08/30/2013 09:07 am ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

Washington's Sea Wall

In less than two months, we will mark the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which brought ruin upon our shores and uprooted families across the East Coast of our nation. The devastation reverberates today in New York and New Jersey, which are still struggling to rebuild after property damage and loss of life pervaded our shorelines.

Americans would hope that $65 billion in damage coupled with upwards of 70 deaths might inspire lawmakers to enhance disaster preparedness and ensure that communities are equipped to handle storms of this scale. Regrettably, as has happened with so many other crucial issues in Washington, emergency relief has become a highly politicized and toxic issue among lawmakers in the Beltway.

There was a time in this country when our leaders would set aside petty squabbles and grudges to unite in the wake of cataclysmic shocks and widespread human suffering. But polarization and gridlock have seeped into every fiber of our political system, and New York's families have been left out in the cold as a result of politicians' preoccupation with their own fundraising and grandstanding.

As the peak hurricane season approaches us, we are startlingly unprepared to deal with another Sandy. Moreover, the City has failed to rebuild the meager protections we had one year ago, leaving families more vulnerable to disasters of even lesser magnitude. Where are the sea walls? Where are the upgraded mandatory evacuation procedures? Where is the disaster relief for those who still haven't recovered from the last Superstorm that rocked our community?

Despite the myriad reasons for despair, there are real reasons for New Yorkers to feel encouraged about our future. The mayor (who I agree with on little) has proposed a $20 billion plan to prepare for catastrophes caused by extreme weather, and the strategy calls for tidal barriers, dunes, bulkheads, removable flood walls, strengthened building codes, and infrastructure reinforcements among other measures.

New York and other port cities will have to deal with the realities of climate change including a warming planet, rising sea levels, and increased frequency of natural disasters. The plan would not only aim to restore areas damaged by Sandy, but seeks to make New York more impervious to future calamities.

$15 billion in federal and City funds is designated for enhancements, but Washington must make up the shortfall for the fall 2013 proposal to come to fruition. It would be unimaginable for New York to suffer unnecessarily because idling lawmakers were unable to pony up a sum that amounts to less than the lavish subsidies we dole out to oil companies annually. I must ask, what is more important: subsidizing exorbitantly profitable corporations or protecting Americans from devastation?

While most of the onus clearly belongs with the government, families and individuals that live in danger zones have a role to play as well. Developing contingency plans and stocking up on emergency food supply are absolutely crucial. A survey conducted in May by the American Red Cross revealed that less than half of New York and New Jersey residents had made tangible precautions for future hurricanes. This is simply inexcusable in light of the destruction caused by Sandy. Families must be better educated about the immanent danger posed by tropical storms and how they can take disaster preparation into their own hands.

In this regard, the Red Cross has been instrumental in the recovery efforts that have taken place thus far, but its role must be expanded to meet the challenges we face. In order to effectively prepare for future storms, the American Red Cross must play a more active role in the formation of disaster prevention and response policy.

The Red Cross for over a decade had been a highly persuasive voice on this issue, but has received little recognition for the role it has played. Further, the expertise clearly represented by the forward thinking nature of the American Red Cross' approach has not grown to the expanded role these times call for. This opportunity cannot be lost.

I implore lawmakers in Washington, Albany, and New York City to work hand-in-hand with the Red Cross to ensure that residents are disposed to handle future hurricanes and other natural disasters. Americans are sick and tired of self-serving politicians engaging in childish banter on cable news talk shows while others are suffering.

Providing aid for those in need is not a "handout," but rather the most basic responsibility of government. It is past time that our elected officials seize this moment and address the concerns of the taxpayers who elected them in the first place. The American Red Cross has a unique understanding of the problems we face, and it is imperative that our leaders create the collaborative partnership necessary to tackle these challenges head-on.