When Ms. Sadie secured a coveted space in the New York City public housing system, she never envisioned being stuck for five days, in her wheelchair, in her 17th floor Far Rockaways apartment, without electricity or an elevator, in the post Super Storm Sandy aftermath.
When families in Detroit were flooded out by storms last month, they did not expect their neighborhood to be last declared a disaster area as they mucked out their basements and wondered if they were going to get any assistance at all.
As we approach the two-year- anniversary of Hurricane Sandy we are reminded that, irrespective of type of the disaster, African American communities are disproportionately vulnerable to and impacted by natural (and unnatural) catastrophes. Our socio-economic vulnerability is based on multiple factors including our lack of wealth to cushion us, our disproportionate representation in lower quality housing stock, and our relative lack of mobility, etc.
President Barack Obama recently issued a disaster declaration for the state of Michigan for damage sustained during the massive flooding. For many of those families, this declaration might be too late given that 64% of people of color are asset poor, meaning they do not have enough savings to withstand a 3-month disruption in income. The narrative remains the same in Michigan, 2.1 times as many households of color are asset poor compared to White households.
Furthermore, we disproportionately live in coastal communities and in the Southeast, which are areas of considerable risk for hurricanes and storm surge.
Professor Robert Bullard, dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, denotes that disasters in the South have outnumbered those in other regions by a ratio of almost 4-to-1 in the decade between 2000 and 2010, and the southeastern United States had more billion-dollar disasters than the rest of the country combined between 1980 and 2012.
Climate change and the placement of toxic facilities in African American communities are putting us at significant risk.
We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.
At the policy level, the NAACP will be working to ensure that the National Flood Insurance Program serves the needs of our communities that are disproportionately located in flood plains and we will also advocate for equitable allocation of resources for disaster forecasting, research on disproportionate impact, and measures to ensure that equity is at the center of the protocols and practices throughout the emergency management continuum.
As communities, we must make sure we are at the table infusing an equity analysis in the planning of emergency management and resilience building by participating in our state and local disaster planning committees and our state and local climate adaptation planning committees. We must make sure that all of our institutions have disaster plans, including our workplaces/businesses, our churches, and our schools. Ideally we will get ourselves trained in disaster preparedness and response through the American Red Cross or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We must all ensure that our homes/families have a disaster plan and a disaster kit.
While, unfortunately, we may not be able to thwart another Hurricane Sandy, we can strengthen our preparedness. We must work to lift our communities out of the financial disaster so a small flood does not result in an economic hurricane that pushes families further into economic instability.
For more information about what you can do at home to prepare for disasters, visit www.ready.gov/prepare.
Jacqui Patterson is the Director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Initiative and Lillian Singh is the Director of Economic Strategic Partnerships, both at the NAACP.