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The Lessons Of Hurricane Sandy

A week of amazing projects and sobering realities from the superstorm.

We’ve been spending a lot of time on Hurricane Sandy this week. This is partially because Co.Exist is based in New York and we’re seeing a lot of this first-hand. But it’s more broadly because this type of storm and its effects on an American city that usually seems invincible are a microcosm of what we try to talk about every day on this site.

The world is changing, and we have to change with it. There will be more Sandy’s, there will be more cities left flooded and without power—or much worse. Our job now is to both try to mitigate the causes of the increasing number of disastrous weather events, while also building and planning solutions to make sure that we’re ready to bounce back from whatever our angry planet throws at us.

Photo by: Joey Castillo

If you’re outside of New York, you’ve probably moved on to other news events. If you’re still waiting for your power to come on, you’re probably less than concerned about a few written stories about the storm you just lived through. But as we think about how to be more ready and more resilient, keep this collection of projects, reactions, and documentations in mind. They might serve as a reminder of the threat ahead, and just a few of the things we can accomplish in the face of it.

First, the storm itself, an unlikely confluence of weather patterns that led to a 100-year storm—an already outdated name given that these storms are likely to start happening at a far greater frequency:


The effects? Far worse than anyone could have anticipated. New York’s iconic subway system was totally unprepared for flooding of this level. Who had ever heard of flooding in New York? Post-Sandy, the idea that a weather pattern never happened before will be a remarkably poor excuse for not planning for it.


And then, the aftermath. One of our reporters helped scour a powerless apartment building, looking for the old and incapacitated who needed help:

Nadia Televiak, 68, in 22C is out of candles. Antonia Rivera, 72, her next-door neighbor in 22B, is sick with a fever and is in need of food. In 20G there is an elderly man with a broken foot who only speaks Cantonese—luckily one of our group can translate. In 18H, one of the Wongs has a heart problem and they haven’t been able to climb downstairs. In 8A there are two young girls by themselves. They say their mom is at work.

Somewhere there is a cat who is alone and very unhappy about it.

Government workers were nowhere to be found, but people were banding together to help look out for each other. More technological solutions also abounded. SandyCrashPads tried to quickly connect people with a spare couch with people who needed a place to stay. Recovers, a website borne of a different natural disaster, set up a system allowing New Yorkers volunteer to help. And hackers around the country will go to work this weekend to cobble together tech solutions to help with the recovery.

And that’s to say nothing of the ideas that seem more far-fetched, but which very well might be employed when a massive hurricane hits in the future, like a miraculous sponge to clean up dirty water after storms, or even an army of first responder drones. What will a city, country, or world resilient enough to bounce back from these events look like? Some combination of this science-fiction and the simple community togetherness and dedication we’ve seen after Sandy.

Because New York has the hive mind of media, technology, and entreprenuers to publicize and work on fixing its current plight, let’s make sure to not forget New Jersey, where the damage might be worse and the spotlight is not nearly as bright. So we’ll leave you with their favorite son: