Comptroller Wants Updated NYC Housing Emergency Readiness Plan

“It’s not a question of whether New York will be hit by another superstorm like Hurricane Sandy, but when. It’s past time for the city to reassure New Yorkers that we are better prepared than we were six years ago.”

by Michael Gartland, New York Daily News / September 9, 2019

(TNS) — The city’s fiscal watchdog is demanding Mayor de Blasio detail what steps the New York City Housing Authority has taken to ensure it’s prepared for environmental calamities like Superstorm Sandy, which left NYCHA buildings inundated with water, the Daily News has learned.

“It’s not a question of whether New York will be hit by another superstorm like Sandy, but when," Comptroller Scott Stringer told The News. “It’s past time for the City to reassure New Yorkers that we are better prepared than we were six years ago. Lives are at stake, homes and businesses are on the line, and futures hang in the balance,” Stringer explained. "We need to act with the urgency that our climate crisis demands because time is not on our side.”

In a Sept. 6 letter addressed to de Blasio, Stringer requests City Hall provide him with a detailed outline of what NYCHA has done in several areas, including: helping disabled tenants stuck in their homes during emergencies, developing resiliency measures to defend against flooding and implementing emergency management plans at each of NYCHA’s 326 housing complexes.

“Emergency drills are an indispensable part of preparing staff and identifying issues that might arise during a crisis, and yet our office found that NYCHA paid little attention to this critical responsibility, holding only a few drills in select locations, and failing to hold any drills in three quarters of its developments,” Stringer wrote in the letter, obtained by The News.

“Describe what steps have been taken to systematically conduct drills, exercises and other training events at all NYCHA developments," he continued. “Included in this should be a full listing of all emergency drills performed at NYCHA facilities during each of the last three fiscal years, the dates of each and the developments at which they occurred.”

Housing Authority General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo, city Emergency Management Commissioner Deanne Criswell and the director of the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency Jainey Bavishi are cc’ed on Stringer’s letter.

In a December 2015 NYCHA audit, Stringer determined the agency was “woefully unprepared for (the) next major emergency" and “would leave more than 400,000 public housing tenants at extreme risk in the event of a crisis.”

That 400,000 estimate covers roughly the entire population of people living in housing authority buildings.

The audit found building managers did not have accurate contact information for 80% of tenants with wheelchairs or equipment like oxygen tanks, failed to conduct training events at 78% of its developments and couldn’t keep track of the “vast majority” of its emergency generators.

In its response to Stringer, NYCHA issued a Nov. 2016 update outlining what it had done — and was in the process of doing — to address what Stringer outlined in his 2015 audit.

That update, which The News obtained through a Freedom of Information request and which was signed by then-NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye, reported that the agency’s Office of Emergency Management was in the process of re-writing its “Organization for Emergencies” document and that authority had, at that time, launched an online certification process to register type of disability and emergency contact information.

As of October 2016, only 54 of the city’s developments were “online,” according to the update.

“The safety of our residents is always of paramount importance. NYCHA’s Office of Emergency Management responds 24 hours a day to NYCHA emergencies including weather events," said agency spokesman Mike Giardina. "We work closely with NYCEM and first responders, and have emergency preparedness plans in place. We are strengthening the team by adding staffing, resources, and building out a permanent emergency operations center. We are reviewing Comptroller Stringer’s letter.”

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