Social Resiliency and Superstorm Sandy: Lessons from New York City Community Organizations

Lessons from New York City community organizations after Superstorm Sandy for policy makers and practitioners working to implement “social resiliency.”


Superstorm Sandy presented New York City neighborhoods and the entire region with an unprecedented emergency, revealing strengths and challenges affecting each community’s vulnerable populations. In the aftermath of the storm, active community networks and local organizations stepped up to play crucial stabilizing and supporting roles in impacted areas. These organizations had not expected to be involved in disaster response, but affected residents turned to them because of their deeply rooted trust in the organizations’ proven commitment to serving the needs of the local community.

These local groups and networks were able to identify and coordinate aid, distribute supplies to high needs areas, and assist more vulnerable populations like elderly, disabled, limited English proficient, low income, and geographically isolated residents.Social networks are a key factor in a community’s ability to be resilient in the face of environmental, social, and economic shocks. This has been an increasingly important concept for civic leaders, policy makers, and funders in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

The white paper discusses several key lessons about why community groups in New York City neighborhoods were able to utilize their social capital to respond effectively following Superstorm Sandy:

Networks of Relationships – Pre-existing relationships, built from years of contact, are critical for communicating needs, sharing resources, and passing along critical information before, during, and after an emergency. Groups and individuals with strong networks across their community can help connect resources and identify those in need. For example, Project Hospitality helped to link disparate service providers and community leaders in Staten Island following Superstorm Sandy.

Community Based Staff – Local staff, plugged into community life in the neighborhood, enabled quick action following Superstorm Sandy for many impacted groups. When transportation and communication systems went down, some staff members were already in the neighborhood, communicating needs, and taking action to help nearby residents. The Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), for example, was able to quickly assess the situation, coordinate with local residents, and start distributing supplies quickly after the storm passed.

Communications Networks – Organizations routinely use a variety of methods to communicate and engage their local population on the services and programs that they provide. The flow of information through a community can be tapped into during an emergency for communicating needs, promoting recovery resources, and coordinating relief efforts. The Red Hook Initiative was part of a neighborhood-wide coordinated relief effort utilizing local runners, word of mouth, and social media to request supplies and communicate available resources.

Community Hubs – Local gathering places are crucial to recovery and relief efforts for neighborhood residents. Following Superstorm Sandy, local residents in need gravitated towards those community organizations that had been serving the community for years as a trusted service provider. Neighborhood based organizations are in a unique and accessible position in the community to be able to coordinate and distribute aid. Following Superstorm Sandy, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) was able to help activate an unused but accessible community center space in Gowanus to manage and distribute supplies to nearby residents.

Structural and Functional Integrity – Many organizations involved in response and recovery following Sandy were the ones whose facilities and operations survived the storm. More severely impacted groups had to dedicate more time to getting their systems or building repaired, which meant less time able to help their community. For example, the Shorefront YM-YWHA is located along Brighton Beach but was able to weather the storm due to how the building was designed and how it was prepared beforehand. They were able to open their doors only days after the storm to begin assessing the needs within their community.

Download the Report

Share this page: