Responding to crisis without militarizing it: Street medic response to Hurricane Sandy

Proposal submitted to 143rd American Public Health Association annual meeting (31 Oct to 4 Nov, 2015 in Chicago).

Disaster survivors and people exercising political speech are increasingly treated as threats by response structures. This presentation explores the counterpractice of street medics, who organize unarmed response to social crisis and work outside secured areas, particularly in U.S. and European protest movements. We posed two questions about street medic mobilization after Hurricane Sandy: (1) What practices define street medic mobilizations and healthcare interventions? (2) Do street medic practices counter militarization of emergency response?

We found that street medic practices demilitarize crisis in four concrete ways: (1) Spatially by banning gunmen from entering practice spaces, (2) Interpersonally by attending to impacts of militarism on peoples' bodies and options, (3) Internally by attending to the needs of fellow medics and challenging the emergence of machismo, authoritarian practices, and fear-mongering among street medics, (4) Publicly through education, testimony, and consulting with institutional partners to break down inaccurate perceptions of danger. We describe these street medic practices upon arrival on scene, during growth of provisional structures, and upon dissolution of mobilizations.

Street medics let their hearts and minds be won as they checked homes and refilled medications for apartment-bound seniors in NYCHA housing after Sandy. Within relationships of mutual accountability, street medics were safe, barriers to basic care lowered, and the presence of street medics helped people move forward politically. This presentation offers a window into the militarization of crisis and its partial demilitarization by grassroots reli

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss practices consistent with street medic mobilizations.
  • Describe grassroots relief in Hurricane Sandy's aftermath.
  • Identify militarizing and counter-militarizing emergency response practices.


Disasters, Community-Based Partnership & Collaboration

Author/Presenter: A. Grace Keller, NC-CNA

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have worked with street medics since 2002 in social crises including Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. I dispatched and debriefed street medics in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and dispatched and trained street medics in Saint Louis County after the killing of Mike Brown. I have done self-funded research on street medics and have advised research by undergraduate and graduate students on street medics, their practices, and their political commitments.

Any relevant financial relationships? No

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