New York's Sandy lesson: Evacuate and get boats

NEW YORK (AFP) - New York needs everything from bigger evacuations to better boats if it is to weather another event like last year's Hurricane Sandy, a wide-ranging review showed Friday.

The 59 recommendations in a report by deputy mayors Linda Gibbs and Cas Holloway seek to improve on the response to Sandy, which left 43 New Yorkers dead and forced tens of thousands of people out of their homes last October.

The proposed measures focus on evacuating low-lying coastal areas, getting better information to New Yorkers during phone and electricity blackouts, dealing with flooded houses, relief distribution, and getting emergency services the right equipment.

The city says that during Sandy and its aftermath, it sent 2,000 Tweets and received 16 million page views on its nyc.gov website.

When it came to ordering mandatory evacuations from at-risk neighbourhoods, the authorities say they made 33,000 calls and knocked on more than 10,000 doors of the most fragile residents.

However, the message didn't entirely get through, the report concedes.

"Despite extensive communications before the storm, many residents of Zone A chose not to leave their homes," the report said, noting that a survey showed that most of those who ignored the mayoral order believed "the storm would not be strong enough to pose a danger".

In the future, the city will have to "ensure that communications clearly explain the importance of following an evacuation order", the report said, suggesting the city also work with advertising companies to make use of digital billboards.

And if there is another hurricane, more people will be asked to leave their homes.

The deputy mayors noted that floods from the storm surge "significantly exceeded" the primary Zone A.

So from now, the three existing zones will be replaced with six, including much of southern Manhattan, encompassing an additional 640,000 New Yorkers.

After the storm passed over, the biggest and longest lasting problem for New Yorkers were power outages, something the new report says must be addressed before the next incident.

"Significant steps can be taken to strengthen the city's capacity to more quickly respond to the massive power outages that residents and businesses faced following the storm," the deputy mayors wrote.

Many of the recommendations call for complex plans, but one of the most specific items is the call for getting police the right kind of small boat to navigate flooded streets.

"NYPD patrol commands used flat-bottomed jon boats to conduct many rescues; because these boats do not have motors and require manual rowing or towing, they limit mobility and maneuverability in swift currents," the report noted.

"Because these boats are metal, officers had to use extreme caution to avoid downed power lines."

Instead, patrol police should have been issued the same inflatable craft used by specialised police and fire department units.

These "have outboard motors that can operate with only 18 inches of draft and are made of... galvanised rubber that is easily decontaminated and patched.

Inflatable boats are generally more maneuverable than jon boats, fold up for storage on a vehicle, and can be easily deployed," the report said.