Calls for N.Y.-N.J. Region 'Resiliency Czar' to Coordinate Post-Sandy Efforts
Seven months after last October's Superstorm Sandy drowned low-lying zones in the New York metropolitan area and hobbled different parts of the region for days, weeks or months, government advisers and industry groups continue to clamor for a pan-regional "resiliency czar" to coordinate efforts—at all levels of government—to boost the region's disaster resistance.
The groups are promoting grand and small plans to harden, replace or construct communities to better weather floods. Most of their recommended changes are not new concepts. The simpler ones are happening.
"The good news is that there is no lack of ideas and virtually everyone is responding to the effects of the storm," says Richard T. Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress (NYBC), which issued the report "Risk & Resiliency After Sandy" last month. "What's missing is a coordinating strategic vision for how the New York City area should respond in the long term," he adds.
NYBC is calling for New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to each designate a deputy to aid in systemwide coordination. "The deputies should survey and supplement any work performed by government entities and authorities tasked with studying infrastructure resilience, including the State Disaster Preparedness Commission and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority," says the 18-page report.
"They should work to improve interstate coordination—particularly between New York and New Jersey—to strengthen common road, rail, bridge and tunnel facilities and manage shared waterways," continues the report. The deputies would also oversee all aspects of emergency response coordination, including the procurement of construction services.
As for a resiliency czar, Anderson suggests reviving the Tri-State Regional Planning Commission, disbanded in 1982, to deal with infrastructure and land-use planning in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. "We lost the ability to think and act on a tristate basis," Anderson says. "They left us without any regional mechanism to respond to this storm."
Of late, post-Sandy studies—not all that well coordinated either—are coming forth from many corners. A 42-page report from the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY) also was published last month. It is called the "Post-Sandy Initiative: Building Better, Building Smarter: Opportunities for Design and Development." Both the NYBC and AIANY reports top a pile that also includes studies completed at the requests of either Cuomo or Bloomberg.
There is at least one more coming. Recommendations from the Building Resiliency Task Force, formed by the New York City Urban Green Council at the joint request of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Bloomberg are expected this month.
Though each report has its own agenda and suggestions—the simplest of which are already under implementation by specific agencies—all recognize the importance of regional coordination and its absence to date. "There is a disaster of different levels of government and some parts of the same government not talking to each other," says Mark Ginsberg, a principal of Curtis+Ginsberg Architects LLP and one of 150 designers and planners that crafted the AIANY report.
The 30-member NYS 2100 Commission established by Cuomo said in its January report that "improving coordination within and between levels of government also offers opportunities to minimize duplication and conflict among agencies, find areas of cooperation to make better use of taxpayer dollars and improve outcomes for citizens and communities."
The commission recommends the creation of a chief risk officer (CRO) to coordinate between different state agencies and neighboring municipalities. The move would help create the basis for an "all-hazards" approach to planning, investment and decision-making. The task force that produced the NYBC report backs this recommendation, but so far there is no CRO.
Another contentious issue raised by AIANY is that different government regulations do not always align. For example, while the New York City Zoning Resolution, the New York City Building Code, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) design standards and federal accessibility guidelines all address flooding somewhat, they are not coordinated and, at times, they contradict each other, says the AIANY report.
Multihazard Risk Assessment
The beating that power, transportation and water systems took in the Oct. 29, 2102, storm raised a chorus of calls for hardening of systems and construction of redundant facilities. The NYS 2100 Commission wants a multihazard risk assessment of the state's transportation infrastructure—identifying and prioritizing investment in assets vulnerable to extreme weather events, storm surge, sea-level rise and seismic events. In addition to protecting, upgrading and strengthening systems, the report suggests irreparable state facilities should not be replaced in kind. It also recommends the state develop scenario-planning capability "to explore policy options for guiding where to build, what to build and how to strengthen communities in areas of greatest risk."
The studies also call for transportation redundancy. In NYS 2100, there are recommendations for a new trans-Hudson tunnel connection, added capacity on the Long Island Rail Road's Main Line, expanded rail access to and from Manhattan with Metro-North Penn Station access and a bus rapid transit network.
NYBC endorses NYS 2100's expansion ideas. Additionally, NYBC supports development of a cross harbor freight-rail tunnel, a fourth major metro-region airport and a new bridge or tunnel between Long Island and Connecticut. Most of the ideas are not new.
Similarly, reports raise concerns about the resiliency of the region's power and telecommunications infrastructure. Though federal funds are flowing to harden transportation facilities and other infrastructure, private utilities are not receiving sufficient aid to bolster their systems, says the NYBC report.
"This is a top priority in New York City and yet federal funding is being directed to strengthen [other] infrastructure—none of it goes to private utilities," Anderson says, adding, "You can't put it all on Con Edison—there's only so much ratepayers can shoulder."
In New York City, the NYBC task force recommends numerous measures for hardening existing power infrastructure, including waterproofing conduits; elevating substations; changing location and insulation for all electrical switching stations; repositioning emergency generators in buildings; and preparing better connectors to these generators.
In addition, the task force calls for creating power redundancy and investing in new technologies such as distributed generation and smart-grid systems that boost electric-grid capacity and resiliency. Other suggested technologies include investing in micro-grids to isolate the location of outages; increasing the amount of underground lines, where possible; exploring additional long-range electricity transmission lines; accessing alternative wind-and-solar-generation sites; and establishing additional interconnections between major power grids
The "New York City Hurricane Sandy After-Action Report," released in May, notes that "significant steps can be taken to strengthen the city's capacity to more quickly respond to the massive power outages that residents and businesses faced following the storm."
The city recommends developing a comprehensive plan to expedite power restoration to multifamily public and private housing. Alternative power for traffic and street lights would help ensure that traffic flow and safety are not compromised during a utility outage.
Power didn't return to all the city's wastewater treatment facilities until Nov. 10, nearly two weeks after the Oct. 29 storm. By then, more than 1.6 billion gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage overflowed from the city's plants. The NYBC task force recommends establishing natural-gas back-up power systems for treatment plants. Hardening by protecting equipment is advised, in addition to inventory standardization and flow tipping between plants to improve stormwater capture.
Both NYS 2100 and NYBC reports support assessing the feasibility of storm surge barriers in New York Harbor. Additionally, NYBC suggests installing barriers around buildings and floodgates. "All floodwater need not be kept out of a building as long as the majority of the water is curtailed until the tide subsides and/or the storm ends," says the report.