The (first) Cuomo Sandy Commission makes its report.

This past Friday saw the release of a report: New York State 2100 Commission: Recommendations to Improve the Strength and Resilience of the Empire State’s Infrastructure.

A rather remarkable timeline! Hurricane Sandy (sic: not worrying here overmuch about the nomenclature) made landfall in New Jersey early on October 29, 2012. On November 28, Governor Cuomo issued a press release announcing the appointment of not one but three commissions to Improve New York State’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Capabilities and Strengthen The State’s Infrastructure to Withstand Natural Disasters. In each case he stated that preliminary recommendations would be due January 3, 2013.

Price. Quality. Speed. Choose any two?

Rather remarkable quality! Reliance on volunteer Commission members, all of whom had day jobs, and the speed of the work together surely implied tradeoffs in quality. Over coming weeks, journalists, hazards researchers, and others will undoubtedly bring many of these to light. Future weather extremes and other hazards will expose other shortcomings in the work, or failures in follow-through down the road. But the stringent timeline has ensured that the conclusions and recommendations are available within the “teachable moment” – while New Yorkers are still focused on the event, its impacts, and implications. The findings and advice can also inform Congressional thinking on state requests for disaster relief funding. And thanks to the speed, all of the stakeholders will be more inclined to forgive any flaws.

The fact is, the Governor’s staff and the Commissions did an extraordinary job…one that should hold up well under scrutiny.

Let’s look in a bit more detail, starting with a quick look at each Commission’s purview, taken from the press release:

NYS 2100 Commission

The NYS 2100 Commission is tasked with finding ways to improve the resilience and strength of the state’s infrastructure in the face of natural disasters and other emergencies. The Commission will be co-chaired by Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Felix G. Rohatyn, former Chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation. In addition to President Rodin’s leadership and expertise, the Rockefeller Foundation will provide both staff expertise and other assistance in developing the Commission’s report and recommendations. The Commission’s preliminary recommendations are due January 3, 2013.

NYS Respond Commission

The NYS Respond Commission is tasked with finding ways to ensure that New York State is ready to respond to future weather-related disasters. The Commission will examine and make recommendations to improve the planning, training and resource commitment that must occur before the next major weather event in order for the appropriate deployment of people and resources to take place during and after the emergency or disaster occurs. The Commission will be co-chaired by Thad Allen, Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, and Admiral (US Coast Guard, Retired), and Brad Penuel, Director of the Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response at New York University. The Commission’s recommendations are due to the Governor by January 3, 2013.

NYS Ready Commission

The NYS Ready Commission is tasked with finding ways to ensure critical systems and services are prepared for future natural disasters and other emergencies. The Commission will be co-chaired by Ira M. Millstein, Senior Partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, and Dr. Irwin Redlener, Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The Commission’s recommendations are due to the Governor by January 3, 2013.

[Full Commission memberships are also provided in the press release.]

To my knowledge, each of the Commissions met its respective deadline. Governor Cuomo’s staff achieved this by asking that Commission members provide only bulletized recommendations, developed initially individually; then discussed in teleconferences and a minimal number of face-to-face meetings. His staff shouldered responsibility for writing the text laying the foundation for the recommendations.

The reports were then embargoed for a few days so as not to preempt the Governor’s 2013 State-of-the-State address. You can find the full transcript of his speech here. References to Sandy ran throughout his remarks, but here is some of what he said:

Responding to the crisis. We have to do everything we’ve outlined above but we also have the added responsibility of needing to address Hurricane Sandy. And let’s start by learning from what has happened. We empaneled four commissions right after Hurricane Sandy to look at the various aspects of the storm and lessons learned. They did extraordinary work and I’d ask us to give them a round of applause now and recognize the chairmen who worked very hard.

First thing we have to learn is to accept the fact – and I believe it is a fact – that climate change is real. It is denial to say this is – each of these situations is a once in a lifetime. There have been – there is a 100 year flood every two years now. It’s inarguable that the sea is warmer and that there is a changing weather pattern, and the time to act is now. We must lower the regional greenhouse gas emission cap. And let’s make a real difference on climate change by reducing the CO2 cap. We must also increase our use of local renewable power sources. We propose increasing the use of alternative power, distributed generation of electricity, which will reduce the reliance on the large power plants.

We must understand the needs of coastal communities. Because they pose special challenges and many of them are manmade. Let’s take a look at lower Manhattan. This was lower Manhattan in 1609. This is lower Manhattan now, all man-made filled areas. This is lower Manhattan with the Sandy storm surge. You can see that the man-made areas are the vulnerable areas to the storm surge. It’s the way they were filled; it’s the way they were constructed. We propose the Recreate NY-Smart Home Program, where rather than just rebuilding a home today – that we may very well rebuild two years from now, three years from now, four years from now – we build it back once but we build it back once right and we mitigate for the environmental damage and disaster.  I’d rather pay more and put a house on high links today than rebuild that house three times.

