In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I witnessed two Long Island communities, Long Beach and Oceanside, located just 1.5 miles from one another, experience very different fates. Both communities have populations hovering around 33,000 residents, and both faced unprecedented damage during the storm.
However, the main difference between the two is that Long Beach is a city, with its own government and resources, whereas Oceanside is what New York State defines as a hamlet: an unincorporated area with no mayor, no police department and no other essential services that would be useful in times of crisis.
When disaster struck, Oceanside, where I grew up, had few resources to rely on: we have an all-volunteer fire department made up of amazing men and women who went without sleep for weeks after Sandy, constantly putting their lives on the line as calls came in non-stop. We have our own U.S. Post Office (unhelpful post-Sandy), a school board with a long-standing and well-respected superintendent of schools (though half of our schools were also seriously damaged), and a public library (that emerged unscathed).
Long Beach, on the other hand, has 300 city employees. Of these, it has approximately 75 police officers and 30 firefighters, as well as its own Department of Public Works that handles sanitation and sewage issues.
Prior to Sandy, the City of Long Beach distributed over 19,000 sandbags to residents while also updating its website to keep people up-to-date with the latest information. This was in addition to distributing hurricane preparedness pamphlets to all residents during the summer and organizing a de-facto emergency management office headed by its mayor and Kennedy School of Government-educated city manager.