Will New York be Ready for the Next Hurricane Sandy?

Subway systems were flooded by Hurricane SandyHurricane Sandy has come and gone and the Tri-State area is slowly picking itself back up. Only one question really remains at this point: will New York City be prepared for the next Hurricane Sandy? Initial reports are not necessarily good, especially with the current state of affairs in New York City. So far, there are 85 dead and counting, over $60 billion in damages, a subway system that is still not fully operational a week after it shut down, and raging fires in Queens. To top it all off, a substation belonging to Con Ed vital to keeping the lights on blew up in the East Village during the first few hours of the storm. While the firemen, police officers, and emergency workers deserve enormous amounts of respect for their service, all of this still begs the question, will New York be ready for the next Hurricane Sandy?

First and foremost, it should be stated that New York is no stranger to Sandy-like events. The prime example is the blizzard of March 1888, known at the time as the “great white hurricane.” During this catastrophe 40 inches of snow fell on the city and severe fires and flooding swept through New York. The fires alone cause $25 million in damage, or more than $600 million when adjusted for inflation. After both of these major events New York picked itself back up, and may have even been better for it.

Despite Hurricane Sandy’s devastating effects, it’s not like no one was warning the city. Scientists have been talking up the dangers of global warming for a generation now. Even residents have issued warnings about New York's vulnerability to hurricanes. Perhaps even more worrying is that the dean of the city’s investigative reporters, Wayne Barrett, warned five years ago that Bloomberg deputy Dan Doctoroff deliberately and massively minimized the possible effects of both hurricanes and rising sea levels when putting together the administration’s much vaunted blueprint for the future, PlaNYC. Despite this, the Bloomberg administration has been doing all it can to promote massive new developments in every single neighborhood that was hit hard last week: the West side of Manhattan, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, the Queens Riverfront, Red Hook, and the Rockaways. Is there anything being done at all to combat the effects of the next hurricane season?

Luckily some very smart people have been thinking about the problems of rebuilding and protecting for a while now. Some of their ideas made the Sunday issue of the New York Times, ranging from the huge and complex–think huge barriers and gates that seal off a lot of the city at specific chokepoints–to the incredibly innovative and low tech solutions, like “absorptive streets, and natural barriers of marshes and oyster beds. Unfortunately, ideas like these require leadership and lots of money, neither of which promises to come from Washington any time soon. This means the residents of New York City will likely have to do it themselves. Special taxes on luxury items, or stock transactions, or the highest incomes, might be the most viable options. But the usual arguments against these taxes are likely to spring up despite the urgent and worthy purpose. If New York City and the Tri-State area can find the leadership to push these innovations through, maybe New York City can get ahead of the next Hurricane Sandy.