OEM’s Commissioner Defends Rockaway’s Evacuation Plan
While many have criticized the plan for evacuation of the Rockaways in case of a hurricane, last week the commissioner of the Office of Emergency Management for New York City called it well thought-out and workable.
Joseph F. Bruno, OEM’s commissioner, addressed residents and local leaders at a Ready Rockaway summit held on April 22 at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
“Our program is built upon safe and secure sheltering, extensive evacuation and preparation, supplies located in our shelters, supplies located around the city and [centers and shelters] fully staffed [by] employees,” said Bruno.
Bruno did acknowledge that extra work goes into preparing Rockaway for a massive evacuation.
“It’s a challenge and it’s difficult and the topography makes it hard; makes it required that we do a little bit more preparedness here with the public. And it’s very important that the public follow the lead of city government when we tell you it’s time to go, go.”
Part of the problem locals have pointed to is the use of Belmont and Aqueduct Racetracks, where flooding is a major issue, as evacuation centers.
“Every one of those buildings that we will use for evacuation centers or shelters we know, we studied, we know how we could use them and we know the characterizations and we put in place all that needs to be put in place to give us the best shot we can to do the best job we can for this community and every other community there is,” said Bruno.
Additionally, the commissioner told The Wave that the two venues “would be places where people would go to and then be moved into shelters as we need to open up shelters. So those buildings are fine. There are parking lot areas that do flood. But the overall reason that we took those are they’re large enough to deal with the people we have to deal with and that we can move them from there [further in].”
He did agree that the two areas are prone to flooding, but said that evacuation is supposed to begin in response to the first warning, before the bad weather starts and becomes a problem. OEM shelters will be open shortly after the first warning.
As for getting everyone off the peninsula, Bruno said the OEM has worked with the NYPD and the Nassau County police department “to utilize roads into Nassau County, back into the city of New York for both Nassau residents and New York City residents.” He added that there will be contra flow on the two main bridges to allow for an orderly departure.
“For one, obviously if we move quickly enough and early enough it will be easy enough to evacuate … but we would give information to people early on and we would ask them to heed that information,” Bruno said. “And if we say it’s time to go to family and friends, that’s what they should do. The time that it will not work well is if everyone does what you just said – stay there, and wait and wait until the very end when [bad] weather is now hitting us and then it becomes very difficult. Then it becomes very dangerous not only for them, but for our first responders who help out. We have a very good plan. The people here understand it. The CERT team we work with here understands it, Ready Rockaway understands it and the elected officials understand it. That early warning is important. That’s built into our system. And heeding that warning is built in the system. And preparedness is built into the system.”