March 25, 2020

Community Partners Adapt, Team Up To Increase Resiliency and Preparedness

By Donald Gilpin

Sustainable Princeton (SP), since its founding in 2012, has been working to combat climate change and prepare the Princeton community for extreme weather events, like hurricanes.

This one isn’t a hurricane, but it turns out that building community resiliency is a good idea for many different reasons, and the Princeton Climate Action Plan (CAP), despite its specific focus on climate crises, is helping Princeton in its struggle against the spreading coronavirus.

“Many of the resiliency actions the plan includes help Princeton’s preparations for all emergencies,” SP Executive Director Molly Jones wrote in an email. “The further the community as a whole is along in its essential preparedness, the more we relieve demand on our social and emergency services. This allows these departments to better assist our most vulnerable community members.”

In a press release last week, SP emphasized ”the paralyzing impact that COVID-19 (coronavirus) is having on all of us,” and added, “As every hour brings concerning news from our region and the world, the need for building our resiliency and preparations for crises is now more clear than ever.”
Noting that she and SP are not the principal leaders of the community-wide response to the crisis, Jones emphasized the importance of partnerships among multiple organizations and leaders. “The executive directors of many different groups are being amazingly supportive of each other and really pulling together to do what they can to get the safety nets, the support networks in place to minimize the impact of this as much as possible.”

She continued, “Much of our community’s resiliency is tied to our strength in working together and supporting each other. Princeton’s nonprofit, government, and business leaders are working together to support our community’s needs, with particular focus on those with food insecurity and other vulnerabilities.”

Jones mentioned in particular Drew Dyson of the Princeton Senior Resource Center and Melissa Urias of Princeton’s Human Resource Department, who have been leading a coordinated effort to support seniors. She also pointed out that the Princeton Public Library, Princeton Public Schools, and the municipal government have come together to combine COVID-19 resources and guidance through a new website, The Neighborhood Buddy program, led by Princeton Council President David Cohen, has also provided valuable support for residents.

“All of these actions are testaments to the strong resiliency fabric woven by thoughtful leadership aligning our resources for the betterment of the community,” Jones added. “We continue to focus on the most vulnerable people who are home alone or have a health reason that is magnifying their need to quarantine. We’re concerned about their mental health as well as their physical health.”

She went on to discuss the economic hardship that the pandemic is creating for many in Princeton, as businesses shut down and workers lose their jobs. “There are so many community members who are facing the financial burden of this experience. It is going to have horrific ramifications and is going to impact their ability to meet their basic needs, to have food and the basic means to provide for rent.”

Encouraging Princeton residents to embrace resilience strategies defined by the CAP, Jones pointed out specific actions community members could take to help prepare for whatever challenges might come.

She noted the importance of Princeton Prepares, a program funded by the Health Impact Project, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to help residents be better prepared for emergencies. It includes the Extra Assistance Registry, which helps emergency responders serve residents who find it difficult to help themselves in the event of a major disaster.

Individuals should register if they live alone; have a hearing, visual, or cognitive impairment; require mobility assistance; rely on supplemental oxygen or refrigerated medication; or have limited English skills. Emergency Services knows basic information about the vulnerabilities of the approximately 70 Princeton residents who have registered already, and is able to reach out to them to check on their status. Princeton Prepares has also updated its contact list in the Emergency Operation Plan, a confidential plan overseen by the Department of Emergency and Safety Services.

Princeton Prepares’ materials, including emergency communications, are provided in Spanish as well as Mandarin. “We still have a long way to go to communicate with all residents, but recognizing this need is a positive first step towards progress,” Jones said.