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Commissions to prepare for new weather patterns

Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jerome Hauer surveying the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the creation of three separate commissions to evaluate the state’s emergency preparedness in the wake of the storm. Photo by courtesy of the Governor’s Office.
November 26, 2012
For anyone who thought Gov. Andrew Cuomo was simply spouting political colloquialisms when he said he wanted to revamp New York's infrastructure to withstand the "new weather reality," think again.

Cuomo has announced the formation of three commissions – not only to seek out ways to improve infrastructure, but to study the state's emergency preparedness and response tactics – making good on a promise he made days after Hurricane Sandy's landfall.

And Cuomo wants the commissions to work fast; the governor has already scheduled a deadline for preliminary recommendations by all three commissions to be submitted by Jan. 3, 2013.

"Over the past two years, New York state has been hit by some of the most destructive storms in our state's history causing untold damage and the tragic loss of many lives," Cuomo said in a statement announcing the commissions. "Regardless of the cause of these storms, New York state must undertake major reforms to adapt to the reality that storms such as Sandy, Irene and Lee can hit the state at any time. For this reason, I have charged these three commissions to seriously examine existing systems and present a comprehensive blueprint into the 21st century and ensure our infrastructure is built to survive major weather incidents."

Cuomo has said he believes climate change is responsible for the recent trend of bad weather New York state residents are experiencing.

The first commission created, called the NYS 2100 Commission, has been assigned to study ways to improve the strength of the state's infrastructure, and to research ways to improve capability of the state's holdings to withstand future natural disasters.

Specifically, the NYS 2100 Commission has been tasked to develop strategies to determine "priority-projects" and to integrate these projects into future infrastructure planning and future economic development planning. The commission is also expected to study the best way to use storm barriers and natural protective systems to dull the effects of inclement weather before they reach populated areas.

The State University of New York has pledged the availability of two research facilities, the University of Buffalo's Transportation Systems Engineering Lab and SUNY Stony Brook's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, as well as assistance from staff, to help NYS 2100 conduct its review.

A second panel, the NYS Respond Commission, has been charged with finding ways to ensure New York state is ready to respond to future inclement weather. The groups will research how to best protect the health and safety of hospital patients during a dangerous storm, the dissemination of accurate information to the public in a timely manner and effectively coordinated emergency responses. The commission will also be charged with improving the availability of shelter, food, water and electricity in the days following a large storm.

The NYS Respond Commission will also be responsible for making sure trained personnel are available to be deployed when needed.

New York University's Center for Catastrophe Preparedness & Response will aid the commission in their research efforts.

Finally, the New York Ready Commission, not to be confused with the Respond Commission, will work to ensure the state is ready to deal with inclement weather before action must be taken. That commission will review and make recommendations on any "vulnerabilities" in the state's health care, energy, transportation or communications systems, as well as making sure equipment is working prior to the deployment of first responders and police and fire personnel. This commission will also check the availability of information to city and state "decision-makers."

The Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health's National Center for Disaster Preparedness will assist the Ready Commission in their review.

Hurricane Sandy late last month brought 13 counties in the southern region of the state to their knees, and many utility companies, including the Long Island Power Authority, struggled to get lights turned back on for weeks. More than 2 million New Yorkers were without power at the height of the damage, tunnels were filled from end to end with water in New York City, and schools in the metropolitan area and on Long Island were forced to close day after day. But that kind of response won't be tolerated any longer if the governor's plan is successful.

Despite the challenges presented by Sandy's destructive nature, a Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed that 85 percent of New Yorker's felt Cuomo did either a "good" or "excellent" job in his handling of the restoration efforts following the storm; however, Cuomo did not escape without criticism.

Several members of the Green Party of New York State have criticized the governor for ignoring environmental concerns while discussing his plans to rebuild New York after the storm. Party members have spoken out against the governor for relaxing environmental regulations to aid and expedite the clean-up, and the co-chair of the party Gloria Mattera said relaxing environmental regulations is "a major reason why this storm was so damaging."

"[After a storm] is a critical time so permits and rules should be adequately enforced – not waived – so there are no safeguards when all this reconstruction begins. Debris should be cleared from the areas where people's homes were but once taken to the dump site, a plan should be made to test for toxins that might end up in the landfill or water as well as determine what materials may be recycled as to reduce landfill waste," Mattera said.

Michael O'Neil, the other co-chair of Green Party of New York State, offered up his solutions for improvements to emergency management and response. These fall in the realm of converting to renewable energy and expanding public transportation.

"We must be smart and democratic in how we rebuild, and we must be courageous in converting the economy to renewable energy, mass transit, localize food production and clean manufacturing. And we need to be willing to tax the 1 percent and corporations for instance ending the rebate on the stock transfer tax, so we have the resources to build for the public good," O'Neil said.

The NYS 2100 Commission will be led by two co-chairs, President of the Rockefeller Foundation Judith Rodin and the former Chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation Felix G. Rohatyn.

The NYS Respond Commission is to be headed by Thad Allen, the senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, a law firm currently working in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, and Brad Penuel, the Director of the Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response.

The NYS Ready Commission also has two co-chairs, Dr. Irwin Redlener, a recognized leader in disaster preparedness, who has studied the public health affects associated with terrorism and other large-scale disasters, and Ira Millstein, a senior partner at the Weil Gotshal & Manges law firm, whose expertise includes corporate governance and global market research.

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