and activities.”

These are nice words but based on our experiences, they’re just nice words.  Politicians and government agencies, including FEMA, paraded through here but to what effect?  We know many people still waiting to be reimbursed.   I’m not sure anyone can ever measure the overall stress and displacement and their effects on physical health.  Never mind the exposure to mold.

It’s here that I sing praise for the power of community which cannot be underscored enough.   The Jewish community near and far helped us.  We will always remember the tractor trailer trucks filled by Frank Storch and his fellow Baltimoreans that brought much relief to this part of the world.  Boston’s Maimonides School sent a coach bus filled with high school students to help with the cleanup in Long Beach one Sunday afternoon.  There were the tireless efforts of the Davis Memorial Fund, CAF, Nivneh, Tomchei Shabbos, Achiezer and key individuals who prefer not to be named.  And many more.  On a personal note, thank you ad infinitum to The White Shul which provided me with space to see patients while the office was rebuilt.

Truth be told, we should live each day to the fullest, appreciating G-d’s blessings.  By knowing and recognizing G-d’s blessings, we are well on our way to being prepared for anything in life.

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