Editorial: Sandy lesson -- evacuation isn't optional
Brace yourselves, New Yorkers. Hurricane season starts on Saturday and will run through Nov. 30.
If you were thinking that maybe the East Coast has earned itself a respite from scenes of floating rooftops, flooded basements, toppled trees and horizontal power poles given our recent travails . . . well . . . think again.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting between seven and 11 hurricanes this season, including three to six major ones that could include wind speeds higher than 111 mph. To fully grasp that figure, recall that superstorm Sandy hit us with speeds of up to 95 mph.
For its part, the Bloomberg administration is heralding the season with a report that scrutinizes the city's response to Sandy and proposes ways to better insulate low-lying areas -- from the Rockaways to lower Manhattan to Staten Island -- against extreme weather.
Among its findings:
The city should expand the number of high-risk flood zones from three to six. Given Sandy's swath of destruction beyond the current zones, that's a smart way to get more information to another 640,000 New Yorkers.
For health care facilities in vulnerable areas, the city should set up protocols with other institutions to avoid last-minute evacuations to medical shelters. And officials should build a tracking system so they know the whereabouts of every patient at all times.
These reforms are especially crucial. While the city did manage to evacuate 6,300 patients from harm's way as Sandy raged -- without a single fatality -- that success might have been as much luck as competence. The city should never have to mount such a ragtag operation again.
At the same time, the report steps around a humongous -- yet critical -- question: How can the city persuade more residents in high-risk zones to vacate? The evacuation rate during Sandy in key areas was just 33 percent.
Violations of mayoral orders are misdemeanors, but it makes little sense to arrest violators in a storm. Persuasion and communications are the key. But who can make those techniques work? The problem is begging for solutions.