It’s no small secret that a large amount, perhaps even the majority, of Brooklynites living in Zone A failed to heed the city’s call for a mandatory evacuation during Superstorm Sandy. Some felt the storm would not be as devastating as it proved to be, and reflected on the city’s pointless mandatory evacuation during Hurricane Irene the previous year. The failure to evacuate left many in terror as the waters crashed through the streets, and some, including Manhattan Beach resident Cy Schoenfeld, perished when they could not escape the flood.
City Council candidate Igor Oberman told Sheepshead Bites that mandatory evacuations must truly be mandatory if authorities aim to keep residents safe, and is proposing repercussions for those residents who refuse to leave ahead of future storms.
“If you’re going to say it’s a mandatory evacuation, it’s mandatory,” Oberman said of the evacuation orders. “A rule has to have a kind of duel sided charge, that if you don’t follow something ithis is what happens to you. Otherwise, it’s not a rule.”
In advance of Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Office of Emergency Management issued a mandatory evacuation order. However, the mayor made clear that the city would not force people from their homes, instead warning residents that they would be cut off from emergency services during the most perilous hours of the storm – a promise that was kept as police and firefighters largely stayed out of Zone A until the water receded.
But Oberman, who is running to replace term-limited Councilman Michael Nelson, who himself failed to evacuate during the storm, said that’s not good enough, and the city ought to do more. He suggests a series of penalties if one fails to vacate.
“I think there’s a little bit of wordplay that people try to do. It’s mandatory only if you want help, that’s the wordplay they’re trying to pull,” he said. “But if you have a mandatory evacuation you have to ensure the citizens who you’re charged to protect have a way out of the area.”
To motivate homeowners to abandon their property, Oberman said that benefits from the city government and insurance companies ought to be slashed for those who stay home and put both themselves and emergency workers in danger.
“It has to be that if they don’t leave the area, if you don’t follow the rule of law, there has to be a repercussion in terms of being first in line for the benefits of city aid and insurance companies. There has to be prioritization of those who followed the instructions and those that ignored them.”
To do that, he suggested bumping those who failed to comply to the end of the line for benefits like Rapid Repairs, and even a reduced reimbursement from the private insurance companies. He also suggests a reduced deductible from the insurance companies for those who do evacuate.
“There’s got to be a way to say you’ve got to leave, and the repercussions have to be more so. Because if not, it’s not just the loss of property, it’s the loss of lives,” he said.
In addition to the forced evacuation proposal, Oberman’s campaign last week released a short plan for recovery and future storm preparation, which he said is derived from the lessons he learned as president of Trump Village 4, the 4,000-person complex he helped see through Superstorm Sandy.
Oberman’s ideas include a slew of proposals already in the works, although he said he’d like to see them done better and faster. They include the immediate relocation of residents affected by the storm, as FEMA attempted to do. He also suggested the city create a dedicated disaster fund and a stockpile of food and water. Additionally, he wants building codes reformed for structures within a mile of the shoreline, something the Department of City Planning is already working on, and to expedite the discovery and repair of sinkholes before they become larger problems.
Oberman also blasted the current elected officials, saying they need to be more vocal about storm readiness, having apparently put it in their rear-view mirror.
“One of the important things I don’t see any elected discussing is that we’re heading into the next hurricane season, and there’s been nothing done since the last one,” he said.
He added that discussions about infrastructure issues like sewer line improvements are great for long-term planning, but little has been done since Sandy to prepare us for this year’s season – which began in June – and more of the short-term preparations like food and water stockpiling ought to be underway.
“Everyone’s talking about infrastructure, sewers, that kind of thing that’s not going to happen before the next hurricane. So I want everyone to look at where we are, what we’ve done and what can we do for the next one,” he said.
At Trump Village, Oberman said he and his board have implemented a number of improvements to prepare for the next storm, and hopes to see other large residential complexes adopt the ideas.
“I’m confident that we’ve learned our lesson and we’re much more prepared than any other building in New York City. We’re the only complex in New York City that has a satellite phone,” he said, noting that he bought the device because cell phone carriers were too slow to restore lost signals, and the building needed communication to reach out to city agencies and connect residents with their concerned families.
He also said they’re installing solar panels on the roof to energize their water and sewage system – which need electricity to reach the upper floors – in the case of another long-term power outage. They’ve added a waterproof shell around their boiler room as well, and are creating their own stockpile of food, batteries, water and a small generator on an upper-level that won’t be lost to flooding.
He said buildings like his, as well as regular homeowners, should seek to make similar preparations because without legislative changes, the city is likely to repeat what he says was a slow, cumbersome response to Sandy. Asked about the latest proposals from the mayor’s office for improving storm preparation, Oberman was dismissive.
“I’m very happy they brought in 230 generators, [according to a report the mayor issued in May.] That’s a response? And they didn’t come in right away,” he said. “The Office of Emergency Management means when there’s an emergency, manage it. Right after the emergency, not three weeks or a month.”