Post 9/11, most of New York City’s disaster planning has focused on terrorism while failing to develop preventative strategies for combating natural disasters. As Senator Richard Brodsky pointed out recently, “All they’re thinking about is terrorism, and the net result is that the hurricane plan is embarrassing.”
New York City is especially vulnerable to storm surge due to its low lying geography, its population density, and the existence of the New York Bight, a curve of shoreline off the coast that funnels and increases the speed and intensity of storm surge. Storm surge, or, water that is pushed towards shore by the force of winds around a storm, combines with normal tides in the event of a hurricane, causing the mean water level to rise significantly in relation to the size of the storm. It is considered the greatest hurricane related hazard. Storm surge presents a direct risk to those who live in proximity to the waterfront industrial areas of New York City because the surge could carry noxious and hazardous materials into surrounding communities.
In fact, most of the areas of New York City that are most vulnerable to storm surges are located in “M3” or heavy manufacturing zones. Such areas are the least regulated and most noxious of all industrial uses. In addition to flood risk, there is an absence of emergency facilities and emergency evacuation centers within these vulnerable low-lying industrial areas.
As was stated by The New York Environmental Justice Alliance, an environmental non-profit, in a recent press release, “NYC was lucky that Hurricane Irene was only a Category 1 hurricane that devolved into a tropical storm as it arrived in the City. However, we cannot rely solely on luck.”
City and State government, as well as urban planners, architects, and engineers must consider the cumulative risk exposures posed by the heavy chemical uses in storm surge zones in New York City in creating more sustainable urban design solutions.
The question remains: Will we be ready in time?
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