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Building a More Resilient New York

June 24, 2013

The aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, which hit the Northeast in late October 2012 and caused devastation including property damage, mass power outages and loss of life, has caused us to rethink, entirely, how well prepared we are for these events which were previously thought to be anomalies but which result in long term remediation efforts.

Hurricane Katrina and subsequent weather events including Sandy, Irene and Isaac, have taught us that a combination of better engineered infrastructure, a solid emergency preparedness plan, and a more resilient energy system would have significantly mitigated the damage and loss of life that occurred.

The latest addition to the New York City Energy Master Plan –plaNYC: A Stronger, More Resilient New Yorkaddresses these very issues.

This comprehensive plan recommends action in 14 areas to increase safety and protect buildings, transportation systems, energy assets, environmental resources and more. Highlights of the proposed initiatives include:

Increase Resiliency in Utilities and Liquid Fuels

The plan outlines energy strategies and initiatives that support a redesigned regulatory and reporting framework; harden existing infrastructure and reconfigure existing networks to strengthen the power supply.

Recommendations include reducing energy demand, improving energy efficiency, implementing smart grid technologies and microgrids, diversifying fuel supplies, and post-emergency restoration.

Increase Resiliency in Buildings

Strengthening new buildings and protecting existing buildings through retrofits are the key strategies the plan recommends to protect the City’s building infrastructure. With a long standing vulnerability to flooding, coastal protection measures are a key part of the City’s efforts to address its building stock.

Increase Resiliency in Transportation

Among the critical actions the City recommends to shore up its transportation system are: reconstructing key streets damaged by Sandy; elevating traffic signals and providing back up power to operate them; protecting tunnels from flooding; preparing for more efficient restoration of service after weather events; and installing new pedestrian and bicycles facilities to improve connectivity.

Enhanced Environmental Protection and Remediation

To address storm related impacts on New York City’s Brownfield properties, plaNYC calls for an acceleration of site cleanup in the floodplain area. The plan calls for other measures including the adoption of Brownfield resiliency best management practices; strengthened cleanup standards on industrial waterfront Brownfields; and resiliency audits.

Improve Community Preparedness and Response

The City seeks to improve community involvement in disaster preparedness, not just disaster response. Improving communications and identifying gaps in community capacity are part of the plan to improve emergency services within communities.

The Task Force that developed this plan consisted of 215 members who met 45 times. With representation from management, organized labor, academia, City government, and other fields, the group contributed more than a $1 million worth of voluntary labor in developing the plan.

Given the magnitude of the plan, implementing the strategies and initiatives it outlines will be full of challenges. But it is also a unique opportunity to protect the City’s residents and enhance its resources for years to come.

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