As of Friday morning, Hurricane Irene is churning about 200 miles off Florida. Precisely where she might be on Sunday is not entirely clear. But Mayor Bloomberg has already signaled the possibility of evacuations from low lying areas of New York City.
New York has, perhaps, the single most competent and capable emergency management community in the world. Tokyo is also very good, but especially since 9/11 the New York approach features a coordination and creativity that is very impressive.
This competence and capability may be about to be seriously tested. This morning I cannot always access the Office of Emergency Management website, I expect the usage stats are off the chart. I will stop trying and if you do not live in the greater metropolitan area, I discourage you from trying.
Fortunately, New York City has given considerable attention to the prospect of a serious hurricane plowing up the Hudson or somewhere else nearby. In 2007 they administrated an international competition focused on creative preparedness, response, and recovery solutions. The web-based resources are impressive, but are unfortunately not available right now (see prior paragraph).
Here’s the scenario that was set out:
What if New York City… were hit by a Category 3 hurricane? What if the most densely residential city in the country loses hundred of thousands of homes in a few hours? What if millions are left with nowhere to live, to work, or to go to school? What if subways flood, streets close, and whole neighborhoods are submerged by up to 23 feet of ocean water and battered by 130 mile-per-hour winds?
We can hope that Sunday will come and go without having real-world answers to these questions. But if Irene does her worst, it is worth a great deal that those questions have been asked and seriously engaged for a considerable period of time.