REPORT FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII – From November 29 to December 6, 2012, UH Manoa team members from the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC), Sea Grant and the Urban Resilience Lab traveled to the most severely damaged areas in New York City and New Jersey coastal communities to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) efforts in recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Sandy, the most devastating storm to hit the northeastern U.S. coast in decades, struck on November 29. The team assessed and documented damage and met with community leaders, emergency responders, hazard planners and those involved in relief and recovery efforts. Coastal storm surge, flooding and infrastructure failure were the main causes and consequences of Sandy’s impact.
Team efforts were led by Urban Planning Professor Karl Kim, PhD, who is NDPTC’s executive director; along with Dennis Hwang, of Sea Grant, and a coastal geologist and land use attorney; and Dean Sakamoto, FAIA, of the Urban Resilience Lab, an architect and lead developer of NDPTC’s HURRIPLAN, a new training course on hurricane resilient planning and design. The team was hosted and supported by Professor Ronald Shiffman, FAICP of Pratt Institute’s Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment, and numerous New York and New Jersey based planners, engineers, architects and coastal geologists. Over one week, the team visited the northern New Jersey coastal communities; Lower Manhattan’s live-work and financial districts; Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, Gowanus Canal and the Brooklyn Naval Yard; Long Island’s Rockaway peninsula, including the Arverne, Breezy Point and Howard Beach communities; Staten Island and Coney Island; and a Native American reservation, the Shinnecock tribal lands in West Hampton.
Said Kim, “Some areas such as Staten Island, the Rockaways and in New Jersey experienced massive devastation and will require much effort to recover. We must do a better job planning and building disaster resilient communities. It shows us that no place is immune from the forces of nature.”
Most of the damage in New York and New Jersey resulted from flooding. Hwang was particularly focused on coastal processes in the region, considering the effects of storm surge as well as inland flooding from canals and other bodies of water. He noted, “The storm surge in lower Manhattan was nearly 14 feet and many basements and ground floor units were flooded, taking out furnaces, electrical systems, and caused heat oil spills. This was particularly problematic in high-rise buildings, which lost elevator services, stranding many elderly and handicapped people. Even in areas with only 1 to 2 feet of flooding above grade, there were serious problems because the structures were not designed for flooding, having lower floors below the ground elevation or basements where the water would pour into and rapidly collect, threatening lives and causing great damage to homeowners and businesses.” Hwang served as the team’s photographer and captured an extensive archive of original images of Sandy damaged sites.
Said architect Sakamoto, “There are critical lessons that Sandy has taught us. These lessons need further study and be synthesized and promulgated in hurricane-prone communities. Sandy’s recovery also presents opportunities to design more sustainable, safer, stronger and aesthetically coherent buildings and communities.” Establishing design flood elevations and implementing proper flood proofing techniques are necessary. The team visited the new Sims Metal Management recycling facility, which is under construction on the Brooklyn waterfront. The Sims facility is a good example of mitigation and adaptation involving elevating structures above the base flood elevation and did not suffer damage due to Sandy.
The NDPTC will be partnering with the New York Center for Architecture of the American Institute of Architects and the American Planning Association to offer training courses on coastal flooding, resilience and hurricane resilient design in the coming year.