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Blackouts, Extreme Weather: Mayor Calls for Building Upgrades, Planning

Frank Lovece in Building Operations on June 14, 2013

New York City, Citylights, 4-74 48th Avenue

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Mayor Michael Bloomberg
June 14, 2013

The report, released Tuesday by the Building Resiliency Task Force convened after superstorm Sandy, outlines 33 recommendations. "We have to be able to withstand and recover quickly from all hazards posed by climate change," Bloomberg said at a press conference at the 43-story Citylights co-op in Long Island City, Queens, which flooded during the storm and has been upgraded for protection and backup power. The mayor said he and City Council would "now begin the process" of creating legislation to implement the plan.

"Another Sandy is inevitable, and New York isn't ready. But it can be," said Russell Unger, executive director of the Urban Green Council, which managed the task force. "The Task Force recommendations are tangible and economically achievable steps that will prepare our citizens, buildings and city for future extreme-weather events."

Among the proposals:

  • Make it easier for buildings to use backup generators and solar energy, and require buildings to keep stairwells and hallways lit during blackouts and to add hookups for rollup generators and boilers.
  • Have buildings install a community water faucet for use during power outages, maintain habitable temperatures during blackouts by improving insulation and ensure that windows open enough to both reduce overheating and help provide for child safety.
  • Create emergency plans.
  • Support "Good Samaritan" legislation to protect architects and engineers from liability for emergency volunteer work.
  • Strengthen buildings by requiring new and replacement doors and windows to be wind-resistant and for sidewalk designs that capture storm water.

A spokesman for the Urban Green Council said the suggestions "strike a balance between resiliency and cost."

Areas Not Hit by Sandy

Council Member James Vacca (D, District 13), who said his northeast-Bronx district "was largely spared in comparison to other districts," nonetheless found that "many of my constituents are now facing costly insurance premiums. I urge that the federal administration take our recommendations into account so that New Yorkers are not flooded with soaring insurance costs."

He added, "We can't prevent another Sandy from happening, but we can take action now to minimize the impact of future storms. We've learned how to recover and rebuild and now — with the recommendations before us today — we'll learn how to be more resilient to future climate risks."

"Strengthening our City's infrastructure today will save billions of dollars in the future and will save lives," said Quinn. "The Task Force report provides the city with a clear direction on how to make our buildings more resilient and helps us protect our businesses and our homes."

At least 60 federal and municipal organizations, real estate concerns and scientific and environmental groups have publicly endorsed the plan, including the Real Estate Board of New York, the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy, the National Planning Center of Expertise for Coastal and Storm Damage Reduction at the US Army Corps of Engineers, Con Edison, National Grid, the New York Building Congress, FEMA, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Partnership for New York City.

Other Initiatives

The New York City Panel on Climate Change released a report on Tuesday that new data shows sea levels could rise by more than 2.5 feet by the 2050s, by which decade the City could have three times as many days at or above 90 degrees, leading to heat waves that threaten public health and the power system. The number of days with more than two inches of rainfall will grow from three in the last century to five in the 2050s, it said.

Additionally on Tuesday, Bloomberg proposed expanding the Worker Connect database currently used by five City agencies, in order to create a registry of vulnerable citizens. The disabled and the elderly made up almost half the fatalities caused by superstorm Sandy, with many left stranded at home for extended lengths of time. Suffolk County, on Long Island, is among those in the region already operating such disaster registries. 


Photo by Spencer T. Tucker

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