They say hindsight is 20/20, but what if we had been warned about Hurricane Sandy as far back as thirty years ago? A report by AP now shows that New York actually began working on new legislation to prepare for scenarios that seem strangely similar to what happened during Sandy all the way back 1978. Officials of yore even predicted flooded subway lines and massive coastal surges, and rightly assumed that the Rockaways peninsula would be most at risk. Yet, despite the 1978 law, which called for a regularly updated plan that would help to restore vital services to the city, it seems the state and city did not take the warnings about the superstorm as seriously as it should.
When asked how well state officials had prepared for Sandy, Governor Cuomo admitted that it was “not well enough” and that he didn’t “know that anyone believed…we had never seen a storm like this. So it is very hard to anticipate something that you have never experienced.” However, the resulting gasoline shortages, power outages, and transportation disruptions could possibly have been alleviated more quickly if a 1978 executive state law had been taken more seriously. The mandate required the state Disaster Preparedness Commission to meet twice a year in order to discuss what needed to be addressed after a storm such as temporary housing, fire prevention, sewage treatment, generation of power, and to ensure the continuation of basic services. Reports in 2005, 2006, and 2010 offered warnings that it was not a matter of whether a catastrophic storm would hit, but when.
While the Disaster Preparedness Commission actually did meet twice during some years, in others there are gaps in the record. Richard Brodsky, a former New York Democratic assemblyman and one of the authors of a 2006 report by the Commission urging action said that there have been some improvements to plans to evacuate the sick and household pets, “But on two issues related to Sandy — prevention and recovery — they did almost nothing. If Goldman Sachs was smart enough to sandbag its building, why wasn’t the MTA smart enough to sandbag the Battery Tunnel?”
Another hurdle faced by the government came from lack of funds, with the state facing $1 billion dollars in deficits as well as a sluggish economy before the storm. “As your budget shrinks, the first thing that goes out the door is emergency management, the first thing,” said Michael Balboni, New York’s disaster preparedness head from from 2001 to 2009. Currently, Gov. Cuomo is asking the federal government for $32 billion in emergency funds and an additional $9 billion for preventative measures.
Cuomo’s administration asserts that it demonstrated good planning in the past in light of lessons learned from tropical storms Irene and Lee during 2011. In the aftermath of the storms last year, they created three regional logistic centers and held a number of training exercises. Before Sandy, they also pre-positioned equipment and National Guard troops across the state. The city itself had also taken up some measures since 2000, including elevating buildings in flood zones and restoring wetlands to act as natural barriers. Even so, in the wake of the historical storm, Mayor Bloomberg said that they would have to reassess the city’s evacuation zone borders, building codes, transportation systems, and make sure hospitals are better equipped. He also added that they would do an engineering review to see whether or not they would need to build levees or other structures to protect the coastline.
Via USA Today