By Orlando Lee Rodriguez
As hurricane season begins in the Atlantic, New York needs to be better prepared for future direct hits by major storm, a report issued by The New York Building Congress said last week.
Eight months after Hurricane Sandy flooded some and destroyed other parts of the city, wholesale improvements to energy infrastructure and changes in building codes are what will need to be implemented in areas considered at risk for flooding under FEMA’s proposed new 200-year storm maps.
“The physical damage inflicted by the storm was devastating,” said former Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch, who chaired the task force that put together the report. “Questions were raised about New York’s future given that commercially important parts of the city were located within the flood zone.”
After the storm, 49 buildings in Lower Manhattan were still closed a week later, according to Jones Lang LaSalle. NYU Langone medical center had to be evacuated after its backup generator failed. 110 Wall Street was shuttered by Rudin Management. 4 New York Plaza, will not be fully refurbished until October.
Lower Manhattan went dark after Sandy caused a major fire at Con Edisons’s 14th Street sub-station, leaving residents below 39th Street without power for days.
“In the aftermath of Sandy, the city is left with a number of uncertainties, most notably relating to the condition of its power grid,” Ravitch said. New York City must assume that this kind of storm will occur more frequently and be far better prepared in the future.”
This year, the first named storm of the season, Tropical Storm Andrea, has already brought heavy rains and flash flooding to the city. AccuWeather has predicted that at least three major storms will make landfall in the continental United States before October.
The Congress wants to see a faster adaptation of recommended FEMA flood maps, which call for areas like Howard Beach in Queens and Coney Island in Brooklyn, to be completely flooded in the event of a storm.
Current maps are much more conservative in their predictions. For example, under the old FEMA flood map, East River flooding during a storm would only reach Avenue C just outside of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. New maps have almost the entire Peter Cooper Village development flooded, almost all the way to First Avenue.
The Congress says that in light of these possibilities, buildings in the path of flood waters must improve their infrastructure now and the city must revise codes to force these changes.
“In ways large and small, building performance standards in New York City must be modernized,” said John M. Dionisio Building Congress chairman.
“Structures in and out of flood zones were ill prepared for the Storm, suggesting improvements are needed to the City’s building codes and inventory.”
That includes building owners and operators having an emergency preparation plan in case the unexpected happens. The days of using past performance as a way to prepare for the future, are over, the group says.
“Superstorm Sandy also exposed troublesome vulnerabilities in New York City’s building stock, its private utilities and telecommunications networks, and its major transportation and infrastructure systems,” said Richard T. Anderson, president of the Building Congress. “What worked reasonably well in the past was shown to be simply not good enough.”