New York City & the "next" Sandy - What can we do?

Flooded tunnel in New York City after Superstorm Sandy ripped through

New York City is arguably the most important and busiest city in the world. On a normal weekday, more than 5 million people ride the subway system. At just one subway stop alone, 59th Street and Columbus Circle, more people pass through the turnstile in one day than the entire population of Rhode Island! The Big Apple is like a well oiled machine!

Hurricane, or Superstorm Sandy did major damage to the NYC Transit System and the city as a whole, damage that will take millions of dollars and years to repair. But the city is already thinking ahead to the next Sandy.

I was honored to be a part of their thinking a few weeks back, talking about better ways to prepare for superstorms, winter AND summer. With nearly 850 miles of track to maintain, its no easy task to keep NYC running and its people moving, even on a non-weather event day. They can track every train car and command every signal across the five boroughs. That alone is incredible! But, when the weather gets rough, and they're gathering in their "Situation Room", millions of dollars and yes, even lives are on-the-line. Critical decisions must be made!

From a broader perspective, ANY city, especially major cities with large transit systems have to "Plan for the worst" because there WILL be another Sandy. In fact, I'd argue that a storm like Sandy, with a direct hit on NYC, was overdue!

The fact is, every major city is vulnerable to severe weather of all types, but some are certainly more vulnerable than others, in particular coastal cities. From Hurricane Camille hitting Biloxi, Mississippi in 1969 to Andrew hitting Homestead and Miami in 1992 to deadly Hurricane Katrina slamming New Orleans in 2005. All incredible systems that originated in the tropics.

So, the question is an easy one: what can we do to protect ourselves, our cities? The answer unfortunately is very complicated.

From a pure weather standpoint, since my company Precision Weather Service forecasts for the NYC MTA, we are always looking for ways to provide more detail, greater accuracy and increased warning of major storms like Sandy. This too is the easy part!

The tough part are the many variables that most of us cannot control. For example, much damage was done to structures along the shoreline of Long Island, including LaGuardia Airport, which was completely flooded over. Tremendous damage was also done to homes along the Jersey shore. What do we do about, or what responsibility do we have, for construction along coastal locations that are at or even below sea level, like New Orleans which is 8 feet below seas level? Or what about homes being built and rebuilt on the Outer Banks? Large storms come along with a 10-20 foot storm surge and these structures receive major damage or get completely demolished by Mother Nature. As long as construction in these vulnerable areas continues, there will be problems. Whoâ??s takes the responsibility? 100% the owner? Should the state or national government help when destruction from storms happens? What about insurance? Does everyoneâ??s insurance rate go up?

How about a 15-20 foot seawall like Galveston has to keep the ocean out? Nice, but for the relative few who have homes in the precarious location, who pays the millions and millions to build the seawall?

Like I saidâ?¦good questions. Tough to answer.

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