SuperstormsA 1978 NY state law requiring updated emergency preparedness plans largely ignored

Published 19 December 2012

In 1978, a New York state law was passed which required that annually updated plans for the restoration of vital services in the event of a major storm; in the three decades since, the law has been largely ignored due to tight budgets and politicians unwilling to prepare for a storm which may or may not hit

In 1978, a New York state law was passed which required  annually updated plans for the restoration of vital services in the event of a major storm. In the three decades since, the law has been largely ignored  due to tight budgets and politicians unwilling to prepare for a storm which may or may not hit. In the aftermath of Sandy, and the fact that  the gas shortage, lack of temporary housing, and the closing of commuter train tunnels had to be dealt with on the fly, costing the city days in the recovery process and billions of dollars, many say that that law and its requirements should be followed in the future.

I don’t know that anyone believed,” acknowledged New York governor. Andrew Cuomo. “We had never seen a storm like this. So it is very hard to anticipate something that you have never experienced.”

The Daily News reports that The law required a State Preparedness Commission to meet twice a year to create and update disaster plans. The law also mandated that plans be prepared for temporary housing  after a disaster as well as plans addressing sewage treatment, health facilities, food, water, energy, and fuel.

The concerns with the state and city readiness were brought up again a few years. In 2006 an assembly report warned that “It’s not a question of whether a strong hurricane will hit New York City, it’s just a question of when.”
Richard Brodsky, a former New York Democratic assemblyman who was chairman of the committee that created the 2006 report, said  administrations made improvements over the years, “But on two issues related to Sandy — prevention and recovery — they did almost nothing,” Brodsky told the Daily News. “If Goldman Sachs was smart enough to sandbag its building, why wasn’t the MTA smart enough to sandbag the Battery Tunnel?”

In 2010 a report to the legislature focused on the same warnings. “The combination of rising sea level, continuing climate change, and more development in high-risk areas has raised the level of New York’s vulnerability to coast storms. … The challenge is real, and sea level rise will progress regardless of New York’s response.”

The 1978 law touched on many of the factors that became significant after Sandy, but emergency plans were either not made or updated.. The storm highlighted new issues as well, according to former legislators.

What you’ve got here is a great number of consequences that were foreseeable, but unforeseen,” Brodsky told the Daily News. “Prevention is politically less sexy than disaster response.”

A  factor which is  in play today as it was in 1978 is the money. Both New York City and state were facing $1 billion deficits before the storm due to a slow economic recovery. In the aftermath of the storm, Cuomo has asked  the federal government for more than$40 million to cover immediate costs and to protect from future storms.

As your budget shrinks, the first thing that goes out the door is emergency management, the first thing,” Michael Balboni, New York’s disaster preparedness point man in the Republican-led Senate, and in the Democratic Spitzer administration, told the Daily News. “To take the 1978 law and really enable it, you need to put a ton of money behind it and there was no political will to do it.”

Now the city is moving to protect itself from the threat of a future storm. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would reassess building codes, evacuation zone boarders, flood-proofing, power, and transportation networks. The city will also organize an engineering analysis to decide whether levees, dunes, or other construction should be done to protect coastal neighborhoods.

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