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New York to New Orleans (NY2NO) volunteers have been involved in rebuilding and community projects in the city since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Image from http://ny2no.com.

Aug. 29 marked the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest and most costly storms in U.S. history. Katrina devastated towns and cities along the Gulf Coast. The region’s urban hub, New Orleans, was hit especially hard, and suffered the highest loss of human life.  Not all sections of New Orleans were equally impacted. As is so often the case when natural disasters hit, the city’s poorest neighborhoods saw the greatest losses of life and physical structures. Nowhere in the city was the devastation greater than in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Last month, PLAN!T spoke to three youth activists taking on part of the responsibility for rebuilding this part of the city for their perspectives about where the Lower Ninth Ward is six years later. Two, Myaisha Hayes and Abby Beatty, work with New York to New Orleans (NY2NO), a youth-led activist organization created by high school students in New York City following Katrina. Since 2005, NY2NO has been bringing New York City high school students to the Lower Ninth Ward to help gut and rebuild homes, clean debris from green-spaces, canvass residents to document their stories, and educate participants about the power dynamics that determine where government resources go and where they don’t. One of the activists, Fatima Avellan, participated in a rebuilding trip arranged by Occidental College in Los Angeles. This trip was co-led by Myaisha Hayes. Myaisha, Fatima, and Abby’s insights raise questions about the role of race and class in response to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, even while the existence of groups like NY2NO mark at least one positive step towards recovery. For more information on NY2NO, visit http://ny2no.com.

Q: Based on your observations, how far along are the rebuilding efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward?

Abby Beatty: Not far at all. It’s becoming one big overgrown lawn. When I first started going down there in February of 2008 there was a much more noticeable volunteer presence. All the houses had been gutted, and construction materials and assistance were available to citizens through organizations like Project Lower Nine. There was greater national attention to the area, but that had already begun to fade by 2008.

The problem is not just the city’s purposeful inability to provide solutions like physical rebuilding. There are many other deeply routed issues that affect New Orleans that simply became more evident because of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Structural discrimination in the New Orleans school and food systems, along with much else, has long plagued the Lower Ninth Ward.

Q: As of last year, news articles quote Lower Ninth Ward residents speaking of slow progress, many blighted homes and a landscape without stores or other economic engines. Do you agree based on what you’ve seen, and has it changed since last year?

Myaisha Hayes: I agree. I’ve been to the Lower Ninth Ward three times since 2005, the most recent trip being this past December. When I arrived this past winter, it had been two years since I’d been to the neighborhood, yet it looked exactly the same. It felt like a ghost town. It absolutely lacks infrastructure. There are no grocery stores, except the Magnolia Grocery, a small neighborhood store that sells more alcohol than food. The food it does offer is not nutritious. Other than that, there is a gas station and a few chicken joints. There is no public school in the neighborhood, which is why NY2NO partnered with Our School at Blair Grocery, a community center and school created by a passionate New York City transplant named Nat Turner. …

The levees in the Lower Ninth Ward are still not fixed. …If a sizable storm were to hit tomorrow, the neighborhood would be destroyed. The relatively quick recovery of New Orleans’s French Quarter compared to the neglect of the Lower Ninth has been very disappointing. In one of my first neighborhood canvassing trips several years ago, a Lower Ninth Ward resident told me he felt like he and his neighbors were being treated like cockroaches local and state officials wanted to be rid of. …In comparison, when forest fires threaten wealthy California communities, the local and federal response is immediate and strong. Where is the political will to repair the Lower Ninth?

Q: What is NY2NO’s relationship to the Lower Ninth? Share a little about your work there. What insights do you have based on your work there about how the Lower Ninth has been treated versus other parts of the city like the French Quarter?

Fatima Avellan: Our work with NY2NO entailed learning how to use sustainable farming methods to analyze oppressive systems and empower youth and community residents to hold government officials and others accountable. Our School at Blair Grocery, a former grocery store transformed into a home-school for youth in the Lower Ninth community after the flood, is the place where we had most of our interactions with New York City youth from NY2NO. Along with harvesting vegetables, learning how to compost and attending workshops that describe systems of power in order to transform them, we also visited Angola State Penitentiary together.

