City's Hurricane Plan Presented To Capacity Crowd
The Office of Emergency Management presented its beefed-up hurricane evacuation plan to a capacity crowd in Rockaway Tuesday night, and while the agency was praised for its recent focus on this area, a new issue has the board members and Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. concerned.
The issue surfaced when Pat Hopkins, a worker at the Rockaway Water Pollution Control Plant who signed up to address the board, said the plant's plan is to "shut the gates, shut off the pumps and leave." That could put sewage in people's homes and into storm floodwaters, causing disease and death, he said.
OEM Director of Plan Management Maryann Marrocolo said her agency isn't sure how it's going to handle the plant and others like it, which are operated by the Department of Environmental Protection.
"We recognize it's an issue and we're working with DEP," Marrocolo said. DEP will soon assign a part-time staff person one day a week to work with OEM, she told the crowd.
Marrocolo's response brought scrutiny from board members Al Moore and Vincent Castellano and prompted Addabbo to say this after the meeting: "We have a DEP plant here that doesn't know what to do - that's scary."
Addabbo said he would immediately write a letter to DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd, to express his concern. Jonathan Gaska, the district manager of Community Board 14, also said OEM's "answers were unacceptable," and that the board would be contacting OEM and Mayor Bloomberg. But despite that new worry, Gaska said OEM's plan is "180 degrees" from where it was just six months ago.
OEM's presentation, which drew about 100 members of the public to the Knights of Columbus hall - the largest audience since the vote on Arverne by the Sea took place, covered the basics from what the agency does to what a hurricane is, and it also detailed how the agency has increased the city's shelter capacity under Commissioner Joseph Bruno's leadership.
In the event of an evacuation, people who can't shelter with friends or relatives outside the evacuation zone will be directed to evacuation centers and then to hurricane shelters. The number of evac centers has been increased from 23 to 65; the number of hurricane shelters has grown from 100 to 511.
Marrocolo and OEM Initiatives Coordinator Lynda Marmara repeated the OEM themes that could save lives: Find out if you live in a hurricane zone (Rockaway and Broad Channel fall into either high or moderate risk areas). Prepare a plan. Know where to go if you have to evacuate. Heed the warning if you're told to leave.
"The most important decision you're going to make during a hurricane is the decision to evacuate when we tell you to do so," Marrocolo said. She also made several comments that suggest OEM has been listening to what's on people's minds here.
"I know a lot of streets flood here, even in a small rain," she said addressing Rockaway and Broad Channel's vulnerability. On the subject of people's reluctance to leave their homes she said, "Nobody's going to want to evacuate in August when it's sunny outside." Police, Fire and other emergency workers would "stay until the last possible moment and be the first ones back." Marrocolo also acknowledged the upcoming construction projects on the Cross Bay and Marine Parkway bridges and said lane reversals and traffic control by police could be implemented. She said nursing homes and hospitals would be evacuated, with supervision by the fire department, "much earlier than the general public."
Following the presentation, Dan Mundy, the board's Public Safety Committee chair, said OEM should be applauded for its recent planning work. "It's not perfect, it needs fine tuning, but it's a plan," he said. "They've gotten the message from Rockaway and Broad Channel."
In January, Marracolo spoke at a community board meeting where she faced harsh criticism from board members and the public. "The board was angry with [OEM] in January," Gaska recalled. But a recent focus on Rockaway, including subsequent meetings with board members and other local groups, has helped change that.
Comparing her visit this week to the one in January, Marrocolo said, "I think it was much better, and I think it's because we've done a lot of work with the community,"
For more information about OEM or hurricanes, call 311 or go to www .NYC.gov.oem