A legislative package related to the city’s response to Hurricane Sandy, which sailed through the City Council last week, seeks to fix a number of issues that came up since the storm from adequate supplies at city shelters to tax assessments of damaged properties.
A dozen pieces of legislation were approved by the Council on July 24 and sent to Mayor Bloomberg’s desk. They stemmed from months of testimony from Sandy survivors, responders and those involved in the recovery efforts on how to better prepare and recover from an emergency like Sandy in the future.
“Sandy was an unprecedented storm —unlike any we’ve ever seen — but we only get to say that once,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) in a press release. “It is imperative that we’re better prepared for future storms in order to keep New Yorkers safe and to protect our infrastructure. This legislation addresses key issues that are vital to protecting New Yorkers in all five boroughs so that the City is as prepared as possible for the next Hurricane Sandy.”
Among the items passed were a bill that mandates the Office of Emergency Management Commissioner to develop a plan in consultation with community-based organizations to ensure that the public has sufficient access to food and water during emergencies. The plan will require that the public, private and nonprofit sectors’ roles in supplying food and water are clearly defined during emergencies, that the city coordinate the efforts of these sectors, that personnel responsible for implementation are identified and that the public is aware of how to access these supplies.
Another measure approved would require OEM to anticipate the operation of emergency shelters for short-, medium- or long-term stays depending on the level of the emergency and make sure the shelters are adequately stocked and staffed for the possibility of being used for weeks. The bill came in response to complaints from Sandy survivors who were left without a home or place to stay when shelters closed a few days after the storm. The bill may mean the city would have to find alternative locations for shelters besides schools for long-term needs.
A separate proposal would further require better tracking of special-needs shelters, which were found to be lacking in coordination after Sandy. The plan would include a means for distributing bracelets or another type of wearable device with information about the shelter resident, such as emergency contacts and medications.
In response to a week-long wait before the city conducted door-to-door outreach to homebound individuals in the disaster zone, the Council passed that bill requiring OEM to develop an outreach and recovery procedure to assist vulnerable and homebound residents before, during and after emergencies. The plan would include a description of how OEM will coordinate with relevant agencies, community-based organizations and service providers in order to provide information, supplies and transportation to vulnerable and homebound individuals. The plan would include a description of how to utilize existing lists of homebound and vulnerable individuals maintained by organizations and agencies, and a process to inform vulnerable and homebound individuals about how they may be included on these lists.
Further legislation aims to require the city to install backup power systems to keep transportation infrastructure, such as traffic lights and street lights, running; establish procedures and criteria for determining when there is a fuel shortage and when rationing is necessary, and that those involved in rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts will have priority in obtaining fuel; help small businesses recover from emergencies by quickly identifying resources to help and keeping stock of those businesses in need and establish community-centered recovery plans.
Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who proposed that bill, said community-based recovery plans are important because different parts of the city often have different needs.
“My legislation will make sure OEM will focus on those communities we know will need the most help,” he said in a statement. “By requiring OEM to create a central hub in every borough, we will be able to understand what each community needs and be able to send the proper resources to them in an efficient and timely matter.”
Finally, the Council passed legislation to establish better rules for OEM to report to the Council it’s plans and procedures before, during and after emergencies; and establish a tax rebate for homes devastated by Sandy. The latter bill stems from a complaint that arose in the spring in damaged neighborhoods, including Howard Beach, where property taxes went up on homes that were damaged because the properties were assessed before Sandy.
“It would seem like that would be something that’s automatic,” Quinn said during last week’s floor debate. “But it wasn’t and this legislation will take care of that.”
For Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), the bills were a culmination of a years-long process that was laughed off by many before Sandy.
“We had hearings in 2005. We had hearings in 2009 asking, ‘Are we prepared for a hurricane?’” Vallone said during the Council debate on July 24. “When we did, people called us ‘Pollyannas,’ and said we were looking for headlines. But we were right to hold those hearings.”
He said the storm’s response could’ve been a lot worse if it wasn’t for those hearings.