NYC Transportation Post Hurricane Sandy

This study – Transportation During and After Hurricane Sandy – was brought to my attention by Claire Rubin by way of her blog.  Thank you Claire!

This is a great study and very timely.  Having worked with these transportation entities in the past, I can attest that what they have accomplished is not easily done.  The variety of agencies that cover the array of transportation systems and modes in the greater NYC area creates challenges – City agencies, State agencies, and multi-state authorities.  Each owns not only their own modes, but their own infrastructure as well.  They also have their own reporting chain, making coordinated decision-making a challenge.  Additionally, any decisions made that impact transportation systems must also consider evacuations.  Systems and infrastructure can’t be shut down until evacuations have been effected.  The folks on Long Island have to move to higher ground or out of the area completely before bridges are shut down around NYC.

They have come a long way through the last several years.  The study mentions some significant flooding in 2004 and 2007 in which lessons were learned.  We also conducted an exercise, the largest of its kind at the time, in the summer of 2008 simulating landfall of a hurricane in the NYC metro area.  This exercise provided great feedback and spurred changes to both state and local plans.  In 2011, Irene came up the coast, eerily following a track very similar to our simulated hurricane in 2008.  Plan improvements were made again, and they will be yet again in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

A significant item that was barely touched upon in this paper is the role of the private sector.  Much of the impact of private sector policy is demonstrated on page 25 of the study, where we see that prior to the hurricane only 2% of New Yorkers telecommuted, whereas following the hurricane (November 1-2) 22% telecommuted.  It’s great to see that so many companies saw the sense in allowing employees to telecommute instead of contributing to the transportation nightmare that occurred on these days.  I would challenge more private entities to do the same!  The best way to implement this, of course, is to include it in your business continuity plan.

In Emergency Management it is not only important that we improvise, adapt, and overcome; we must also learn and change.  We must turn lessons observed into lessons learned by creating a corrective action plan and actually implementing these changes.  It’s positive to see these types of documents, all After Action Reports (AARs) in their own right, which use facts and observations to highlight what went well and what needs to be improved upon.  The challenge is making these changes.  Change, good or bad, is stressful and counterintuitive to us.  We default to what is comfortable (i.e. ‘the way we’ve always done things’).  Change may require funding – sometimes vast amounts of it.  Some change is drastic, some subtle, some long-term, some immediate.  Nonetheless, with the ultimate goal of saving lives, we must change.  That, if anything, is our burden.

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