Let's Prevent the Next Storm Catastrophe

Damage estimates from this storm now exceed $50 billion. It would have cost a fraction of that amount to prepare to meet the storm in the week prior than it will now to clean it up.

  1. Preventing the Next Storm Catastrophe with an Information Strategy

    November 2, 2012 by Steven Adler

    Its eight days since Hurricane Sandy plunged our lives into cold, dark, analog confusion.  We have no electricity, no heat, limited telephone, Internet, and cell phone service in my home.  A thousand downed tree trunks and limbs still clog our streets or sit precariously dangling against bent over power lines and poles.  In the first days, there were no traffic lights.  Gas stations had gas but no electricity to pump, now they get slender supplies and we suffer long lines of cars snaking through our streets and clogging the main roads.  Neighbors run loud generators all day and drive far and wide to fill bright red gas cans with another day’s supply of electricity and warmth.  Night time temperatures plunge close to 25F, and we huddle in our living room under blankets with gloves and hats.  But we have it easy on the North Shore of Long Island.  The South Shore has flooding, and huge sections of our beautiful coast line have been wiped off the map.  We drove to Long Beach on Sunday and are still haunted by the huge heaps of soaked and rotten furniture, insulation, and clothing piled high on the curbs, the sand on the streets, the green stickers on doors of condemned homes.  In New Jersey, whole communities have been lost and the devastation is beyond imagination.  We see photos now on the Internet and we can’t believe this is happening to us, here in New York.  Florida, Louisiana, yes…  But NY?!

  2. Here in Port Washington, most of our electricity transformers were destroyed when trees brought down power lines and current backed up and created loads the transformers were not designed to handle.  They popped and flashed all night like fireworks.  Then the current rushed into sub-stations and caused them to explode in a chain reaction that ultimately fried our main lines.  Now our town’s electricity infrastructure is completely destroyed and must be rebuilt at great cost.

  3. Last week, we heard public officials tell us to be prepared for this storm, that it would be worse than Hurricane Irene, which hit last year.   But why weren’t they prepared?
  4. 1.  Why didn’t they have storm damage models that could simulate the impact of a storm like this on the regions?

    2.  Why didn’t our authorities prepare themselves to mee the storm head on?  Why didn't they organize local volunteers on day 1 to inventory the damages, canvass the residents, and find out who has generators who is without and how can extra capacity be shared across property lines to ensure every resident has some light and warmth?

    3.  Why didn’t the power authorities turn off the grid as the storm broke to prevent circuit overloads and preserve the infrastructure?

    4.  Why don’t LIPA and National Grid finally move our power lines from above ground to below ground?

    5.  Why didn’t the Governors ship in generators and emergency fuel supplies before the Hurricane to respond immediately after?

    6.  Why weren’t the grocery stores backed up with extra generators and provisions for the next week?

    7.  Why weren’t Lowes and Home Depot armed with extra supplies of candles, inverters, generators, flashlights, and other emergency supplies?

    8.  And why weren’t armies of skilled technicians, goods, and supplies ordered, organized, and backed up nearby to jump into action the minute the storm ended?

    We are a just-in-time society with myopic, market driven forecasting models that react to the last crisis instead of preparing to meet the next one.  Damage estimates from this storm now exceed $50 billion.  It would have cost a fraction of that amount to answer the eight questions above and prepare to meet the storm in the week prior than it will now to clean it up. We have the satellite intelligence to predict natural catastrophes long before they strike.  Now we need Data and Human Intelligence to prevent future catastrophes from disrupting our lives and causing so much damage.

    This one was eminently preventable.  I hope public officials and businesses will heed my advice and use predictive models, simulations, and analytics to prepare for the next one and mitigate the damages.  What we have seen in much of Long Island is a 1980's style of municipal leadership that focuses on command and control instead of outreach and communication. 

    This is a data challenge as much as a leadership one.  Both need to work together.  This year. 

