For myself, last night’s storm unfolded differently, via Twitter and Facebook, in addition to keeping one ear on a police scanner and another on the phone talking to residents around the neighborhood. For the most part, residents kept each other informed through a Facebook page dedicated to Woodhaven.
“On 92nd St. the telephone pole broke and went across the whole street and the big tree uprooted and went across the whole street as well but street lights are still on…”
“There is a line down on 97th street but we don’t know what line it is. Please go slow when coming down, it is laying in the street…”
“87th St. was just closed between 85th Road and Park Lane South by Fire Department…”
We compiled an online list of all damage and dangerous conditions in Woodhaven so that everyone was kept informed and up-to-date. We had residents checking in from their home computers as well as their smart phones. Some residents even sent us pictures as events unfolded, giving us a clear picture of what conditions were on the ground throughout our community.
As the storm worsened, Assemblyman Mike Miller contacted us to let us know that 911 was being overwhelmed with calls, many of them non-emergency, and that the Mayor’s Office was asking people to use 911 only for emergencies. This was confirmed when we received a call from a resident frantic that trees had come down on her block and the power lines that were torn down were sparking and smoking and she could not get through to 911.
Moments later, we heard from another resident who had called 911 to report a fallen branch that was blocking their driveway. Now, we have no doubt it was a large branch and an inconvenience, but it was this kind of non-emergency call that was keeping others from requesting help for their true emergencies. We were able to broadcast an advisory about calling 911 and reach a few thousand people quickly and easily.
The action on the police scanner was quite dramatic at times. We heard a conversation between an officer and a dispatcher about a person who was burned to death in the street when they were electrocuted by a live wire submerged in a puddle they had stepped in. The NYPD broadcast a warning to all their personnel not to drive through deep puddles in case there were live wires beneath the surface. We passed along the same warning to our residents (after asking them to remain indoors).
We were also able to use Facebook to put out a call for volunteers for the emergency evacuation shelter at Franklin K. Lane High School and that call resulted in at least two volunteers that we were aware of. We will be working to put together a roster of available volunteers for the next time we get hit with an emergency situation such as this.
All in all last night was a fascinating experience, a real lesson in how today’s technology could be used to supplement emergency response services during weather events such as Hurricane Sandy. It would be interesting if some system could be created where volunteer workers from each community could collate data and pass it along in an orderly manner, thus relieving the load on the city’s emergency and non-emergency call centers.
If you have damage on your block and it has not been addressed by the time you read this, please contact the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association via email at email@example.com or telephone at 718-296-3735.
And as a final word, a special tip of the hat to all of our emergency response teams - the NYPD, FDNY, EMS, the National Guard - and all of the other people that helped others in this time of need.