Blizzard 2013 storm prep sharpened by experience in Katrina and Sandy
Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, American storm response has changed dramatically. The blizzard that swept across nine states in the Northeast US this weekend in many ways showed how.
(Page 3 of 3)
But it’s arguably at the local and city level where big storms like Katrina have been changing preparation dynamics the most. Preparedness has improved due to sharper, more data-backed responses from institutions and government, but also improved planning in cities like New York.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The blizzard of 2013
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Five years ago, New York embarked on a preparation plan called PLaNYC aimed at bolstering seaward defenses and improving data collection, sharing and usage among the city and other agencies. The plan helped to dampen the damage from hurricane Sandy, Daniel Doctoroff, its director, wrote in a recent op-ed.
PLaNYC’s projects, including helping FEMA improve its flooding and evacuation maps in vulnerable sections such as the Rockaways, had an impact on the preparations, and showed “what it takes to successfully prepare New York for the new normal: an ability to adapt to changing circumstances, to disrupt the status quo, to make connections and to envision a city prepared for whatever comes its way,” Mr. Doctoroff wrote.
Experienced US travelers, meanwhile, have seen practically a revolution in how airlines handle snow storms. But it wasn’t Katrina or Sandy that sparked the change, but the Valentine’s Day Snow Storm of 2007.
While many airlines made early cancellations, one in particular – JetBlue – was slow to react to likely airport closings. As a result, passengers sat on tarmacs for hours, and it took days for the airline to sort out the mess.
Sensitive to images of people stranded at airports, the industry took note. Since that storm, US airlines have updated their severe weather plans by reprogramming their systems to automatically cancel flights early so passengers won’t get stuck waiting out storms at airports. That system kicked into gear as the Blizzard of 2013 shut down transportation across New England.
Utilities, too, are trying to catch up to what’s been a succession of power-disrupting weather disasters. In some ways, utility companies have led the way for how institutions prepare: In Katrina and Sandy, for example, tens of thousands of out-of-town crews descended on the storm zone to help restore power.
But customer relations remained a struggle after Sandy, when utility websites crashed and left people in an information vacuum about when power would resume.
As the Blizzard of 2013 bore down on the coast, Jersey Central Power & Light spokesman Ron Morano told New Jersey’s Star-Ledger newspaper that the power company has made changes to its storm response protocol, in part by providing local officials with improved electric circuit maps and closing the gap between its liaisons and local disaster response centers.
“We’re prepared in the event there are significant outages to make calls to local officials to provide information,” Mr. Morano said.