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Joe Bruno reflects on decade as city's OEM commissioner

New York City's Office of Emergency Management (OEM)

New York City's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Commissioner Joseph Bruno shows a prototype of the 'Know Your Zone' coffee cup during a news conference at OEM headquarters on Thursday, May 22, 2014. NOAA's National Ocean Service predicts that their will be 1 to 2 major hurricanes during the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

After a decade of guiding the city through trying times, particularly Superstorm Sandy, Joe Bruno will be stepping down as the commissioner of the city's Office of Emergency Management, he announced Thursday.

Bruno, whose last day is June 27, said the agency has come a long way from its days in 2004 when it was just 50 people operating out of a temporary space in Brooklyn. It has become a more reliable place to turn to during crisises.

Bruno said he's impressed at how his team -- now 188 members strong -- handled every emergency situation with an efficient, professional and evolving approach that's become respected worldwide.

"I think OEM at that time, people knew about it within the city, but the public didn't know much about us," said Bruno, 70. "Today ... we've solidified our position in city government and proven ourselves time and time again."

When Bruno, a former fire commissioner under the Koch administration, took office, he said Mayor Michael Bloomberg's top priority was to improve OEM's communication capabilities, especially after 9/11 when there was confusion among first responders.

Bruno helped develop the Crisis Information Management System, or CIMS, which set forth protocols that determined which agency would handle what job during every possible disaster situation that the city could face.

"It's been very, very successful and we ensured there has been no drop in communications," Bruno said.

Bruno said he also focused on getting the public involved with OEM's processes and worked to get the agency's name in the spotlight. Whether it meant creating new ads, apps or simply physically being at scenes of events -- like the Corey Lidle plane crash in 2006 or the 2008 crane collapse -- Bruno said he worked to give the public an recognizable image.

"I put ourselves prominently in the picture, so that the public went, 'Oh this is the agency, OEM,'" he said.

Bruno acknowledged that not every disaster or emergency was handled perfectly, but with each incident, the agency adapted and became better.

During Superstorm Sandy, for instance, Bruno said OEM changed how it handled keeping New Yorkers updated about the storm using the lessons it learned from Hurricane Irene the year before. OEM members put out pamphlets in all flood zones, created an interactive map for people to track online and updated phone apps to alert New Yorkers to the state of the flooding and electricity recovery during the Oct. 29, 2012, storm.

"Sandy was the most significant, biggest emergency we had and the one I think we did the best with," Bruno said.

The outgoing commissioner said the current administration is very much invested in improving the way the city handles disasters. On Wednesday, the mayor's office announced changes to the way it handles gas leaks and now all calls of potential leaks will go straight to the FDNY.

Bruno, who said he will be taking some time off and may consider a consulting or teaching gig in the future, advised his successor to keep an open line with the mayor and the other first-responding agencies. He added that his successor also should work closely with other emergency management groups in New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut and cities across the world to brainstorm new ideas.

"We're all fighting the same thing. It's like firefighters," he said, "they're fighting fires in England, Germany, everywhere. Sharing how to fight a fire is necessary."


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