2006-01-20 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

By Vince Castallano


Vince CastallanoVince Castallano Let me start by saying that I am not an expert about storms, flooding or emergency preparedness in Rockaway, but I am a very logical thinker with a pretty good bull— detector.

The presentation at the last community board meeting by the city’s Office of Emergency Management about coastal storm emergency response was an enormous waste of time for the 100 or so people in the room.

The city’s plan for Rockaway in a coastal storm is very simple, GET OUT NOW. It’s only virtue is the simplicity, which makes it easy for the intellectual midgets at city hall to remember. It also provides the perfect excuse to avoid any real planning, any real thought or spend any real money.

My objection to the city’s plan is very simple. The city will demand evacuation in the smallest hurricane (which they could not define for me in terms of wind speed or storm surge) and they will demand that we all leave 48 to 72 hours in advance of the storm’s landfall. Do you have any idea what the weather is like 48 hours before a storm? It is beautiful. Blue skies, moderate surf and a brisk breeze. There will be traffic jams because of all the surfers jumping into the ocean at Beach 90th St. And the rest of us will be on the boardwalk watching them. People will not evacuate under such conditions. Instead we will be walking on the beach marveling at the power and majesty of Mother Nature.

Secondly, the accuracy of weather forecasting is such that you can predict very little 48 to 72 hours in advance, especially the time and place of a hurricane making landfall and it’s strength at that time. Did you ever consider the political consequences to ANY mayor who orders a police enforced evacuation but then the storm hits Montauk instead of Rockaway? I don’t think such a mayor will have to worry about term limits and that is why no mayor will demand evacuation until it is too late.

And finally, assuming the city did order a police enforced evacuation under the mayor’s policy that “we will leave no one behind” have they considered the problem of looting? I am ready to believe that the people of Rockaway would never steal from each other (unlike the people of New Orleans), but we all know those Brooklyn kids will be over here stealing our microwaves, toasters and clock radios.

The evacuation plan is a sham. But it is an excellent excuse to avoid spending money where it will do some good.

The only part of the boring, ill-informed presentation that was useful was a short discussion about emergency equipment needs in Rockaway. Emergency generators for police and firehouses, boats, exposure suits, and all the other stuff we needed during the Nor’Easter of 1992 and didn’t have. There is even a report about emergency equipment needed in that storm that was forgotten before the ink dried. The administration’s support for spending the money to place such equipment here is halfhearted at best.

Several of my colleagues on Community Board 14 made some excellent points which show greater insight than the city can offer at this point in time. It also showed that the city made a horrible mistake in creating an emergency plan for Rockaway with nerds in an ivory tower without talking to anybody in Rockaway (some things never change).

Dr. David made the point that Beach 35 Street and Broad Channel flood quite easily and that makes much of Rockaway an island. So if any emergency equipment is going to be useful it must be here before the famous 48-72 hours before the storm hits. Dan Mundy said there is equipment in Jamaica Bay where the city can measure the depth of the water in real time. Jeff Cohen made a number of excellent points but the one that seemed so obvious yet ignored by everyone was if the city is going to demand an evacuation (and most of us will leave by car, even though the city seems to think the A train will be our savior) have they considered how they were going to get more gasoline to the gas stations?

But the best comment was by Al Moore who said the pumps at the water pollution control plant will work in all kinds of weather, but they will not work if they are under water, so at some point you won’t be able to flush.

That’s when I am leaving.

Vince Castallano is the proprietor of Picture Perfect Properties and a long-time member of Community Board 14.

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