Sandy Meeting Recap

Approximately 100 East River cooperators met on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 to share their stories of surviving superstorm Sandy and make some suggestions that might become the basis of a coop emergency plan.

We have tried to distill what was discussed into a set of questions and possible action items. This is a very preliminary effort, and we hope that management, the board of directors, and the house committee will take these notes in a spirit of cooperation.

Giving Thanks

First, it should be noted the many cooperators wanted to give thanks to the people who helped so much during the blackout:

  • Our maintenance and security staff were thanked numerous times for their tireless efforts. Many stayed at East River for days without going home. Maintenance staff knocked on doors throughout the buildings to make sure that elderly residents had sufficient provisions.
  • Volunteers from Hatzolah were singled out for their emergency response, with one cooperator telling of a sick neighbor who was carried down 20 flights of stairs by Hatzolah volunteers.
  • Our management and board of directors were thanked for their part in bringing provisions — water, sandwiches, flashlights, batteries — to East River during the blackout, and for their organizing of coop-wide door-knocking by the maintenance staff.
    Two directors were thanked by name — Gary Altman and Lee Berman — multiple times for their personal efforts to help neighbors during the blackout and their availability to answer questions.
  • Finally, speaker after speaker noted the small but crucial contributions that individual neighbors made to the relief effort: cooperators who checked in on elderly neighbors, who carried water and provisions upstairs for someone else, who taught them how to flush their toilet.

Several cooperators made the point that in terms of our community coming together, the storm was actually a very positive experience.


It was widely acknowledged that it is impossible to protect the coop from every conceivable disaster. Nevertheless, a cost-benefit analysis of infrastructure upgrades should naturally take place after a major incident such as Sandy.

Many cooperators had questions about the coop’s current infrastructure and possible improvements that can be answered only by the board of directors and management. We decided to simply compile these questions and provide them to decision-makers. (Subsequently, Mr. Harold Jacob has promised to meet with 10-15 cooperators to address these questions, many of which he indicated have already been taken up by his staff.)

  1. What is the feasibility and cost of installing generators to maintain water pumps in each building?
  2. Is our new boiler protected from flooding? What about other equipment in sub-basements? What is the feasibility and cost of protecting existing infrastructure?
    • Would any sort of landscaping help?
    • Are new doors and windows necessary for lobbies of buildings 1 and 4 to help prevent flooding?
  3. What are the options for emergency lighting of the stairwells?
    • Flood lights for evacuation?
    • Long-term battery-operated?
  4. Are there alternative sources of energy that we could be pursuing?
    • Solar and wind from roof feeding to batteries?
    • Bike-powered cell phone chargers?
  5. How susceptible is building wiring to surges (fires) when power is restored? Do residents need to unplug during a blackout?
  6. Since any upgrades that are deemed necessary would not have been part of recent budgeting, how should they be paid for?
    • Will shareholders be asked to approve an emergency assessment?
    • How are cost-benefit analyses carried out?
    • Will shareholders have the opportunity to have input on what their priorities are in terms of preparedness?

Emergency Plan

Cooperators readily saw the need for a comprehensive emergency plan to make sure that residents and staff know what to do in case of a bad situation and are prepared for action when a situation arises.

After the meeting, Leo Hoenig indicated that the House Committee has already been tasked with formulating an emergency plan. In which case, the outline below is offered as a contribution to that effort.


  1. Cooperators should be encouraged to keep their own emergency kit as recommended by FEMA. Enough food and water to last 72 hours, plus tools such as crank or battery-operated radio, flashlight with extra batteries, manual can opener.
    • Coop could consider organizing a group buy of emergency kit supplies to bring cost down for cooperators and encourage preparedness.
  2. A formal volunteer corps of cooperators should be established to help implement emergency response. There were several different suggestions raised, and there would be many details to work out. Building captains could be trained and certified Community Emergency Response Teams. Redundant floor captains could volunteer to cover 4-5 floors of each section. Responsibilities could include:
    • maintaining a list of residents in need of assistance as well as contact information for family members and caregivers
    • checking on residents during an emergency
    • relaying food, water, and other supplies during an emergency
    • educating neighbors about preparedness and practicing evacuation on a regular basis
  3. A census of residents needs to be maintained so that in case of emergency we know which residents are in need of special attention.
    • A secure system for keeping apartment keys could be established in case of emergency or flooding.
    • Emergency contact numbers should be kept and maintained.
    • Lists could be kept at security desks in case first responders need information.
    • Security concerns would of course have to be addressed.
  4. A plan should be developed for accommodating maintenance and security staff who are stuck at the coop over an extended period of time.
    • Emergency kits with sufficient food and water should be held for staff use.
    • Sleeping accommodations should be also be considered.


  1. A specific set of information and recommendations should be prepared to post and email prior to any storm. Currently, management is very good about warning cooperators about high winds and reminding them to take in anything from their balconies, but there’s other information that would be helpful if distributed, such as:
    • if the power goes out, your water will too; fill your tub and any other containers with extra water now
    • toilets can be flushed with 1 gallon of water poured from a height of 4 feet (e.g.)
    • in case of power outage, unplug appliances and keep faucets closed
    • charge all your mobile devices and computers now; cell phone batteries last much longer in “airplane mode” (turn back on to make outgoing calls and check messages); texting uses less energy than making a call
    • check your flashlights and batteries
    • keep extra bags of ice in ziploc bags in your refrigerator and freezer to keep food cold longer
    • notify a neighbor if you are evacuating
    • don’t use elevators if power outage is imminent
    • don’t leave your pet behind if you evacuate
    • if the power is out, don’t throw anything down the trash chute
    • suggestions regarding the safety and security of residents and property during a prolonged situation
  2. The coop should maintain multiple sources of official communication during an emergency, including email, Twitter updates, and an emergency web page. A system would have to be developed whereby updates could be posted even in the case of power failure.
  3. A low-tech communications plan should be developed in the case of severe disruption. For example, white boards on the ground floors, relay word-of-mouth through CERT floor captains … and bullhorns.
  4. An emergency headquarters should be identified, so that cooperators know where to go for answers in case a situation develops.

Procurement, Management, and Disbursement of Emergency Supplies

  1. Management should consider the steps necessary for bringing food and water to the neighborhood in case of emergency, whether through private procurement or by interfacing with FEMA and other government agencies.
  2. Maintenance should consider whether it is appropriate to stock up on batteries and flashlights for use by cooperators during an emergency.
  3. A means of distributing supplies should be arranged, including the use of closed containers for transporting water up stairs.
  4. A means of charging cell phones should be arranged; in an emergency, it’s crucial that residents can maintain some communication with family members.

Evacuation Plan

Even though an evacuation order is not likely, we should think about what it would mean to be prepared. Short-term emergency lighting for stairwells might be necessary if a longer-term solution is not feasible. Government authorities should be contacted to advise us about possible threats and reasonable preparation.

One cooperator asked if it would make sense to have inflatable rafts stored in case we need to evacuate across the river. While that’s probably more preparation than we need, as long as we are going through this exercise we might as well go all the way. In the past decade, we’ve seen a major terrorist attack, a short blackout due to widespread regional outage, and a longer blackout due to flooding. There’s no reason not to be better prepared for what comes next.