Lessons From Katrina
Four years ago this Sunday,
our city suffered a terrible blow from which we are only now
starting to recover.
Just two Sundays ago, millions of Americans in New Orleans, Biloxi
and hundreds of other cities and towns across the Gulf Coast were
hit by something that was arguably even worse, a category 4
hurricane, leading to the biggest natural disaster in our country’s
If you haven’t already, make a pledge to the Red Cross, and if
possible, give of your time as well to help restore a sense of
normalcy to all the people affected by this crisis. That must be our
But even as the floodwaters begin to recede in New Orleans, we must
not let our own heightened awareness of the fragility of life
obscure some deeper lessons. Katrina was not just a natural
disaster; it was also a man-made catastrophe. Decisions made by
people in authority, decisions not made, funds spent and not
spent—these mattered almost as much as which way the winds blew and
where the levees failed.
Americans are due answers for those failures, and it’s not too soon
to start this exercise. Nor is it too early to look inward and think
hard about what this episode means for New York City. What if it
were us that were hit by a category 4 hurricane? How would residents
of the South Bronx or East New York escape?
If a category 4 hurricane hit New York dead on, the New York City
Hurricane Evacuation Map predicts the South Bronx and northern
Queens would be severely flooded, along with most of southern
Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Here in Manhattan everything
below Broome Street will be inundated with flood water. The Hudson
would reach Seventh Ave, and the East River would surge to First
Ave. The map shows the Atlantic Ocean storm surge reaching as far
inland as Flatbush, just south of Prospect Park, with Howard Beach
under 31 feet of water.
Meteorologists say that this
is not a question of if, but when.
Why is subway wireless so
As the wireless companies
line up with their bids to introduce wireless service to the New
York City subways, one can’t help but marvel at the way good ideas
tend to gather momentum. By now you probably know that some people
have been pushing for just such a plan for a long time. Finally, the
MTA and Mayor Bloomberg are starting to listen.
Obviously, New Yorkers want
cell phone service on the subways, and they want elected officials
with the clarity of purpose to bring it to them. (In case you’re
wondering where current Advocate Betsy Gotbaum has been on this
issue, the answer is nowhere.)
As the New York Times
article points out, sometimes at a mix of private interests and
public need can go a long way. In fact, it’s possible that the
intense private sector interest in wiring the subways could
dramatically reduce the cost to the city itself. And there’s no
reason to think that the same thing couldn’t work to provide wi-fi
access to New Yorkers as well.
Just imagine a future New York where we’re able to harness the power
of technology and new ideas to welcome the 21st century.
NEW YORK, August 3 - With a line of volunteers holding “telephones”
comprised of tin cans and string snaking up and out of a City Hall
subway station, a Democratic candidate for Public Advocate exposed
the fatal flaw in the MTA’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign
— no emergency cell phone service available in the City’s
underground subway system.
He used the tin can connection to demonstrate the lengths New
Yorkers must go to contact authorities above ground in the event of
a disaster — and how vulnerable subway riders are today without the
ability to dial 911 underground. The demonstration also showed, he
said, how the City’s current leadership does not understand the
power and value of technology.
“The MTA is giving new meaning to the phrase ‘tunnel vision’,” he
said. ” ‘The See Something, Say Something’ campaign is toothless if
New Yorkers can’t communicate quickly and easily with the proper
Reporters attending the
event were given sample “If You See Something, Say Something
Emergency Communications Systems”–two tin-cans tied together by
“Sadly, this is just another
indication that our city’s current leaders — from Mayor Bloomberg to
Public Advocate Gotbaum to the MTA itself — are suffering from an
imagination gap - and we are all suffering for it. The fact is, the
MTA’s inaction has created a huge hole in our public safety net, and
it could easily prove to be a fatal one.”
He said there was simply no excuse for the MTA not to wire subway
tunnels and underground platforms, noting the MTA recently announced
it had a surplus of $833 million and has not yet spent most of the
$600 million in funding already allocated for security upgrades. He
also pointed out that many other urban areas both here and abroad
had already managed to provide cell phone service in their
underground subway systems, including Washington, Atlanta, San
Francisco, Berlin, Madrid and even Sophia, Bulgaria.
“This isn’t an issue of money or technology, but of leadership and
vision, and that’s why I am running for Public Advocate — to fill
this imagination gap, connect New York, and bring it into the 21st
Century,” He said.
“But we can’t wait to change horses to change these misguided
policies. We simply can’t afford to have the MTA be MIA any longer.
That’s why I am speaking out today, to give the MTA the 411 on 911
in the subways and get them to fix this huge hole in our safety net
as soon as humanly possible. It’s time to stop hanging straphangers
out to dry.”
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