Reimaging YBH After Hurricane Sandy

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By: Frances Haddad

Following the devastation and destruction caused by Super Storm Sandy – the largest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history – communication systems in and around New York City crashed on a massive scale. Power was out, telephone lines were downed, 911 call centers became overwhelmed, and cell phone service was disrupted for millions, complicating the efforts of emergency responders and rescue operations at a time when they were needed most.

That’s when a handful of dedicated heroes with access to Citywide 1 New York, a 24-hour two-way radio incident notification network, serving the greater New York area, sprang into action, providing a vital link between citizens in distress and the emergency responders who could help. Among the most active Citywide 1 operators in the aftermath of Sandy’s fury, was our own David Heskiel, Police Chaplain and NYPD Clergy Liaison, who spent countless hours assisting victims who were hardest hit by the storm surge.

The importance of Citywide 1 New York – and the disaster services team behind it – was clearly demonstrated on numerous occasions in the post Sandy pandemonium. Comprised of a network of emergency service agencies and members of law enforcement on a federal, state and local level, Citywide 1 includes operators from the City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Fire Department (FDNY), the U.S. Coast Guard, Parks Police, and the Con Edison Emergency Response team. Members of the Citywide 1 network use a special two-way radio system to maintain communication, so that a wide array of law enforcement agencies and public safety officials can coordinate instantly during emergency and crisis situations. This 24-hour network proved vital during the most critical hours of Super Storm Sandy, when landline and cellphone service was widely disrupted. As the storm raged, Heskiel joined law enforcement officials making rounds throughout the community to ensure the safety and security of residents.

Saved From Sandy

In one incident, while driving down East 9th Street in South Brooklyn, Heskiel observed a tree that cracked under the intense winds and came crashing down on top of a home. Seeing that a family was inside the house, Heskiel promptly contacted Hatzalah via Citywide 1, to send a unit to treat trauma injuries. On another occasion, Heskiel and NYPD Community Affairs Officer Vincent Marone were patrolling some of the hardest hit areas of Staten Island, when they spotted a house that was nearly submerged under water on Father Cappedano Boulevard, a street that is adjacent to the boardwalk. Through Citywide 1, the team was able to request urgent assistance for a rescue operation. When emergency responders arrived, they found 10 people, including several children, trapped inside of the house. While fighting for their lives inside the deluged structure, the residents tried fruitlessly to call 911 for help, but their phones were not working. It was only through the vigilance of the two men on patrol – and the strength of the Citywide 1 network – that help arrived in time to save these people.

Returning to Brooklyn, Heskiel continued to use Citywide 1 to save lives, as he called for Con Edison’s emergency response teams to seal off numerous locations that had downed electrical wires which posed an immediate danger to areas residents.

Picking Up the Pieces

After the storm, Heskiel traveled to several neighborhoods in the Tri-State area to survey the wreckage. Among the hardest hit was Seagate, a gated community on the southwestern tip of Brooklyn. Hundreds of the neighborhood’s residents are now displaced after many of their homes were severely damaged or completely destroyed. As a former chaplain of the Seagate Police Department,  Heskiel felt a special sense of duty to help Seagate survivors pick up the pieces. Spending long days amidst the devastation, he worked tirelessly to find temporary accommodations for displaced persons and helped coordinate the distribution of food and water to the hundreds who lost everything. Heskiel also toured the devastation wrought in the Rockaways and Bayswater communities, along with public advocates Bill DeBlasio and Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, and assisted members of those neighborhoods with food and shelter.

In addition, Heskiel has been working as a liaison connecting hurricane victims throughout the city with the appropriate agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Heskiel collaborated with NYPD Deputy Inspector of Community Affairs Amin Kosseim, who was instrumental in assisting with community issues throughout the storm and its aftermath, working together to alleviate the hardships of community hurricane victims.

Recognizing an Unsung Hero

Hurricane Sandy exacted an astronomical financial toll, and true to form, the community responded with an open hand. But while making donations was critical, getting the money to the people who need it most was another matter. Recognizing his involvement and connections throughout the community, prominent philanthropists reached out to David with sizeable donations earmarked for victims. Without wasting any time, David organized an emergency relief fund, teaming up with Rabbi Eliyahu Tobal of the Etz Chaim Congregation in Lakewood, to ensure that donated monies reached those who desperately needed them. 

After years of service to the community, Mr. Heskiel was also recently formally recognized for his dedication. On Sunday evening, November 18, at the gala Mirrer Yeshivah dinner in the presence of 1300 attendees, including several community rabbis and leaders, high ranking NYPD officers and elected public officials, Mr. Heskiel was recognized for the vital community service that he provides, and especially for his efforts and response during Hurricane Sandy which helped countless victims in their most urgent time of need. We join in saluting Mr. Heskiel for his selfless dedication and extend a warm hazak ubaruch (wish of strength and blessing) for his continued efforts.