UPDATE: Hurricane Brodsky

newyorkhurricane UPDATE: Hurricane Brodsky
Blow, Richard, Blow!

In the event of a major hurricane, the city’s unprepared to evacuate, according to a report released today in Albany.

Of course, it’s always difficult to tell whether these reports are fact-finding or political documents. Still, some of the findings are a bit discomfiting:

The Plan does not address the length of time it will actually take to evacuate residents.
The Plan fails to address traffic congestion problem. The City has not completed traffic congestion studies, largely because it has run out of money to do so, the Plan ignores the consequences of “self-evacuation” and its effect on traffic congestion, the Plan’s call to “phase” the evacuation will not work, and the Plan does not analyze how severe weather, including flooding could make subways, bridges, and tunnels inoperable and lead to traffic congestion problems.
The Plan does not clearly establish evacuation responsibilities among agencies, authorities, and employees which may lead to confusion and significant lapses in the evacuation effort.

UPDATE: Jared Bernstein over at O.E.M. called to point out that the evacuation plan Brodsky and company are critiquing is a year old now. “It’s in the middle of getting a top-to-bottom review and revision,” Bernstein said. He said a lot of the Assembly’s criticisms are being dealt with in the revised plan, which came about mostly in response to 2005’s deadly hurricane season.

Bernstein’s obligatory political swat: “Putting out a study like this, It’s like saying last year’s milk is spoiled.”

Richard Brodsky’s full smackdown of the Office of Emergency Management after the jump.

For Immediate Release:
Thursday, March 23, 2006

For More Information Contact:
Francesca Alesi of Assemblyman
Brodsky’s Office at (518) 455-5753

Study of New York City Hurricane Evacuation Plan
Shows that Residents are in Danger

City’s Plan Unable to Successfully Evacuate Residents

The Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions today released a detailed Final Report on New York City’s emergency response and evacuation plans in the event of a hurricane strike. The Committee, which is chaired by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), has conducted a six month review of evacuation plans prepared by the City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and other government agencies responsible for emergency planning. Assemblyman Brodsky was joined today by Assemblymembers Audrey Pheffer (D-Queens) and Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn), as well as New York City Council Member John Liu.

After a detailed review and six-month study, including public hearings and issuing subpoenas for key documents, the Committee found that the City’s evacuation plan would be unable to protect the life, safety, and property of the City’s residents. The Final Report’s findings include:

The Plan relies on a cumbersome two-tiered shelter system that forces residents to go to a reception center before proceeding to a shelter. A substantial amount of residents would not even follow this system, which creates significant transportation problems.
The Plan does not identify sufficient shelter space and reception areas for evacuating residents. There could be millions of New York City residents seeking shelter that are not able to obtain it.
The Plan is completely unable to evacuate special populations, such as nursing homes and hospitals. Some institutions do not have any weather-related evacuation plans in place and those that do have plans are inadequate.
Many residents would not know what to do in the event of an evacuation. The public education component of the Plan has failed because it lacks adequate funding, does not account for language diversity, and the City has not educated residents about evacuation routes. For example, an Army Corps of Engineers survey found that 85% of its respondents had never seen the City’s outreach guide.
The Plan does not address the length of time it will actually take to evacuate residents.
The Plan fails to address traffic congestion problem. The City has not completed traffic congestion studies, largely because it has run out of money to do so, the Plan ignores the consequences of “self-evacuation” and its effect on traffic congestion, the Plan’s call to “phase” the evacuation will not work, and the Plan does not analyze how severe weather, including flooding could make subways, bridges, and tunnels inoperable and lead to traffic congestion problems.
The Plan does not clearly establish evacuation responsibilities among agencies, authorities, and employees which may lead to confusion and significant lapses in the evacuation effort.
Assemblyman Brodsky said, “Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call to remind us of how truly vulnerable we are, especially the poor, the disabled, and minority communities. Experts have recently stated that the Northeast is due a major hurricane in the near future and the City is simply not prepared. I’m glad the City has begun good faith efforts to improve the plan, but their plan will not protect the health, safety and property of the residents of New York.”

New York City is the third most vulnerable major city to a hurricane, behind only New Orleans and Miami. New York has been hit by 11 hurricanes in the last 120 years, and is hit by a Category 3 hurricane (which would cause tremendous flooding and damage to property) on average every 80 years. The last Category 3 hurricane struck 68 years ago. Earlier this week, forecasters at the AccuWeather Hurricane Center warned that the Northeast will almost certainly be hit by a major hurricane within 10 years.

Assemblywoman Pheffer said, “New York City has obviously failed to provide my coastal community with a comprehensive plan that adequately addresses our unique needs.” Assemblywoman Pheffer represents the Rockaways which are especially vulnerable to storm surge flooding.

“Even though OEM is improving its evacuation plan, there are still major flaws that urgently need to be addressed in order for the City to be prepared in the event of a hurricane and be able to protect its residents,” said Assemblyman Cymbrowitz.

New York City Council Member John C. Liu, Chairperson of the Transportation Committee stated, “Every building in New York City is required to have an evacuation plan and conduct drills to ensure safety. But what happens if a group of buildings or an entire city needs to be evacuated? Before Katrina, this scenario was inconceivable. Now, every elected official has a responsibility to ensure our City has a workable evacuation plan—one that includes adequate transportation options for all New Yorkers, especially our seniors and those will disabilities.”

Chairman Brodsky has introduced a comprehensive legislative package aimed at improving disaster preparedness plans in New York City and throughout the State. The legislative package includes:

Cooperative planning between institutions (e.g. hospitals and nursing homes) and local authorities to ensure that special populations are safely evacuated;
The legal requirement that cities use the best technology available to develop concise and accurate evacuation models;
Increased evacuation planning funding for localities;
A real public education component to release critical evacuation information to residents;
The development of a regional evacuation plan; and,
Adequate training of public employees and formalized roles and responsibilities by employees, agencies and authorities.
Chairman Brodsky has a long record of investigation into evacuation planning. Most notably in 2002, his Committee was the first to scrutinize the evacuation plans for the Indian Point Nuclear Facility.

Attachments include the Final Report, a PDF version of the press release, and a brief outline of the Committee’s major findings on New York City’s evacuation plan.

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