OEM & NYCHA Grilled By Council
The City Council held several hearings at City Hall last week to examine the response by agencies and authorities before, during and after Hurricane Sandy.
First, the Council met last Wednesday, Jan. 16, to examine emergency planning and management during and after Hurricane Sandy.
In her opening statement, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn stated, “From the brave first responders who risked their lives during the storm, to the volunteers who stepped up immediately and continue to give their time to help New Yorkers get back on their feet, we pulled together as a city and came to one another’s aid. As we continue the recovery and rebuilding efforts, we must determine what was done right so we can repeat those successes in the future, and what went wrong so we can take steps to prevent those mistakes from being made again.”
During the hearing, Quinn and Council members raised a number of concerns, including:
– Communication and coordination of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), city agencies and volunteers. The speaker and Council members examined the OEM’s coordination with other agencies, community partners and volunteers. OEM’s role and efforts in reporting conditions and damage, as well as in determining specific community needs, was also discussed.
Additionally, questions were raised regarding the coordination of volunteer efforts. While there were a significant number of volunteers available to the city post-Sandy, there was reported confusion regarding organization and direction of volunteer efforts on a citywide level.
– Difficulties faced by vulnerable populations during and after Sandy. A number of advocacy groups and local residents in affected areas have reported a lack of outreach to vulnerable populations. During a citywide emergency, specific and extra efforts are required in ensuring the needs of senior citizens, the medically frail, mentally disabled and others are met.
Outreach to these New Yorkers takes special care, but also reaches heightened levels of importance in the midst of disaster response.
– Challenges to the 911 and 311 systems. Operators were overwhelmed by the incredibly high call volume during the storm. As a result, 911 calls went unanswered or were directed to 311, which was also overwhelmed. As many as 200 to 300 people were on hold at a time on 311 lines, resulting in extraordinarily long wait times and delays in dispatching assistance.
In addition to Bloomberg administration officials, emergency responders, weather experts, various advocacy groups and 911 and 311 system operators testified at today’s hearing.
The following day, Thursday, Jan. 17, the City Council held an oversight hearing to examine the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) emergency planning procedures, response and tenant communication efforts before, during and after Hurricane Sandy.
“The damage incurred to the City’s public housing as a result of Sandy was far beyond anything we could have possibly imagined,” Quinn said in her opening statement. “The Council is greatly concerned that NYCHA was unable to relay upto date information to tenants and adequately identify and communicate issues in specific developments in the days and weeks following the storm.”
At the hearing, Quinn and Council members raised concerns about the housing authority’s protocols for addressing the needs of vulnerable populations and evaluated its communication and enforcement of mandatory evacuation zones.
Specifically, the Council focused on:
– Inadequate emergency procedures. Quinn and Council members raised concerns about NYCHA’s communication with residents and its enforcement of mandatory evacuation zones. Council members also questioned the steps that were taken to help assist residents once the mandatory evacuation order was given.
– Delays in restoration to heat and hot water. NYCHA residents in affected areas suffered prolonged power outages and loss of essential services. Additionally, many residents were stranded in their homes without access to food, water or medicine. These prolonged outages were particularly difficult on older and disabled residents, who were unable to navigate darkened stairwells in highrise buildings.
Had NYCHA arranged for temporary generators and boilers to be in place ahead of time, instead of scrambling to secure, transport and set up equipment after the storm, power could have been restored to residents sooner, the Council maintained.
– Coordination between NYCHA staff and volunteers. NYCHA underutilized social infrastructure strategy in its disaster planning. In the weeks following the storm, residents and community groups came together to help tenants. Council Members urged NYCHA to include resident networks and surrounding community areas as part of future relief efforts.
In addition to NYCHA officials, tenant organizations, legal service providers and volunteer organizations provided testimony to the Council on the challenges faced in the weeks following Hurricane Sandy.
The Council’s hearings will continue throughout the coming weeks. In total, 11 hearings will be held over the course of seven weeks by more than 20 Council committees.