This time last year, millions of people along the East Coast were recovering from the destructive effects of one of the costliest storms in United States history – “Superstorm” Sandy. Considered the deadliest storm of the 2012 hurricane season, Sandy showed our country and economy just how susceptible we were to flooding, power outages and holes in our emergency response systems. Whether locals suffered from the “alert fatigue” of 2011’s Hurricane Irene or had the “it won’t happen to me” mentality, Sandy provided a rude awakening to even the most prepared of businesses. While we did learn quite a bit about our resiliency to these mega storms, businesses still have much to do to prepare for the next Sandy or Katrina.
The Good: The old saying rings true following Superstorm Sandy – hindsight is 20/20. Many cities, including New York are more prepared today than they were one year ago. From the subway systems to redrawn flood maps and better meals for evacuees, New York City is elevating its emergency response and is more prepared for the next big storm.
The Bad: Two major areas that revealed troubling weaknesses in the wake of Sandy were utility providers and hospitals. As we mentioned in a previous blog entry, millions of people and businesses were without power for weeks following Sandy. However, utility providers still believe the cost of reinforcing power lines is more expensive than the cost of recovery. This terrifying reality doesn’t take into effect how businesses, the community and economy could suffer from these power outages, which may in turn delay recovery efforts.
Hospitals, such as Bellevue and NYU Langone Medical Center, were forced to evacuate during Sandy, moving all patients, even those who were deemed critical. It was hardly the ideal situation for any hospital, but the storm revealed major weaknesses in those hospitals’ emergency response plans. Since then, many New York area hospitals have moved generators and electrical switchboards from the basements to higher floors.
The Ugly: Regardless of what side of the fence you occupy in the climate change debate, sea levels are rising. According to a recent report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels are expected to rise more than three feet by 2100. Major metropolitan cities like Houston, Miami and New York City have buildings that predate the understanding of climate change. Adapting to these changes is on the horizon, but can be quite costly to implement.
The current presidential administration recently assembled a task force on climate change to prepare governments from the federal to the local levels, while New York City invested $648 million in its Build it Back program, providing aid to those homeowners who prefer to move away from the coastline rather than rebuild. New York City’s (former) Mayor Bloomberg even proposed a $20 billion plan to fortify the city against storm surge and flooding with levees, flood walls and bulkheads.
The challenge faced by many coastal governments is balancing the cost of preparing for the next major storm with the popularity of living near the water. As major metropolitan areas attract homeowners, they also attract businesses, which are even more susceptible to these storms if they do not have an emergency response plan. A significant and detrimental impact on businesses is storm surge, which can cause just as much damage, if not more, than high winds and heavy rain. If your business plans to stay located near a port, coastline or river and flooding isn’t already a part of your emergency response plan, it should be.
What we learned: Prepare, prepare, prepare. History has a way of repeating itself, but if there is one thing we can all take away from Superstorm Sandy, it is how to avoid the mistakes made by others, and fortify your business, government or local community before the next billion dollar storm rumbles in.