State Report: ‘Serious And Significant Questions’ About Evacuation Plans
The city’s plan to evacuate low-lying areas such as Rockaway is fatally flawed, according to a recent report by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, the chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions.
“Serious and significant questions regarding the City of New York’s, MTA’s and Port Authority’s evacuation plans need public review and discussion,” Brodsky says. “The decision by the Office of the Mayor to limit such discussion at this time is unwarranted and unhelpful in assuring that the plans and the public awareness of [those plans] is improved.”
Brodsky charges that the mayor refused to release any of the plans of the locations of the planned evacuation centers to the Assembly and that failure to be forthcoming limited his committee’s ability to do its job.
The Office of Emergency Management (OEM), has predicted that a Category 4 hurricane could force the evacuation of more than one million residents from such areas as Rockaway, Coney Island, large portions of Staten Island and Brooklyn. The agency estimates that up to 225,000 evacuees might seek shelter in city evacuation centers.
While the location of those centers remains unclear, the plan is for evacuees to get to local “Reception Centers,” where people could then register and be moved to the still-undisclosed evacuation centers.
he city has been divided into several “solar systems,” each with a reception center and several shelters for those who are unable to evacuate the city.
The reception centers for Rockaway are located at Brooklyn College (for those who live in the western end of the peninsula), Aqueduct Racetrack (for those in the central portion of the peninsula) and Belmont Racetrack (for those who live in the eastern end of the peninsula).
“To ensure the most efficient use of resources and to make necessary parking available, the City will ask evacuees seeking public shelter to report to a Reception Center,” OEM says in its plan.
While most people would be expected to get to the reception centers on their own, “special populations” such as the disabled, the poor and the elderly will be asked to use public transportation to get to the centers.
Everybody will then be transported by bus from the reception centers to the evacuation centers.
The Assembly’s report is skeptical of that plan, however.
“OEM’s reliance on public transportation obviously assumes the physical and timely availability of the system,” the report says. “OEM states that some subway and rail tunnels may flood during a storm.”
An earlier state report issued in early 2005, prior to Hurricane Katrina, states the problem more succinctly.
“The clogging of streets and public transportation facilities and the jamming of evacuation reception centers would be so great and occur so early that the condition would probably remedy itself. People would stop evacuating simply because they were unable to do so.”
OEM predicts that a quarter of the population would require public shelter because they could not evacuate the area on their own. In Rockaway, that means upwards of 25,000 people, mostly the poor and the elderly. A recent survey done by that agency, however, indicated that in an area such as Rockaway, that number might well be closer to 50,000.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that a Category 3 Hurricane could cause 30-foot storm surges and flood hundreds of miles of the coastline.
One prediction is that the flood could well inundate Rockaway and go all the way to the Belt Parkway.
In that case, experts say, most of the roads out of Rockaway would be both clogged and flooded up to 24 hours prior to the storm actually hitting the coastline.
The state report, however, says, “it is unclear from public documents that assumptions have been made about road use, road congestion and the amount of time needed for successful evacuations, except that the plan directs people to buses and trains running on their regular routes. The OEM relies heavily on the use of public transportation, arguing that that is the most efficient and effective way of moving people from flooded areas to higher ground.”
An OEM report says “In a coastal storm, [people should] plan to use mass transit as much as possible because it offers the fastest way to reach your destination.
The city advises against car travel during an evacuation.
The city will be working hard to keep the roads clear, but traffic is unavoidable in any evacuation. Driving will increase your risk of becoming stranded on a roadway during an evacuation.”
Local experts say, however, that one survey showed that more than 60 percent of those living in impact flood areas said that they would use their cars to evacuate because they considered public transportation to “be unreliable even in good times.”
The map accompanying this story comes from an OEM website.
The Wave attempted to get further information from the OEM site, but got continuous messages that said that the site was busy and to try again later.
In order to address some of the questions addressed in the report, City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, Jr., will host a meeting on preparedness at Beach Channel High School (1000 Beach Channel Drive) from 5 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, September 27.