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On the Road in New York City

The seventh and final leg of our Whole Community site visit tour brought us to New York City on Monday, June 17, 2013. The purpose of our trip was to take a deep dive into the New York City Office of Emergency Management’s (OEM) Partners in Preparedness. Our visit began with a short walk through downtown Brooklyn that led us to NYC OEM’s headquarters’ building. Ira Tannenbaum, the New York City Office of Emergency Management’s Director of Programs was the host for our visit and not only opened his schedule to allow ample time for us to ask him a myriad of questions, but also arranged for us to meet a number of key “Partners” in Preparedness.

NoA brief history of NYC OEM’s new headquarters building and personal anecdote

Victoria Harp (L) and Cori Wigington (R) outside of New York City’s Office of Emergency Management Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY on Monday, June 17, 2013.

You may recall that the OEM lost their facilities in 2001 as a result of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack and subsequent fall of Building 7. As a recent college graduate and newly minted AmeriCorp National Preparedness and Response Corp member, I spent several weeks in the fall of 2001 working for the American Red Cross Disaster Response Operations for the World Trade attacks as an assistant to the Officer of Logistics in this very building. Prior to NYC OEM’s occupation in 2006 and prior to 9/11, the building served as Brooklyn’s Red Cross Headquarters but was vacant at the time of the attacks and was swiftly resurrected to house the response operations for the Red Cross during 9/11. This building has undergone a total transformative renovation since then to become the home to New York City’s OEM, but its street still bears the Red Cross name. Once inside for our meetings, only the stairwells seemed familiar to me! – Victoria Harp

Pictured Above Victoria Harp (L) and Cori Wigington (R) outside of New York City’s Office of Emergency Management Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY on Monday, June 17, 2013.

What is Partners in Preparedness?

OEM's Partners in Preparedness program helps organizations in New York City better prepare their employees, services, and facilities for disasters. Partners in Preparedness places the responsibility of preparedness on the organization and provides them with the proper tools to do it. Once an organization has signed up, they have access to preparedness events and webinars; resources, such as the Partners in Preparedness "Event in a Box" that includes all materials necessary to host their own Ready New York personal preparedness event; emergency alerts and information from OEM. Organizations also have the opportunity to highlight their partnership with the OEM with a Partners in Preparedness seal, and be recognized as a featured partner. In order to become an official partner and receive the seal, organizations must first register and complete five preparedness activities. Activities range from encouraging coworkers and volunteers to sign up for Notify NYC, the City’s free real-time emergency notification system, to setting up and testing an emergency contact plan or call tree.

How Partners in Preparedness Played an Important Role in Hurricane Sandy

The Partners in Preparedness participants we met represented the financial industry, an international law firm, a consortium of academic institutions, another federal agency with offices in New York City, and a human services organization that helps the city’s senior and aging population. We learned that Partners in Preparedness proved to be very helpful to them during the 2012 response and recovery from Hurricane Sandy. The lines of communication set up through the participation in the program provided the critical channel the organizations relied on for the most vital information to quickly disseminate to their staff and volunteers. Those lines of communication also became a two-way street where one agency said they were able to collect the reports they received from their staff in different parts of the city and pass it along to OEM. One business, even though they were evacuated from their building, were still able to guide their staff, using the information provided, and were able to use the internal system they had set up in advance to settle accounts remotely (the markets were also closed.) Interestingly, one company shared that their staff stopped listening to CNN and started listening to their company, which was receiving their updates from Partners in Preparedness. Partners in Preparedness also provided consistency to the information. For instance, Tannenbaum’s OEM Partners in Preparedness team held a conference call every day at 3:00pm during the initial response. Program participants could get on the phone and hear the latest and report that information back to their executive leadership and out to their staff. The Partners in Preparedness who received the seal say that the seal demonstrates a clear, documented relationship with the OEM; which is a positive validation of their organization’s preparedness efforts.

The first time I visited New York City was in response to 9/11. My second visit was after Hurricane Sandy. In 2001, preparedness was such a strange concept. I remember the people I spoke to reflected how they never thought something like 9/11 would happen to them and how there was no way to be prepared for it. On this recent trip, I learned how much New York City has grown in preparedness and has the fortune to understand how much better it is to be prepared than not. Through the organizations that participate in programs like Partners in Preparedness, there is the evidence that organizational leadership is willing to tackle enormous preparedness efforts for the health and resilience of their organizations and staff. Testament to this effort is the existence of programs like Partners in Preparedness. Elected leaders of New York City recognize how important it is to invest in a “Whole Community” preparedness concept.

Click here to learn more about Partners in Preparedness.

Victoria Harp has been supporting the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Learning Office as a Contractor for Lockheed Martin since 2009. She has been a Project Coordinator for the Meta-Leadership Summit for Preparedness Initiative and is currently supporting the Learning Office working with the CDC Foundation and FEMA for the Whole Community Program.