After 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, it became obvious that New York City’s vulnerable subway system was way overdue for upgrades that would prevent it from being crippled by severe weather. Although many ideas have been put forth as viable options for protecting the subway from flooding, it looks like one man may be leading the way to a possible solution. In an interview with The Guardian’s Lilah Raptopoulos, long-term MTA employee John O’Grady explained some of the city’s new anti-flooding strategies and how effective they might be at protecting the transportation system during future storms.



hurricane sandy, resilient design, new york city, public transit, metropolitain transit authority, public transit suspended, subway flooding, 1 train, metro north flooded, LIRR Yards flooding, airports closed, regional transit, communter tunnels, hurricane damage, hurricane safety, hurricane travel, frankenstorm

Mr. O’Grady is currently manager of the New York MTA’s infrastructure and facilities projects. In his 26 years of working for the city, he’s learned the intricate subway system like the back of his hand, and furthered his knowledge even more after extreme events like the flash floods of 2007 and Hurricane Sandy incapacitated the entire system for days.

Related: Could These Giant Plugs Have Prevented NYC Subways from Flooding During Hurricane Sandy?

Once the MTA realized that a long-term flood prevention strategy was needed for the city’s underground network, O’Grady was a natural choice to head up the new department. According to O’Grady, the city’s flood prevention strategy is focused on resilient design, working with the natural elements versus trying in vain to prevent them. “We can’t stop a hurricane,” he said. “What we can do is protect the transit infrastructure, because our system can’t go down for a couple weeks. We need to start moving the city again as soon as the storm has passed. And to do that, we have to make sure the yards don’t flood, that under-river tunnels don’t flood, that stations don’t flood, etc. ”

As part of the resilient design plan for the subway system, O’Grady explains that the key to keeping the water out is knowing where water enters the system during a storm. By flood mapping the underground system, the MTA infrastructure team is able to identify vulnerable entryways, referred to as assets. For example, the venting bays on the sidewalks that allow for natural ventilation between the subway and the street above create vulnerable points of entry in floodprone areas. Just like with manholes, equipment hatches, and emergency exits, water flows into these entryways at a rapid pace during severe weather episodes, causing massive flooding and subsequently causing mayhem for the subway system.

Related: Climate Change May Actually Steer Future Superstorms Away from NYC But Flooding Remains an Issue

To combat this problem, a special vent bay with a bottomless box is being considered. The bays allow air flow during the day and at night, but can be closed at the bottom by releasing a pin in case of heavy periods of rain. Additionally, flexible, hi-tech curtain panels that would horizontally cover station staircases are being developed, and could allow the MTA to quickly close off points of entry, prohibiting large quantities of water from flooding the system.

Of course, many of these ideas are still in the planning stage, which, like with many city projects, can seem eternal. However, O’Grady explains that a slew of projects for lower Manhattan will be awarded over the next few months and under could be under construction in the next year or so. When asked what would happen if another super storm were to hit the city tomorrow, he responded, “In the end, I’m certainly expecting to get this work into place before another Sandy-type event. But it does concern me.”

This interview is part of The Guardian’s Stormproofing the City series.

+ MTA

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Imgur