Is New York Prepared for Hurricane Irene?

With Hurricane Irene preparing to slam into the North Carolina coast on Saturday and head towards New York by Sunday, questions are beginning to emerge as to if New York is actually prepared for a natural disaster of such a great magnitude?

According to the New York City Office of Emergency Management, New York’s highly population density along its coastline makes NYC among the most vulnerable cities in the country to hurricane related damage.

New York is the most densely populated city in the country and New York Times columnist Nate Silver laid out the worst-case scenario of the storm arguing that if Irene was to pass over Manhattan as a Category 2 hurricane, it might cause around $35 billion in damage as it would probably flood the subway system and some of New York’s most expensive neighborhoods.

Even if the worst-case scenario is not likely to happen, Dr. Manny Alvarez argues that New York is not ready for the looming hurricane this weekend as witnessed by the earthquake that hit New York on Tuesday.

With cell phone outages, building evacuations, and mass confusion caused by a minor earthquake that caused little or no damage, Alvarez argues that a hurricane that can cause extensive flooding and a massive power outage will have a significant impact on a city that relies heavily on electrical power.

Alvarez argues, “Based on Tuesday, I think we all need a refresher on how to handle natural disasters.”

New York faces several threats from the hurricane including a storm surge that would cause flooding due to water rising many feet above sea level, debris that can be potentially dangerous, power outages, damage and a standstill of the subway system. It would also be likely that any substantial disruption would have an impact on the city's financial system as a storm surge is likely to have the most impact on low-lying areas, such as lower Manhattan's financial district.

Furthermore, in the event of a terrible storm, New Yorkers would have an extremely difficult time evacuating the city as the population density mixed with the fact that the city is on an island makes it extremely difficult to carry out the mass evacuations along Manhattan’s limited amount of bridges and tunnels.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, has expressed concerns that beyond city officials, New Yorkers themselves are not prepared to deal with a hurricane either and has urged people to prepare themselves with enough food, water, and medicine to last several days.

Mayor Bloomberg spoke at City Hall yesterday evening and said, “We hope for the best but we prepare for the worst.”

Mayor Bloomberg also announced that evacuation centers would begin to open at 4p.m. on Friday to residents in evacuation zones that do not have alternative shelter.