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Natural Disasters Meet Quick Response

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Volunteers from Hurricane Sandy Relief Volunteer Group in Breezy Point after the storm devastated the community

When Hurricane Sandy hit last October, many New Yorkers dropped everything they were doing to help in the recovery.

Two brothers who had been lifeguards at a beach on Breezy Point, Queens, rushed out to help residents of the area recover from one of the worst disasters ever to hit New York City.

Homes had been flooded, and electricity, heat and water were no longer available. Several blocks of Breezy Point were further destroyed when a spontaneous fire ripped through the neighborhood, leveling homes, and leaving little in its wake. Beaches, boardwalks, and beach roads were torn and reshaped beyond recognition by Sandy.

Ray and Rennie Alba dropped what they were doing and headed out to help–helping families dig out sand, bringing food and water, and providing clean clothing and emotional support.

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We interviewed this family to see how they were coping 7 days after Hurricane Sandy: they had no heat, no hot water, no water, and no electricity. They walked two blocks to gather water–as if they lived in a non-modernized country. The results of this story were published on Cyclists International, and then later referenced by the NY Times.

Back home, Strategic Marketing and Web Solutions, also stranded without electricity, heat, and water, moved to another area 100 miles away, and provided the PR support for the Hurricane Sandy Volunteer Relief Group.

We immediately formed the group’s Facebook page, and sent out alerts to all of our contacts (more than 2,000 so far,) to join the group.

We then began organizing among the volunteers who were working in Queens, and then New Jersey, to send photos and descriptions of what they were doing, and updated the site around the clock with photos, descriptions, and links to other groups working in the hurricane-torn areas of Queens, Staten Island and New Jersey.

Once our electricity returned, we went out to the area, and wrote a front-page investigative story about the group’s efforts, and the efforts of other volunteers, and the extent of the devastation. That story was picked up by the NY Times, and later they used our contacts, phone numbers, and sources to write a follow up story.

We continued to cover the story on Cyclists International, one of our sister publications, as well as cover the activities of other cyclist-oriented volunteer organizations, efforts by the city in the recovery, and other news and information gripping the area during this emergency.

Those stories were then added to the HSVG Facebook page, and in the end, the page received 899 “likes.”

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The hurricane devastated many communities, and recovery is still ongoing as of today, February 22, 2013–four months later.

We also helped the cyclist volunteer group when they decided to create a ride-fundraiser to raise funds for the families hardest hit by the storm with a ride called Ride4NY.

Again, we updated the Ride4NY Facebook page, and created links between the two pages so that the urgency and attention coming to one organization could be shared with the fundraising event.

The Ride4NY garnered more than 50 riders in less than 2 weeks, and cash donations were made directly to families affected by Hurricane Sandy.

So far, the future of the organization, Ride4NY is still being planned. But overall, it was a mighty response by a small group of caring people, and it reached national news.

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