'Above normal' hurricane season coming. Is New York ready for another Sandy?
It’s been less than 10 months since hurricane Sandy sent surges of flooding saltwater into city streets and tunnels, and New York is still cleaning up – and mostly in the discussion phase about how to be better prepared.
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In June, Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined a massive and far-reaching series of steps the city could take to protect itself from the threat of rising sea levels – as well as the kind of storm surge seen last October. The 438-page report had over 250 recommendations, including systems of levees and flood walls and long-range improvements to the city’s infrastructure – a $20 billion plan Mayor Bloomberg himself called “incredibly ambitious.”Skip to next paragraph
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“You have to realize that we're only 9 to 10 months since this all happened, and the universe of New York City can’t change that quickly,” says Dan Wurtzel, president of property management at FirstService Residential New York, which oversees about 600 residential apartment buildings in the city. Nearly 50 were damaged and 75 more lost power in last October’s storm.
But the city has been doing smaller, less-ambitious preparations, such as shoring up its beaches with higher sand dunes, revamping its evacuation zones for more efficient first responses, and restocking emergency supplies for city-wide emergency shelters.
And as the city rebuilds, officials are writing new codes for more hurricane-resistant buildings – especially for older structures. Mr. Wurtzel explains, “If your building is located in a flood zone, you may have to relocate your equipment above the ground floor, or you’ll have to put it in a watertight room. These are things that will probably come into effect, if they haven’t already done so.”
Yet experts continue to say that informing people how to prepare themselves remains a key part of hurricane preparation.
“Last year people had no idea in the Northeast that there is such a thing as a hurricane season,” says Alan Rubin, a New York-based government relations specialist with Cozen O'Connor law firm. “So at least now there’s information about it.... I think [the Bloomberg administration] has done a very good job in letting people know the hurricane season is here, what they should do, and people are paying attention to it.” [Editor's note: The original version of this story said Cozen O'Connor is based in New York. It is based in Philadelphia with offices in New York.]
But Mr. Rubin, also a former vice president with the Miami-Dade Economic Development Agency, where he led major reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, believes that in addition to stockpiling electrical generators, water, and ready-to-eat food supplies, the city should also have a more decentralized structure to deal with the fog of emergency situations.
“We should have command centers in the boroughs that are independent of a central command center, because sometimes those communications are damaged," he says. “You should also be dealing with the utility companies, to make sure that they have set up a separate command center for first responders.”
In the end, however, New York may be at the mercy of Mother Nature this summer. “They took real steps before Sandy last year,” says Wurtzel. “Then the storm hit and it was a mess afterwards."
“The fact remains, if you live near water, and you get a bad storm, you’re going to feel those effects,” he continues. “There’s not much you can do to prevent the water from coming up, and we have to recognize the fact that we may be prone to a very strong hurricane that inflicts damage.”
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