We propose a Recreate NY-Home Buyout program. There are some places where people may choose not to build back. I’ve talked to home owners who have dealt with serious floods three, four, five times over the past few years. Many of them are saying I don’t want to have to do it again. I’d rather buy out the parcel and move on. There are some parcels that Mother Nature owns. She may only visit once every few years, but she owns the parcel and when she comes to visit, she visits. We want to run a program that will provide the funds to buy out those homeowners who don’t want to rebuild and want to move on to higher ground literally, and that would be smart. We must harden our infrastructure, we must harden the New York City Subway system. Manhattan is a marvel because of how high it builds. Manhattan is a marvel also because of how deep it builds. Parts of Manhattan are 15 stories deep with infrastructure. Subway tunnels, water tunnels, electrical conduits etc. You can’t allow those 15 floors below grade to flood. It would debilitate the city for a long time. We must harden the city subway system so that flooding doesn’t occur. It’s closing tunnels. It’s closing vents. It’s roll down doors. It’s inflatable bladders. The technology is there, it’s expensive but it’s necessary. We must harden our airports. We can’t close our airports every time there’s a storm, we need to put in submersible pumps, tide gauge et cetera. We need to harden our fuel delivery system, we saw in downstate the chaos that the fuel system caused. That was the reduction of supply for a day and a half, that’s all that was, a day and a half break in supply caused weeks of chaos. We have to have a program that requires gasoline stations that are strategically located to have backup generators, and the state should have a strategic fuel reserve to protect New Yorkers short term in case of a fuel reduction.

We must harden our utilities and really get ready for the next storm and have a PSC that’s going to require the utilities to come up with a real plan. We need to redesign our power system. We empowered the Moreland Commission, which said basically and I quote “put real regulatory enforcement teeth into the Public Service Commission, which has for too long been a toothless tiger.” When it comes to the Long Island Power Authority, it has never worked, it never will, the time has come to abolish LIPA, period. And they’re all from Queens those people. We want to privatize the Long Island service, which will be regulated by a new and empowered PSC that will happen simultaneously. And we want to do it in a way that protects the rate payers, and freezes the rate for a period of years. So there’ll be no increase to the rate payer, there’ll be a better regulator and there will be a better provider.

We want to establish a world class emergency response network. We’ll have a uniform training system and protocols run by SUNY and CUNY. We want all emergency personnel in this state to receive the same training, so we all have the same protocols, we all have the same understanding, and there are no communication issues in the midst of a crisis. We want the state to have a certification program, where it actually certifies emergency workers who went through this course. We want the state to establish a stockpile, so next crisis we have what we need, we have the generators, we have the water supply, we have the meals, and we don’t have to worry about trying to locate them in the middle of a crisis.

We want to capitalize on the New York spirit of volunteerism. We want to create a statewide volunteer corps, which will have people from all across the state who will receive light training and will be able to volunteer if a disaster hits another part of the state. We’ll also organize them by skill set. We need it on Long Island desperately, electricians and we couldn’t find them, and we were trying to find electricians from all across the state. We want to have all that work done and organized before. That’s County Executive Ed Mangano by the way carrying that heavy bucket. Thank you Ed.

We want to establish a statewide not-for-profit network to help coordinate the emergency response. We want to have a citizen education campaign to prepare citizens because they’re all in-home first responders, and every family and every mother and every father should know what happens, what should happen, if God forbid, they’re in an emergency situation in their home.

The 2100 Commission provided a number of sector-specific recommendations. Here are the cross-cutting recommendations (the language is generic, and fleshed out in more detail in the report’s 200 pages, but the bullets give a flavor of the dimensions to New York’s long-term efforts to build and maintain resilience that the 2100 Commission considered):

Based on an initial vulnerability assessment, the Commission recommends the following nine major actions to address multiple vulnerabilities and priorities in the State of New York:

• Protect, Upgrade, and Strengthen Existing Systems

• Rebuild Smarter: Ensure Replacement with Better Options and Alternatives

• Create Shared Equipment and Resource Reserves

• Encourage the Use of Green and Natural Infrastructure

• Promote Integrated Planning and Develop Criteria for Integrated Decision-making for Capital Investments

• Enhance Institutional Coordination

• Improve Data, Mapping, Visualization,

and Communication Systems

• Create New Incentive Programs to Encourage Resilient Behaviors and Reduce Vulnerabilities

• Expand Education, Job Training and Workforce Development Opportunities

Collectively, these recommendations represent a foundation for the broad-based changes that are essential to building the long-term resilience of the State and its citizens.

As stated, this report is from only the first of the Cuomo Commissions. Expect more findings and recommendations soon. It will be interesting and instructive to follow New York State’s recovery from this terrible tragedy.

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One Response to The (first) Cuomo Sandy Commission makes its report.

  1. Actually not so remarkable. Virtually all of the recommendations in this report already existed, one place or another. Really no “ah-hah’s!” here. On the other hand, what’s needed ain’t rocket science. We’ll see what’s in the next two.

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