    Because all too soon we’ll have another crisis to respond to…

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matteo November 07, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Can the police get out of the way at the BP station on Port Blvd? In other areas, say Willis Ave, the local merchants are doing a fine job and the traffic flows. There's no movement on Port Blvd heading south. The cops should get out of the way, they're doing more harm than good. Let the station call 15 mins before closing so the cops can tell the lucky ones still in line.
NH Runner November 07, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Foolish comments. everything must come to a halt to help the writer? lipa should just bury their cables (with a snap of their finger and no expense to you). people choose to live in a flood zone and fight femas attempts to require such people to buy flood insurance. people who are ordered to evacuate stay and call for help when flood waters arrive. you complain that home depot didnt do enough? That people who were prepared should be ordered to share their generators? on my block, the wires are broken at every house. every house. my neighbor, who is on oxygen, cant get gas for his genetator because selfish people fill cars with half a tank. but for you sir, next time, the state will erect a giant umbrella over your home to protect you. you cant control nature. and before you point the finger, look in the mirror.
Arguendo November 07, 2012 at 09:20 PM
LIPA repetitively expenses and we repetitively pay for the cleanups -- over and over again. I will gladly pay to bond out the one-time infrastructure ruggedization and burial. But I will not allow the existing LIPA incompetents to remain in position.
Richard Brody November 08, 2012 at 04:00 PM
We've been told you can't control Mother Nature.Some writers go as far as to blame people who complain because after 10days they have still no power&heat(I've been fortunate this time but last storm went nearly 8days+was ridiculed ridicule how I had the audacity to complain).Ride from Nassau into Queens,&magically there is light,isn't there a possibility of an infrastructure problem?Europeans who visit can't believe we still don't bury wires.Burying wires is expensive,but so are the effects of the status quo.Nassau county lost $30Mfrom sales tax revenue 1st 4 days.We keep putting bandaids on the dam,+being surprised when it leaks!Bury lines,upgrade infrastructure,take out bonds,etc to pay for it,+of course,the consumer will pay.But now we're paying anyway.When,on a list serve that I subscribe to with approx under 300 participants,OVER 120 are seriously discussing installing automatic gas generators(at a huge cost),there is something wrong!LIPA has NO cust svc+these people can get NO straight answer.We force gas stations to replace tanks for enviro reasons,make them install back-up generators that can function at least 6 hrs/day to eliminate this ridiculous&unnecessary gas crisis.It is NOW over 10days.We were promised it would be days before the gas situation was back to normal.This is about lack of infrastructure,poor planning,lousy cust svc.Don't blame frustrated citizens.As the lead character on NETWORK said,"I'm MAD as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore."DEMAND CHANGE!
jonathan winant November 08, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Why hasn't anyone discussed the role of the property owner or homeowner who needs to stop planting large trees in the vicinity of power and utility lines. Property owners should be held responsible when overgrown or trees needing trimming take down utility lines and sirupt the allready fragile infrastructure which we rely on so heavily. Doing so mighthave saved a lot of homes from being in the dark or without intanet and cable televison and phone service. Scratch your head and wonder why in some areas Cable and electric service went down but the Verizon land line service stayed reliable. That is if you still had an old fashioned corded phone without an elctrically operated base. A simple under ten dollar cheapo phone with push buttons saved our phone service after we had spotty cell phone service.
jonathan winant November 11, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Unfortunate as it was this was a storm like no other seen in my life time, but there is a reality to consider. If you own a home or property you have certain legal responsibilities. Should your sidewalk need to be replaced and someone is hurt because you did not do so you are held responsible. Taking care of your property can help lessen the risks of dangers which might affect others maybe even hundereds of other residents. Dead or overgrown trees can and do take down power lines during storms. Sometimes mother nature only excacerbates what we create. Sandy might be a wake up call for hoeowners and untility companies who need to rethink what they do to possible prevent loss of esential services.
jonathan winant November 11, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Richard Adding to what you wrote is the fact that other utilities and Cablevision relied heavily on what LIPA was and was not doing. When I called Cablevision I was informed that poor communications (or lack of) with LIPA kept Cable crews hampered the restoration of Cablevision services. Customer reports of restoration of electricity was extremely helpfull. I wonder how Verizon faired with the por coomunications coming out of LIIPA headquarters? I am sure the next time their is an electric rate hike all hell will break lose!
George Mulligan November 11, 2012 at 12:53 PM
One thing that should change is who pays the cost for removal of trees that fall on another persons property. I had two huge branches from two different oak trees fall on my property. I don't own either tree. One belongs to a neighbor next to me and another to a neighbor behind me. Since the damaged limbs fell on my property I have to pay the removal cost. The owners who neglected to have the trees trimmed properly get off scot free. That stinks.
jonathan winant November 11, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Someone needs to do a story which will clearly spell out the rights and responsibilities in such instances. The Town or County needs to spell out the laws governing responsibility once lines are damaged by trees. Still I agree you have to place your neighbor on notice when someothing on their property creates a danger to you or your home. In this way your doing the enighborly thing by letting them know before you end up in a court battle should it escalate that far. The same holds true to trees which should be trimmed by utility companies or government. The idea is to be ahead of the game same holds true to bringing in objects which can become air born and cause dangers during storms of any size.
Ann Elphick November 11, 2012 at 02:53 PM
You can't blame the storm...precautions were never taken after Irene...doesn't anyone out there live and learn. After Irene was the time to start taking action so that the next hurricane wouldn't reap even greater and more serious problems
Ann Elphick November 11, 2012 at 02:54 PM
I don't know why Paul Garner's photo is by my replies. Where do I send a pic of myself. Ann Elphick
George Mulligan November 11, 2012 at 03:23 PM
It's the prior notice clause that has me upset. Results are what matters. If the tree falls from a neighbor onto my property why should I be responsible for prior notice? I think that should change.
jonathan winant November 11, 2012 at 03:36 PM
George you need to look at prevailing laws which superceede all else in a court of law
Ann Elphick November 11, 2012 at 07:32 PM
How do I put a pic of myself (Ann Elphick) instead of a very young pic of Paul Garner of Norwood Road?
Ann Elphick November 11, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Could you explain to me how to change Paul Garner's photo that appears on all my comments to a photo of myself. I need to download a photo of me.
jonathan winant November 11, 2012 at 08:33 PM
The article is about preventing the next Storm Catastrophe which could be done very easily. !st- Have local governments synchronize with utilities who can not be every where at the same and do not seem to have up to the minute status reports of outages. 2nd- Coordinate with merchants so that some have generators and running freezers plus a truckload of ice. Alpers hardware had generators as did Habour Deli. I wonder if people knew that King Kullen and Stop and Shop had generators but no freezer or fridge items. 3rd- create a system of volunteer watchers who would report back to the local OEM with status updates about everything from lost utilities to which stores are open and have needed supplies 4th- Should circumstances look really bad local government should deploy generator to allow cell phone recharging so calls can be made. 5th- Have LIPA, Cablevision and other essential service coordinate with both the PWHOEM and the TONH OEM so therse groups can spread information and not waste the time of the utilities restoration efforts.
Ann Elphick November 11, 2012 at 11:26 PM
You don't have to pay for the damage your neighbor's trees caused on your property. I've never heard of that! Ann Elphick
George Mulligan November 11, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Ann, if the tree falls on your property you do have to pay for the cost of removal. If it hits your house insurance may kick in. If it falls on your lawn you have to pay all or most of the cost. Not sure if insurance will cover a tree that doesn't hit your house.


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