How New York City plans to survive the next storm

brooklyn rowhouse thermal image of insulation
CC BY 2.0 Sam McAfee

Image from the report: "Which of these buildings is not like the other? The dark blue super-insulated Brooklyn rowhouse in this thermal image shows just how drafty its neighbors are."

It may not seem like that long ago since New York City was underwater, struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy, but it has been long enough for the experts to weigh-in and report that New York City is not prepared for the next extreme storm according to separate, but related plans unveiled this week. On the bright side, if the first step of making positive change is acknowledging there is a problem, it would seem New York is far ahead of many other cities when it comes to preparing recommendations and possible solutions, even if those changes are not yet in place.

Here's what we learned this week.

On Tuesday, as Margaret noted, Mayor Bloomberg spoke about the "A Stronger, More Resilient New York" report, which focuses on the cities long-term strategy to address climate change. You can view Bloomberg's speech below. And a .pdf of his presentation slides are here.

While Bloomberg's speech looked broadly at the issue of climate change and how it will affect the city, an area he wanted a deeper dive was regarding the resilience of the cities many buildings.

On Thursday, the Building Resiliency Task Force, which was convened at the request of Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn following Hurricane Sandy, reported their findings for what risks and opportunities exist when it comes to the resilience of four specific types of buildings in the city: types of commercial, multifamily residential, homes and hospitals.

You can view a copy of the Building Resiliency Task Force report below. And more information is available here.

From the press release about the report, here are suggestions:

• Create stronger buildings—require new and replacement doors and windows to be wind resistant; anchor homes to their foundations; design sidewalks to capture storm water.

• Ensure reliable backup power—make it easier for buildings to use backup generators and solar energy; require buildings to keep stairwells and hallways lit during blackouts; add hookups for roll-up generators and boilers.

• Provide essential safety—install a community water faucet for entire buildings during power outages; maintain habitable temperatures during blackouts by improving insulation; ensure windows open enough to both reduce overheating and guarantee child safety.

• Implement better planning—create emergency plans; adopt a new city code for existing buildings; support “Good Samaritan” legislation that protects architects and engineers from liability for emergency volunteer work.

Russell Unger, executive director of Urban Green Council, which led the 200+ member task force said,

“Superstorm Sandy was a serious wake-up call that cost billions of dollars in damages and repairs, and another extreme event is inevitable. The SIRR report stresses the importance of resilient buildings, and the task force report provides the city with clear direction on how to make that happen."

In addition to the unveiling of these two important reports, on Thursday, Global Green USA announced from the stage at the Clinton Global Initiative that they, in collaboration with IKEA, would be working to expand its 'Solar for Sandy' program, which will entail "equipping five or more Sandy-struck, New York-area community centers with grid-tied, back-up solar energy systems."

One of the things highlighted in the aforementioned reports is the importance of back-up power supply during a storm, so this effort by Global Green USA and IKEA will help improve the resilience of those communities in the event another major power outage occurs.

According to their press release, the first, full-scale program implementation will take place this Fall in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

"Global Green’s new solar instillation will help mitigate future power blackouts and provide expanded emergency services to the community center. The new system will not only enable lighting and other basic facilities, but will also provide critical services such as refrigeration for medicine and basic heating and cooling."

You can view photos from the solar power system Global Green USA installed on the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, which I visited soon after Sandy struck to document the community relief center that has been organized there.

As you can see, there is a lot of discussion, research and planning underway for how to help mitigate some of the physical, financial and human loses that occurred during these increasingly common storm events. I hope much of these lessons can be acted upon before the next storm hits.

If you live in an area that is not taking such precautions, point your elected leaders or community leaders to the work being cited above. Not every city may face the same scale of potential loses that a city like New York does, but there's no reason we cannot all do more to make wherever we live, be it our homes, neighborhoods or entire regions more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

How New York City plans to survive the next storm
The Building Resiliency Task Force presented a report to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg on ways the city should adapt to better handle the next superstorm.

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