Human Services and Disaster Preparedness

September is National Preparedness Month.

Whether public health crises, terrorist attacks, or weather-related emergencies, we are increasingly faced with disasters that threaten New York and its organizations.  The Human Services Council of New York (HSC) is taking action to ensure the nonprofit human services sector is prepared.

The human services sector often steps up in ways government cannot to address issues facing communities.  Disaster response, recovery, and readiness are no different, but we must ensure we are doing everything we can to support their ability to rise to the occasion.

Over recent years, and especially since the events of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, human services leaders in New York City have come to recognize the need to be prepared to respond to the impact of disasters.  Unfortunately, they have also come to appreciate the risks and challenges of disaster related efforts given the remarkably thin operating margins nonprofits operate with.

Appreciating our position as a diverse network of human services providers, HSC has taken on the important work of sector-wide disaster readiness and coordination.  Our goal is to equip human services organizations to deal optimally with disasters. Our strategy is three-fold:

  • Support disaster readiness, response, and recovery coordination among nonprofits
  • Work collaboratively with government to ensure the sector is incorporated into its planning and effectively supported and leveraged for disaster readiness, response, and recovery efforts
  • Ensure individual nonprofits have their own emergency plans

HSC’s initiative, which is supported in large part by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene,  includes:  workgroup deliberations composed of government and nonprofit human services leaders that shapes practice and policy; the production of key publications, including a disaster coordination framework for human services organizations and a disaster planning tool to guide detailed emergency plans at individual organizations; training sessions dedicated to explaining and spreading best practices, the creation of a sector-wide disaster communications tool, the ongoing evaluation of sector readiness, strategies to support community based planning, and ongoing discussions with key government players focused on recovery coordination and disaster planning.

Mutual understanding and clarity regarding roles among key entities is growing stronger as a result of HSC’s efforts to date and we are optimistic that that we will – together – continue to become better prepared and coordinated over the months and years ahead.

After disasters community residents reflexively turn to the community-based human services organizations they know and trust.  HSC’s goal is to ensure human services organizations are prepared to do their part in mitigating the risks and damages of these horrific events.


-Allison Sesso, Executive Director, Human Services Council of NY