This was the turning point of the trip for me personally. It made me want to focus on education, youth and the prison industrial complex. My experience visiting the former plantation is a constant reminder of the desperately needed, radical change this nation must undergo. …As for the pace of the rebuilding efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward compared to the French Quarter: the French Quarter is city’s tourism epicenter, a place that was immediately rebuilt in order to bring the city revenue. However, when it comes to the parts of the city mostly inhabited by people of color and those of low socio-economic status (like the Lower Ninth), rebuilding efforts are slow or non-existent. The wealthy areas of the city, like St. Bernard’s Parish, have a Whole Foods, yoga studios, cafes and restaurants – obvious signs of a flourishing and economically vibrant community. The racial divide between the Lower Ninth Ward and areas like St. Bernard’s Parish, which are predominantly white, beg questions about the role of race and class in the popular and political will to rebuild following natural disasters like Katrina.

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PLAN!T NOW (P!N) has joined with UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Social Work on a project will help people with special needs and their families develop personalized emergency plans.

The PREParation for Emergencies and Recovery (PREP) project will support individuals with developmental disabilities and their families by providing a step-by-step process to create personalized emergency plans, which can include emergency contacts, shelter information and medical and insurance information. Plans can be printed out by users and can be stored for regular updating. All information will be stored safely and securely on UNC-Chapel Hill’s servers.

The project is funded by the U.S. Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) as a Project of National Significance. The goals of the PREP Project are:

- To ensure that individuals with disabilities and their families are prepared for emergency situations.

- To ensure that the service system is prepared to support individuals with disabilities and their families in the event of an emergency.

- While built for participants in North Carolina, PLAN!T NOW is helping raise awareness of this resource nationwide. We encourage people around the country and from all professions to develop their own plans to store online. The process takes about 20-30 minutes, and will allow you to store your vital information for later reference, saving valuable time and effort when severe weather is expected to strike.

The project includes these components:

- Identification, development, and implementation of a web-based process for emergency planning

- Development of user-friendly materials and resources to assist individuals and family members to create plans for emergency situations

- Training for individuals, families, service providers, and emergency responders

- Information and referral services for individuals, families, and community members focused on emergency preparedness and recovery

- Active involvement of individuals with disabilities and family members through state and national advisory groups that ensure that project activities reflect their concerns and priorities

- Active involvement of state level planners and policy makers to pool resources, coordinate services, and share expenses

- A public awareness campaign to promote the importance of emergency preparedness

- Comprehensive program evaluation

To develop your own PREP plan, go to https://myprep.org.

For related information and resources, click here.

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Lightning NOAA Weather Ready

The United States has experienced 10 billion-dollar disasters this year alone, and NOAA/National Weather Service wants citizens to be prepared for both major disasters and everyday severe weather threats. Image courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Responding to a year that has costs U.S. towns and cities more than $35 billion in disaster cleanup costs through early August, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced in mid-August that it has started a comprehensive initiative to build a “Weather-ready” nation.

On Aug. 17, NOAA officials announced that the initiative aims to make the country safer by saving lives and protecting livelihoods, a goal consistent with the disaster studies and emergency management maxim that every dollar spent in preparedness and mitigation saves at least $4 in recovery costs. In its announcement, NOAA cites communities’ increasing vulnerability to severe weather events, including tornado outbreaks in the South and Midwest, flooding, active hurricane seasons and solar storms that affect electrical and communications systems.

NOAA also announced that the United States has so far this year experienced nine separate disasters, each with an economic loss of $1 billion or more — tying a record set in 2008. The latest event to surpass the $1 billion price tag is this summer’s flooding along the Missouri and Souris rivers in the upper Midwest.

“Severe weather represents a very real threat to public safety that requires additional robust action,” Jack Hayes, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS), said during the announcement. “The increasing impacts of natural disasters, as seen this year, are a stark reminder of the lives and livelihoods at risk.”
As part of its “weather-ready” initiative, NWS will work with government and private-sector agencies to provide:

  • Improved precision of weather and water forecasts and effective communication of risk to local authorities;
  • Improved weather decision support services with new initiatives such as the development of mobile-ready emergency response specialist teams;
  • Innovative science and technological solutions such as the nationwide implementation of Dual Pol radar technology, Integrated Water Resources Science and Services and the Joint Polar Satellite System;
  • Strengthening joint partnerships to enhance community preparedness;
  • Working with weather enterprise partners and the emergency management community to enhance safety and economic output and effectively manage environmental resources.

The National Weather Service is also planning innovative, community-based test projects across the country, ranging in focus from emergency response to ecological forecasting, to enhance the agency’s preparedness efforts to better address the impacts of extreme weather. Test projects will initially be launched at strategic locations in the Gulf Coast, South and mid-Atlantic, which have experienced headline-grabbing severe weather events in recent months.

According to NOAA, in the past 30 years the United States has experienced a total of 108 weather-related disasters that have caused more than $1 billion dollars in damages. Overall, these disasters have resulted in three-quarters of $1 trillion in standardized losses since 1980.

According to Munich Reinsurance America, one of the top providers of property and casualty reinsurance in the U.S., the number of natural disasters has tripled in the last 20 years and 2010 was a record breaker with about 250. Average thunderstorm losses have increased five-fold since 1980. For the first half of 2011 there have been $20 billion in thunderstorm losses, up from the previous three-year average of $10 billion.

For more information on NOAA/NWS initiatives, visit weather.gov.

"Surviving Disaster deconstructs how the brain responds to life-or-death events—so that we can all learn to do better. The documentary includes many characters from my book, in addition to other survivors of all kinds of trauma, from tsunami to car crashes. One young survivor describes in unflinching detail exactly what it felt like to get out of a house fire as a little girl in Texas. It is the kind of story you will never forget once you see it, and it is told with a purpose—to help the rest of us become smarter and stronger in our own homes and communities." - Amanda Ripley, author of THE UNTHINKABLE, Who Survives When Disaster Strikes.

It's been just over five years since this revolutionary book was first published and we urge you to celebrate by buying a copy of THE UNTHINKABLE. It's essential mantra is ours : practice makes perfect where preparedness is concerned. Go to PBS.com to purchase the 2012 companion documentary that will change your life and perspective about emergency preparedness, based on the book by the insightfully, plain-spoken Amanda Ripley. Click here and buy it on AMAZON!

Get your game on with Owlie!

Look for Owlie the mascot at the following events:

  • Maryland Day (April 26, 2014) University of Maryland Campus--Open to the public
  • 3rd USA Science and Engineering Festival (April 25-27, 2014) Washington DC Convention Center
  • Nationals Weather Day (April 2014). Washington Nationals baseball team in partnership with the NWS office in Sterling, Va., and Fox TV
  • Public Service Recognition Week (May 4, 2014). Event Sponsor--US Govt Office Personnel Management (OPM). Several government mascots participate including Smokey Bear

To help increase awareness of the need for educating children about severe weather preparedness, PLAN!T NOW (P!N), has teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Weather Service (NWS), the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the National Education Association (NEA) to produce The Young Meteorologist Program (YMP). The program is a free online resource and computer game starring OWLIE, a wise, weather-savvy hero who educates and empowers children and adults alike as he teaches severe-weather science, weather awareness and safety. Click here and play the game now!

TODOS HELP DONATE EMERGENCY WEATHER KITS

You can help protect low-income and disadvantaged families in Mexico and the U.S.!

PLAN!T NOW, in collaboration with Estes Mexico and other corporate partners, is working to provide life-saving weather survival kits--including water, storage-ready food, flashlights, batteries, first-aid kits and other critical supplies--and emergency family plans for residents in two severe-weather vulnerable towns in Mexico and the U.S.

Your tax-deductible donation today helps save lives tomorrow--give now.

For more information and the metric for this project, click here.