Being Prepared for the Next Hurricane

It’s hard to believe that a year ago, we were in the throes of the post-Superstorm Sandy blackout. There was no electricity or heat, many residents lacked elevator service and running water (even cold water) and flushable toilets — and, just our luck, it was starting to get cold.

We survived, but it took a long time for things to return to normal. Things don’t just snap back like nothing happened. Many merchants and restaurants still haven’t fully recovered from the financial hit they took (and some of them have since closed their doors).

For our part, we unfortunately lost most of Chelsea Now’s archives when the surge poured into our Canal Street basement.

Our part of the city wasn’t slammed as hard by Sandy’s surge as places like Breezy Point or the Rockaways, where entire swaths of homes were obliterated by water and fire. But the loss of electrical power was crippling and dangerous. We pulled together, as communities do — and when electricity and heat came back on, we realized how deeply we depend on our utility services.

For this part of the city, the most important thing was for Con Ed to harden its East 14th Street plant against another abnormally large super-surge like Sandy’s. Sandy’s unexpectedly high waters had flooded the plant, and then Con Ed powered the facility down to keep from damaging it further, leaving us blacked-out south of the 30s.

It’s reassuring to see — in a video Con Ed recently posted on its Web site — that it has taken these steps. Important infrastructure has been raised higher off the ground, doors now have watertight seals, electrical conduit pipes have been filled with rubber sealant to waterproof them and the complex’s walls have been raised.

Another change Con Ed should consider, is making sure hospitals are on networks that don’t need to be shut down during emergencies. For example, Downtown Hospital was shut down when Con Ed powered down its East 14th Street plant.

Luckily, some area merchants who had generators (and many businesses just above the blackout zone) opened their doors to the community, letting people charge phones and use laptops. But Sandy also showed the need for an area hospital with its own generator, like St. Vincent’s.

We think Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for removable storm barriers along Lower Manhattan’s edge is a good idea. These would be set up on land and basically work as a large fence against the waters. For now, it’s a much cheaper alternative to full-on storm-surge barriers in the harbor.

Great work is being done by the Long-term Recovery Group; GOLES and Two Bridges are organizing to ensure future storms don’t cripple and imperil residents of high-rise public housing and low-income housing, as in Sandy. By now, we’ve all learned how we should have “go bags” ready, just in case.

We’re eager to hear more about the sustainable energy-powered WiFi-NY People’s Emergency Network that the Long-term Recovery Group is working on. In emergencies, communication is key.

Our new understanding of flood zones is also affecting discussion about Hudson River Park, development on piers and the waterfront and air rights transfers from the park. Everything is being reassessed.

When we interviewed Bill de Blasio before the primary election, he was open-minded about storm protection — but favored the more affordable natural barriers, like wetlands and dunes. De Blasio’s a very intelligent man, and we’re confident he’ll make the right choices for the city’s protection.

For now, we’re glad to know people are doing their best to make sure that, if another Sandy hits, we’ll be ready.