Op-Ed: Sandy one year later

A year ago on October 28, I spent the day visiting senior centers, on calls with the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and touring temporary hurricane shelters that were being set up inside high schools. I spent the night like many other New Yorkers: making last-minute preparations for what I knew would be a treacherous tomorrow.

For days, everyone on the East Coast had been bracing themselves for what was supposed to be one of the most destructive tropical storms in recent memory. But, no one knew just how unprepared we really were for the destruction that would be unleashed the next day.

According to Mayor Bloomberg, the monetary cost of Superstorm Sandy for New York City was approximately $19 billion. Even such a large number doesn’t come close to capturing the true loss that was suffered that day, and in the weeks and months that followed.

Breezy Point in Queens was rendered a blazing inferno—over 100 homes burned to the ground. The subway—completely flooded. Some of our city’s most treasured landmarks like the then-newly refurbished Cyclone in Coney Island were completely wrecked. Hundreds of thousands of families were displaced from their homes.

Those that were lucky enough still to have a home were forced to go without power for weeks. And even now, many families throughout the city are still awaiting repairs for damage caused by Sandy.

This October 29, it will have been a full year since Superstorm Sandy. But the question remains: if another storm like Sandy hit tomorrow, how prepared would we be?

Overhead power lines posed one of the biggest dangers. These lines were torn down during the storm and not only caused numerous fires but also made it difficult for the city to restore power to damaged areas.

After the storm, I called on the city to bury overhead power lines underground. Underground lines are safer because they are not susceptible to heavy wind and rain, and can be easily restored to full operational capacity after a power outage.

I helped pass a legislative package of 10 bills that set the groundwork for recovery as well as future preparedness. Goals of this package included protecting the vulnerable, bolstering emergency infrastructure and helping small businesses recover.

Senior citizens, the sick, and children—these are the members of our community who are the most helpless when disaster strikes. Part of the package requires OEM to identify households with vulnerable persons and conduct door-to-door assistance to develop disaster response strategies.

In addition, OEM must assess the operational capacity of shelter facilities. This was a huge problem last year as many emergency shelters were unprepared for the volume of people that needed help. The administration is also required to develop a plan to distribute food and water efficiently to disaster-hit areas—yet another huge problem we faced last year.

It is important that we learn from Hurricane Sandy in order to prepare for the next storm. To that end, my colleagues and I in the New York City Council are continuing our efforts – and our promise – to find ways to strengthen our city’s infrastructure following the storm.

Together we can ensure that our city is even better prepared to meet Mother Nature’s next challenge.

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