BY ELIZABETH COLUCCIO AND DENISE ROMANO
The City Council kicked off a series of hearings to examine the city’s response to Hurricane Sandy last week.
The Council will hold 11 hearings over the next seven weeks that will be heard by 20 different committees.
The hearing on January 16 assessed planning, response and recovery efforts before, during and after the storm. Emergency responders, weather experts, various advocacy groups and 9-1-1 and 3-1-1 systems operators were among those who testified.
“From the brave first responders who risked their lives during the storm, to the volunteers who stepped up immediately and continue to give their time to help New Yorkers get back on their feet, we pulled together as a city and came to one another’s aid,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn in her opening remarks. “As we continue the recovery and rebuilding efforts, we must determine what was done right so we can repeat those successes in the future, and what went wrong so we can take steps to prevent those mistakes from being made again.”
Councilmembers went over the Office of Emergency Management’s coordination with other agencies, community organizations and volunteers. Questions were raised regarding the coordination of volunteer efforts. While there are a large number available to the city after the storm, confusion was reported regarding the organization and direction of volunteer efforts on a citywide level.
Many advocacy and local residents in affected areas reported a “lack of outreach” to more vulnerable residents, such as the elderly, medically frail and mentally disabled.
9-1-1 and 3-1-1 system operators said they were “overwhelmed” by the high volume of calls during the storm. As a result, 9-1-1 calls went unanswered or were directed to 3-1-1, which was also inundated. As many as 200 to 300 people were on hold at the same time, resulting in delays dispatching assistance.
On January 17, an oversight hearing was held to examine the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) response, emergency planning procedures and tenant communication efforts before, during and after Sandy.
NYCHA President John Rhea was not present at the meeting. He lied about being assigned to jury duty, but instead was hiding out in an office, according to reports.
Quinn and other councilmembers raised concerns about NYCHA’s protocols for addressing the needs of vulnerable residents and evaluated NYCHA’s communication and enforcement of mandatory evacuation zones. Councilmembers also “questioned the steps that were taken to help assist residents once the mandatory evacuation order was given.”
Many NYCHA residents were left stranded in their homes without food, water or medicine, and without heat and hot water.
“Had NYCHA arranged for temporary generators and boilers to be in place ahead of time, instead of scrambling to secure, transport and set up equipment after the storm, power could have been restored to residents sooner,” concluded councilmembers.
In addition, NYCHA “underutilized social infrastructure strategy in its disaster planning,” according to councilmembers. Nearby residents and community groups were available to help tenants, and councilmembers suggested that NYCHA include these networks in surrounding areas as part of future relief efforts.
“The damage incurred to the city’s public housing as a result of Sandy was far beyond anything we could have possibly imagined,” Quinn said. “The council is greatly concerned that NYCHA was unable to relay up-to-date information to tenants and adequately identify and communicate issues in specific developments in the days and weeks following the storm.”
In southern Brooklyn, residents had mixed feelings regarding the city’s response.
“I think they did a pretty good job,” said Artie Dassora. “There wasn’t much [damage] around here.”
Angela Curialle agreed. “They did a fairly good job; they tried very hard,” she said. “Still, a lot of people need aid.”
But Tatiana Khamod said that the city did not do enough. “They handled it really badly, especially on Staten Island,” she said.