A few weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, which struck in late October 2012, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a long press conference that addressed the immediate issues of relief and recovery efforts from the storm. But he also squarely addressed the implications of climate change for how New York, and Brooklyn, manage future climate-induced flood.
He noted that New York City has 520 miles of shoreline.
"We have to manage for risks, and we have to be able to better defend ourselves against extreme weather and natural disasters," in the future, said Bloomberg.
"We have to reexamine all of our major infrastructure in light of Sandy – and how we can adapt and modernize it in order to protect it," he added.
A welcome breath of fresh air, this address didn't seek to assign blame or laud heroes, to criticize the ongoing lack of electricity, heat and basic services in some areas, or investigate why certain nursing homes along Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue coast didn't get evacuated.
Hurricane Sandy Most Destructive New York Storm in Living MemoryHurricane Sandy devastated many of the city's most beloved beachfront areas: the Rockaways, Belle Harbor and Breezy Point in Queens, Staten Island and in Brooklyn, Coney Island, parts of Gerritsen Beach, East Williamsburg and Red Hook. The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel which connects lower Manhattan and Brooklyn also flooded, an unprecedented event.
The Mayor, in his third and final term, sought to map out some broad future directions for how New York needs to rethink our infrastructure, insurance and building code policies, and manage the expectations of the millions who live and work in the five boroughs.
"It’s fair to say that in the city’s long history, we’ve never had a storm like Sandy," observed the Mayor on December 6, 2012. "We’ve had storms with higher winds, but we’ve never had a storm that was like this one. Water levels at the Battery reached 14 feet; FEMA had estimated there was a less than a one percent chance of that happening." The Mayor estimated that about 200 homes had been destroyed by the storm, with another 500 severely damaged and in need of significant repair.
Mayor Bloomberg's Laundry List of Needs to Ensure NYC's Sustainability in Future Climate DisastersThe Mayor addressed both issues relating to the recovery from hurricane Sandy and also the need to plan ahead for a range of disastrous weather scenarios, including: category 2 hurricanes, record-breaking heat waves, and other natural disasters.
Among the many intertwined considerations:
For Hurricane Sandy
- It's reasonable to expect a storm surge recurrence: Sea levels are expected to rise by another two and a half feet in the next-half century, resulting in more powerful storm surges and more intense storms.
- Revise "evacuation zone" strategy: update what the city now deems evacuation zones to reflect the new reality of climate change and the city's vulnerability.
- Review hospital emergency electricity back up systems: One of the most surprising developments during Hurricane Sandy was the loss of power at several hospitals, causing immense strain on patients and hospital personnel. NYU Hospital, Bellevue, and Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn were all affected by electricity outages.
- Improved social service delivery under disaster conditions: Bloomberg has asked for a report by February 2013 on "how we can improve the way we mobilize and deploy resources and essential services before, during, and after a major disaster."
- Working with key private sector partners providing essential services: Con Ed, National Grid, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, Hess and others all play critical roles. In some cases, their performance could be improved over what occurred during Hurricane Sandy.
Review climate emergency needs of a variety of sectors: These include:
- public and private housing
- hospitals and schools
- businesses and nonprofits
- cultural institutions "like the New York Aquarium" which was flooded.
- Review building codes: in coastal areas, and review standards for flood protection.
- Consider new coastline protections for New York that would protect against a storm surge: berms, dunes, jetties and levees.
- Review of New York's major infrastructure networks: electricity, transportation, power, gas network, telecommunications and hospital networks.
- Incentivizing alternative and back up energy systems for hospitals and large buildings: such as co-generation systems to allow them to generate their own heat and power.
- Replacement of copper wiring with fiberoptics for reliable phone service.
- Public initiatives: such as "cool roofs" which are painted white to reduce summertime heat.
- Rapid Repair Teams: To assist in repair of the thousands of homes damaged by the storm, the City pulled together "Rapid Repair Teams", composed, the Mayor said, "of more than 1,600 skilled trades workers". This program will be reviewed.
- Develop and implement comprehensive post Hurricane Sandy "Community Recovery and Rebuilding" plans: An interdisciplinary task force of experts will oversee "concrete recovery plans for the communities Sandy hit hardest as well as a specific and comprehensive action plan to prepare our city for the climate risks we face."
Read the Mayor Michael Bloomberg's statement .