By her own account, Inwood resident Annette Jones did not have a plan when superstorm Sandy struck two years ago, and watched with mounting anxiety as floodwaters cut off her avenue of retreat.
The brackish surge swallowed a cellphone that was her link to concerned relatives, left her home without light or heat for more than two weeks, and had her wondering whether the food would run out at the inundated home on Jeanette Avenue, where she lives with her husband, daughter and two grandchildren.
So when she heard that the New York National Guard would be at the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence to offer training and equipment designed to help area residents ride out natural disasters, she quickly signed up.
"I think this is good, because when Sandy came, we took it lightly," said Jones, one of about 100 residents who attended Wednesday.
At community centers across Long Island in recent weeks, green-garbed troops have schooled residents on preparedness techniques to leave them less dependent on rescuers in the first days after a natural disaster.
Organizers of the program, ordered by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, hope to train 100,000 participants statewide.
Training sessions were offered last week in Jericho, Inwood and Glen Cove. The program launched in February at Farmingdale State College. Another session took place Monday at Long Beach City Hall. More will be announcedin coming weeks at nyprepare.gov/aware-prepare/nysprepare/.
Emergency officials say downed power lines, stranded vehicles and blocked roadways can make it hard for crews to quickly reach victims. They say training the public to fend for themselves during natural disasters can trim the number of people in need, allowing rescuers to tackle more urgent cases.
"Individual preparedness is extremely helpful," said Roger Vargas, of the Meadowmere Park Fire Department, who said Sandy flooded his firehouse. "Because we will be swamped with calls."
Guard trainers say people should prepare survival kits for every household member. The kits should include food and water; a multitool with pliers; prescription and other medications; and a "go-bag," should they need to evacuate. People in the sessions receive a starter kit that includes a whistle, first-aid kit, a "space blanket," flashlight, emergency radio, protective goggles, dust mask and work gloves.
Jones said she came away from the training convinced that she needs to prepare. By the time Jones realized Sandy posed a threat, her street was blocked, with floodwaters that eventually totaled her car. With her flashlight dead, her cellphone waterlogged, and her Internet cut, she could not reach worried relatives.
"You can't wait until the last minute," Jones said. "You have to plan a place to go, have a place for the family to meet, have a line of communication."