More Areas Covered After Sandy’s Wrath
Changes to the city’s coastal evacuation maps will be coming next month as a result of findings in the city’s report on its preparation and response to Hurricane Sandy last October.
The city released last Friday, May 3, its “after-action” report on Hurricane Sandy, which included an examination of its handling of the October “superstorm” that flooded out coastal areas, wreaked havoc on the public transportation system, damaged major medical facilities and public housing projects and brought the city to a virtual standstill for several days.
One of the main recommendations in the report is about to be implemented, as the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is in the process of drafting new coastal evacuation maps that will not only expand the regions of the city considered most flood-prone, but also “provide more flexibility in targeting areas to evacuate” in advance of a hurricane or another major coastal storm, according to the city.
Presently, the city’s evacuation maps divides the coastal areas into three zones-A, B and C-deemed the most vulnerable to coastal flooding based on projections by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sea, Lake and Overland Surge maps.
During Hurricane Sandy, a mandatory evacuation of Zone A-which included all of the Rockaways and Broad Channel-was ordered, though many residents in the area failed to heed the order. However, in addition to flooding out Zone A areas, Sandy’s storm surge also brought damaging floods to neighborhoods in Zone B-such as Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach- which was not issued an evacuation order, as it was not expected to flood.
The new OEM evacuation maps, scheduled to be released in June, will slightly expand the coastal region and be divided into six separate, numbered zones.
The creation of the new evacuation maps is one of a number of recommendations in the after-action report currently being implemented as the start of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1 approaches. In all, 59 recommendations in six categories- communications, general and healthcare facility evacuations, public safety, general and special medical needs sheltering, response and recovery logistics and community recovery services-were made in order to improve the city’s response to future natural disasters.
“This after-action report makes clear that as well as the city performed, we can always do better,” Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway said in announcing the report’s release last Friday. “We will take the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy and strengthen the city’s capacity to respond to future emergencies.”
“Hurricane Sandy was a natural disaster unlike any New York City has experienced, and the city responded in kind, with a massive evacuation effort and rapid disaster recovery,” added Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs. “But we know there are always ways to improve and this afteraction evaluation has identified key steps we can take to further enhance our ability to more effectively assist New Yorkers.”
Hurricane Sandy may have made landfall south of Atlantic City, N.J. on the night of Oct. 29, 2012, but the storm sent winds of up to 90 mph and a storm surge of up to 13 feet across New York City. In advance of the storm, the city’s transportation system was shut down, schools were closed and residents living outside the evacuation zone were advised to stay indoors while Sandy barreled through the Northeastern U.S.
Damages from the storm exceeded what many previously believed was the worst case scenario. Thousands of homes in the Rockaways and on the Staten Island shore were destroyed. Subway and vehicle tunnels were flooded with millions of gallons of water. High-rise buildings, including hospitals and public housing complexes, were severely impacted by power outages.
The after-action report found that, at the height of the storm, the city’s 911 system received 20,000 calls per hour. The city’s 311 hotline remained operational to receive reports of power outages and fallen trees, but callers experienced long wait times.
Many in the city relied on social media to get information from the government, the report noted. The city’s website, www.nyc.gov, received four million visitors and 16 million views. The city also kept residents updated through social networking sites such as Twitter.
In the immediate aftermath of Sandy, the city-along with local and national charities-delivered over three million meals to victims most affected by the “superstorm.” The Sanitation Department cleared out more than 700,000 tons of debris. With the support of more than $1.77 billion in federal funding, the city also launched the “Rapid Repairs” program to swiftly repair damaged dwellings and return more than 20,000 families in the disaster area to their homes quickly.
Among the recommendations listed in the after-action report on where the city can improve its disaster response include the following:
– make investments to the city’s 311 hotline to reduce wait times;
– formalize and expand updates to elected officials and community groups to keep them abreast of the latest news;
– compel hospitals to develop emergency plans and have adequate backup power supplies (this action will require the assistance of the state Department of Health);
– purchase new life-saving rescue equipment for the Police and Fire Departments;
– develop alternative power for traffic signals and street lights to keep them operational during a major weather event;
– educate the public on the proper use of the 311 and 911 hotlines;
– develop plans to hasten the restoration of power in apartment buildings and public housing complexes;
– improve and expand generator inspections to make sure the devices are functioning properly;
– alter the coastal shelter storm plan to allow for locations to operate for extended periods;
– develop a plan to rapidly transition storm victims from shelters to medium-term occupancy residences; and
– work with the state Health Department on improving evacuation of areas and educating the public on creating shelter-in-place plans.
The full report can be found online at www.nyc.gov.