Philly is prepared for Sandy level disaster, though nation may not be

hurricane sandy philadelphia
A home in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia preparing for the effects of Sandy last year.
Credit: Rikard Larma / Metro

It’s been almost a year since Hurricane Sandy ripped through the East Coast, causing an estimated $50 billion in property damage alone.

While city officials say Philadelphia is prepared to deal with a disaster of Sandy’s magnitude, experts aren’t so sure the country, overall, is as well-equipped.

On a local level, when asked if Philadelphia is prepared for such an event, Office of Emergency Management director Samantha Phillips said

“I think, in basic terms, yes.”

“We’re certainly prepared to an extent, but there’s also this element of realism with major storms like that,” she continued.

“There’s going to be significant damage. There are going to be long term power outages. People will be displaced from their homes and businesses. While I think we’re prepared, I don’t want people to think a storm of that magnitude won’t have very significant implications for the city of Philadelphia.”

Phillips and her team have since Hurricane Sandy hit nearly a year ago been developing safeguards to shield Philadelphia from a similar disaster.

Chief among them is enhancing the city’s Emergency Operations Center, a hub through which officials across multiple departments gather and analyze information, then make decisions.

“We’ve been really focusing on how we gather information in the EOC, how we use information and really training other agencies how to better function within the Emergency Operations Center,” Phillips said.

She said the city has also been working on a mass shelter program, testing buildings and analyzing power feeds to ensure those displaced by disasters have safe places to stay.

“We’ve done work over the past year to really take a thorough analysis of our options and prioritize what locations to use make sure we put the public in the safest place,” she said.

“We’ve done a lot to streamline and take the guesswork out of our emergency management efforts. We’re ready to go, basically.”

She said the Office of Emergency Management has also held preparedness workshops in every geographical area of the city educating residents about creating their own home emergency plans.

The office worked with community organizations to advertise and host the events and spread the word through traditional and social media.

“One of the things we learned during Sandy is the best thing that government can do during emergencies is be very honest and have a very frank conversation with the public,” Phillips said.

“Disasters are inopportune and they’re messy. We all have a responsibility. Certainly, the government has large chunk of that responsibility, but it’s also the public. There are individual and collective responsibilities to prepare and it’s important for all of us to take the time now to make sure we’re prepared.”

Bigger picture

So is the country, in general prepared to face another disaster of Hurricane Sandy’s magnitude?

Not quite, according to Drexel University professor Scott Gabriel Knowles, who in February authored “The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America.”

Knowles believes the overarching framework through which the country deals with natural disasters could use a major overhaul.

“These disasters are not one-off visitations of angry nature,” he said.

“We are living in disaster in the United States. We are continually in a cycle of paying off and dealing with the human and the material results of these storms. … We are living in disaster and it’s important that we see the losses of these hurricanes part of larger phenomenon of American life.”

Congress in January appropriated $50.5 billion in Hurricane Sandy emergency relief funding and FEMA as of June approved $1.4 billion in assistance.

“It’s probably not sustainable that we’re going to continue to appropriate that amount of money after every hurricane, and ones that strike big, densely-populated areas like Sandy are going to be that expensive,” Knowles said.

In addition, more people than at any other point in the nation’s history now reside in vulnerable areas. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, 39 percent of Americans currently live in coastal counties.

“We have 100 million Americans who are exposed, not all of them to hurricanes, but many, many more millions than were exposed 50 years ago,” Knowles said.

“So we can’t just pretend this is something that is going to happen once in a while. This is now a structural feature of American life. I think the question to citizens and policy makers is what we’re going to do about that.”

Knowles identified several possible solutions, among them commonsense reforms around land use and continuing research on issues like climate change, storm mitigation techniques and rebuilding sea walls and wetlands.

“That requires an ongoing commitment to research from the National Science Foundation and other bodies,” he said.

“We could be doing all of those things much more vigorously.”

Knowles further pointed out in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, FEMA was folded under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.

“That means a lot of FEMA’s work around natural hazards like hurricanes moved second behind national security,” he said.

“We should consider moving it out of the Department of Homeland Security into a free standing agency like it was in the 90s, recognizing we’re living in disaster and it’s not going away.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Movies

Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

U.S. Soccer

Orlando City takes shot at NYCFC over Frank…

Orlando City reminded the world how big a signing Brazilian star Kaka earlier this month with a photo of Kaka mobbed by fans juxtaposed against Lampard.

NBA

Jeremy Lin says 'Linsanity' is over as he…

Jeremy Lin lit up the NBA two years ago with his play for the Knicks but he has no desire to recreate "Linsanity" in his new career with the Lakers.

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.