Newswise — It has been five years since Hurricane Sandy claimed the lives of more than a hundred people and upended the lives of millions more along the mid-Atlantic coast. Today, people are still rebuilding their worlds—literally and figuratively. Although there is little that can be done to heal the wounds Sandy has caused, the lessons we have learned from a storm so personal to us endure.

After the storm, New York City called upon the Rutgers School of Public Health to train residents on ways to safely deal with the aftermath. Dr. Mitchel Rosen, director of the Center for Public Health Workforce Development, created a program that educated thousands of New York City residents on ways to safely clean out and remove mold. Later, the training was implemented for hurricane response and recovery in New Jersey.

Hurricane Sandy reminded New Jerseyans that even though these storms are far from common in this area, when they make landfall here, they do so with vengeance. Even worse, damage from rain and wind is only the first of many hazards to befall an area in the wake of a storm; risks continue well into the cleanup process. Mold remediation is crucial; other threats, like airborne toxins and fallen power lines, create hidden risks that are easy to overlook. The risk factors can live on for a long time after the weather clears. The aftermath of Sandy created hazards that continued to claim lives even a month after the storm had dissipated.

What we learned from Hurricane Sandy continues to be more relevant than ever. Following Hurricane Harvey, Rosen and his colleagues traveled to the Houston area to teach workers how to stay safe as they rebuild their lives. In ideal situations, various controls are used to mitigate risks—but storm cleanup is hardly ideal, and by its nature, the presence of hazards is the very reason for the work people do. Rosen notes, “In storm response you can’t engineer the hazards out—training will give those cleaning up the knowledge and skills to protect themselves. We cannot reach everyone, but if those we train can take this knowledge and pass it on, it has a chance to ripple throughout impacted communities.”

As we reflect on the heartaches Hurricane Sandy caused five years ago, we find some comfort in that the lessons we learned help others prepare for and react to these events. We are not able to prevent storms like Sandy, but we can help our neighbors remain safe as they put their lives back together.

Mitchel A. Rosen, Ph.D., serves as Director of the Center for Public Health Workforce Development at the Rutgers School of Public Health.