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Third Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy

By Sam Capasso

It's been three years since Sandy rocked the region and caused enough damage to become the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history at $50 billion in estimated damages. It was a wake-up call on many fronts, resparking discussion of the impacts of climate change and the preparedness of United States against disaster. In these past years, what has happened? Did the disaster make us stronger or did we fail to heed the lessons of the storm?

In many ways, New York State has been using the disaster as leverage to do the things that need to be done and to be prepared for the future. Many of the departments and agencies responsible for New York's critical infrastructure damaged in Sandy took advantage of the Stafford Act Section 406 Hazard Mitigation, rebuilding to higher levels of protection. New York City pushed its agencies to account for 30" of sea level rise over 50 years to utilize a recent change in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding that allowed FEMA to pay for the additional costs of protecting facilities against sea level rise. New York City also was very quick to adopt the more restrictive of the FEMA flood maps as their flood maps went through the regulatory revision process, as well as passing multiple changes to the building code as a result of Sandy, all of which will make the City better able to withstand and bounce-back from future disasters. New York Rising and Build it Back, which both include a residential programs funded by a HUD Community Development Block Grant, have begun the process of acquiring and elevating thousands of homes in areas at high-risk of flooding.

But much of this started while the memory of Sandy was fresh; in the intervening years, the warning and the threat of the storm have begun to fade. A provision in the New York Rising program which requires residential elevations to code compliant has led some communities to ban open foundation types in favor of closed foundations for the purpose of aesthetics. These closed foundations are more expensive and the more private nature of them tends to encourage unlawful use and occupation of that enclosed space, putting people and property at risk of future flooding. Despite New York City's early push for the more stringent flood maps, New York City has filed a technical appeal of the FEMA flood maps that, on the whole, argue for lower flood elevations and less restrictive zones throughout the City.

This is not a new pattern, but what can be done to preserve the lessons taught by a disaster? This was the overall objective of a recent CLE taught by Section Member Sam Capasso, along with Chelsea Holland and Maggie Palmer Saalfield at Touro Law School as part of their Bagels with the Board program. The CLE discussed hazard mitigation planning and the National Flood Insurance Program and FEMA's incentive program, the Community Rating System, which provides community-wide flood insurance premium discounts for communities that go above and beyond the regulatory requirements. The incentive of lower premiums is one way a community can continue the discussion about the impacts of disasters and be better prepared for when they inevitably occur.

Perhaps it is in our nature to forget and just hope that what happened in the past won't happen again. With the move of many government agencies into the new Freedom Tower, it seems even FEMA is susceptible to the creeping sense of security granted by the passage of time.

The statements and opinions above are the author's own, and not necessarily the opinions of any associated parties.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 8, 2015 12:44 PM.

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