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Transportation, Climate Change & Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Webinar Series - June 20, 2013

Session 4 Q&A: "Hurricane Sandy - Lessons Learned"

Question & Answer Session Summary

Question: Are new funding mechanisms being developed to fund the required mitigation strategies for New York City Transit?

Response (corrected after the webinar): The supplemental appropriations that Congress passed to fund Hurricane Sandy recovery and relief efforts (Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013) provides $10.9 billion for FTA's Emergency Relief Program for recovery and relief efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. Approximately half of the amount available is specifically designated for projects that will reduce the risk of damage from future disasters, including impacts associated with a changing climate. FTA's Emergency Relief program is a new program established under the transportation reauthorization bill, MAP-21, that was enacted in July 2012. More information is available at: http://www.fta.dot.gov/map21_15025.html.

Question: Do you expect to see planning and land use risk management strategies to complement the engineering based strategies for New York City Transit?

Response (Antonio): Land use risk management is not applicable for us because our transit system is fixed. The only thing we can do is protect our facilities. We are, of course, dealing with entrances and train yards and all that. The implication is that we will need to work with the City of New York as well as State agencies that deal with these issues. We have made a collective decision to protect everything as best we can based on projected Category 2 storm surge potential. We hope that in the future Federal, State, and local governments begin to look at more extensive regional solutions. Mayor Bloomberg released the NYC Special Report on Rebuilding and Resiliency in June, http://www.nyc.gov/html/sirr/html/report/report.shtml.

Question: Are the hurricane categories being revised because of expected precipitation totals and wind speed?

Response (Antonio): I am not sure about any changes to hurricane categories. I know that NOAA, FEMA, and other agencies are looking at updating their models. FEMA is coming out with new maps next year and will probably revise their SLOSH models using the new data generated by Hurricane Sandy. The models will change and the maps will change, but category designations may not. The models will take into account new wind speeds and new storm surges and sea level rise to some extent.

Question: Once a station is flooded, if the water is pumped out, can it be restored or does it need to be rebuilt?

Response (Antonio): It depends on the damage. In our case, the new South Ferry Terminal Station was completely submerged for several weeks while MTA pumped out 14.5 million gallons of water. In that case, the destruction was severe and the station needed to be rebuilt. A simpler station, one with just platforms and concrete stairs, could be cleaned and restored. Unfortunately all stations have electronic communication stations, vendingmachines, and other electronic equipment that can be damaged. Those things need to be rebuilt.

Question: What efforts are being taken to elevate entrances and ventilation grates?

Response (Antonio): These efforts are being looked at by consultants. They are mapping entrances that we know fall in the critical zones and coming up with different strategies for protecting those areas, such as panels that can be bolted on top of the vent gratings. These solutions will have to be easy to deploy. The ideal would be to standardize them across the system, but that is difficult because of the variety of vent openings. The logistics of deployment of those solutions will need to be taken into account because in an emergency we will have a finite amount of time to deploy.

Question: Antonio mentioned that his agency and consultants are looking at options for protecting the Coney Island yard. Does NYCT have a timeline for studying the projects that can be done to protect these facilities?

Response (Antonio): All the projects are two-year or in some cases one-year timelines. We just started doing that this spring because that's when we got the funding. Some are on accelerated paths if they protect critical facilities in downtown Manhattan, where they are very vulnerable. Some will take longer depending on the area. We are all looking into that. All of the projects have a component that involves studying mitigation measures. Then once we agree on the most adequate and cost-effective mitigation effort to use it will go to contract for building whatever needs to be built.

Question: Were there any limitations to the modeling that you would like to revise for the future?

Response (Antonio): Regarding the SLOSH model, we found that it was very accurate in projecting the impact of a Category 1 hurricane. We were overwhelmed because the storm was a little more powerful than a Category 1 storm, but the model did predict very well where the water was going and how high it would be. In terms of improving the model, we would all like to know with more accuracy where the water will go and how high the surge will be because that varies from storm to storm, but because of variation from storm to storm we understand that it will never be perfect. Obviously, the more data they collect the better the model will be in the end. We hope to see improvements but we understand the limitations too.

Updated: 03/27/2014
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