What If We Had To Evacuate?
What If We Had To Evacuate?
City Answers Weiner, Meeks
By Brian Magoolaghan
ore than a week before Hurricane Isabel became a concern for New Yorkers the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) was tracking the storm, touring Rockaway, and meeting with local representatives, according to the agency’s commissioner.
"We do in fact have a coastal preparedness plan for Rockaway," said OEM Commissioner John Odermatt. The plan was formulated over a six-year period, and provides for the infirmed, people with special needs – even pets, he said.
Odermatt spoke to The Wave this week – and answered criticism from Queens Congressmen Anthony Weiner and Gregory Meeks, and others, who alleged that the city is unprepared for a Rockaway evacuation.
Odermatt said the decision to evacuate part of, or the entire peninsula, in a weather related scenario, would be made over a course of several days of closely monitoring a storm. "It’s a 72-hour decision," Odermatt said. "We’re not going to want people [off the peninsula] in an hour."
As Isabel was threatening the northeast coast, OEM was designating and staffing shelters, Odermatt said. He also had meetings with Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, Jr.
Addabbo said he did review OEM’s plans, and suggested the establishment of local shelters, in addition to those located off-peninsula. Addabbo and Odermatt both said they would be meeting in about a week to further discuss the issue. Odermatt cautioned that it could be difficult to get supplies to residents weathering out a disaster in a Rockaway shelter.
Congressmen Meeks and Weiner held a joint press conference this week, at Beach 126 Street, accusing OEM of failing to make important improvements suggested back in 1998. Among the recommendations: change and clearly post evacuation routes, install an evacuation siren, and keep the public informed. The congressmen gave OEM failing grades in all but one category – installation of tidal gauges.
"All these years later the city is woefully unprepared," Weiner said. He cited the "narrow" Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial and Cross Bay bridges, and said, "The Belt Parkway is completely jammed – on a sunny day."
September 11 "should have been a wake-up call for all sorts of emergencies," Meeks said. "Before next hurricane season, lets get people from OEM out here."
Odermatt said those comments infuriated him. He told The Wave Meeks should have been aware of his agency’s efforts, because he visited OEM headquarters this year, and was given a presentation by the staff. Odermatt called their press conference "a disservice" and countered that Meeks and Weiner blew a chance to inform the public.
Odermatt acknowledged that better coastal evacuation signage is needed in Rockaway, and said those signs should be installed in the coming weeks. He said the installation of an evac siren was unlikely. A peninsula-wide evacuation would be a very rare occurrence, so people would not be familiar with that type of alert system.
The public can find out more about flood zones and evacuation plans by calling 311, or by visiting www.NYC.gov and choosing "Emergency Management" in the city agencies section.