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NEWS from the Office of the New York State Comptroller
Contact: Press Office 518-474-4015

DiNapoli: NYC Emergency Management Failing to Ensure the City is Prepared for Disasters

October 27, 2022

Ten years after Superstorm Sandy devastated the New York City metropolitan area, killing dozens of people and causing billions of dollars in damage, the city needs to be better prepared for another catastrophic event, according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The audit of the New York City Emergency Management (NYCEM) found weak oversight and poor management of hazard mitigation efforts, operational continuity plans and evacuation plans. The audit is the first of four that DiNapoli has engaged with a focus on resiliency planning in New York City.

“It is not a matter of if, but when, another massive storm like Sandy will hit New York City, potentially crippling its infrastructure and endangering lives,” DiNapoli said. “The city needs to be ready, but inadequate coordination and limited centralized oversight of the city’s disaster preparations is very concerning. I urge New York City Emergency Management to act swiftly on our findings to avoid costly damage and unnecessary harm.”

“As a Superstorm Sandy survivor, I know firsthand how critically important emergency preparedness and disaster response are for coastal communities like Far Rockaway,” said Assemblymember Khaleel M. Anderson (31st Dist.). “In the decade since Sandy, it seems the city has fallen on the job putting forth a poor evacuation plan and building little capacity, which could lead to incalculable loss when the next disaster occurs. I commend State Comptroller DiNapoli’s report and look forward to working proactively with NYCEM to build logistical capacity, engagement and sustainability in this part of New York City.”

When Superstorm Sandy hit the city on Oct. 29, 2012, it took 44 lives, damaged thousands of homes, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people, damaged critical public and private infrastructure, and stranded many New Yorkers with limited access to food, water and other critical services. The storm inflicted an estimated $19 billion in damages and lost economic activity in the city.

New York City Emergency Management (NYCEM) is responsible for coordinating citywide emergency planning and helping New Yorkers before, during, and after all kinds of emergencies. It helps coordinate long-term strategies to reduce risk and increase the city’s resilience. NYCEM’s Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) is not just needed to prepare for disasters, it is required to be updated every five years to qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding after disasters strike.

In 2019, NYCEM released its five-year HMP update as a website that provides information on mitigation actions that it and other city agencies have taken. As of March 10, 2022, NYCEM had 755 hazard mitigation actions listed as in-process or complete on the site, but there were a number of problems. Auditors found:

  • 412 (55%) mitigation actions did not have finish dates, making it unclear if the work was completed;
  • 403 (53%) mitigation actions did not have start dates, making it unclear if the work had begun; and
  • 281 (37%) mitigation actions did not have cost estimates.

Auditors looked at 14 mitigation actions — four led by NYCEM and 10 led by other agencies to check if the reported data was accurate. One mitigation action, related to evacuation centers’ accessibility, was given a completion date of April 15, 2019, but it was still not finished more than three years later. Another for interim flood protection measures was expected to be finished by June 30, 2021, however, the project was still ongoing over one year later.

NYCEM officials reached out at the request of auditors to 10 city agencies for documentation to support their mitigation actions — the location, vendor invoices and cost estimate documentation. When auditors compared the HMP data for those 10 projects with the documentation provided by the agencies, they found significant differences in cost estimates, start dates and finish dates. One city agency’s cost estimate for protecting critical electrical systems exceeded the reported HMP cost estimate by $737 million. A stormwater drainage plan was listed on the HMP at a cost of $360 million, but the agency said its cost was $582.9 million.

The inaccuracies in the published HMP and lack of monitoring by NYCEM reduce the agency’s awareness of whether or not the city’s disaster preparations are progressing. NYCEM officials stated that they are not an oversight agency and cannot compel other agencies to provide it with information and that project oversight and management is not one of its responsibilities. However, under the City Charter and NYCEM’s own protocols it is the lead and responsible agency for coordinating resources in incidents of public safety and is supposed to monitor mitigation efforts to ensure data is accurate and up to date.

NYCEM also creates and maintains four citywide evacuation plans: the Area Evacuation Plan, Maritime Emergency Transportation Plan, Coastal Storm Plan, and Flash Flood Emergency Plan. NYCEM did not provide auditors with any evidence that it conducted formal assessments of its four citywide evacuation plans. Two of these — the Area Evacuation Plan (evacuating one or more neighborhoods due to a large-scale no-notice event) and the Maritime Emergency Transportation Plan (responding to incidents that cause an immediate and unforeseen surge in need for maritime transportation) — were last updated in 2013.

Auditors also found that NYCEM did not have access to local evacuation plans such as those for specific Community Districts. Access to such plans would allow NYCEM to ensure adequate coordination during an emergency.

Further, auditors determined that NYCEM did not do enough to ensure city agencies’ Continuity of Operations (COOP) plans were completed. Many agencies failed to submit COOP plans to NYCEM. When they did, NYCEM did not review them to ensure the information was accurate, up to date, and complete. Auditors who reviewed the plans found they were often missing data and had incorrect points of contact listed.

DiNapoli’s recommendations to NYCEM include:

  • Comply with the HMP Maintenance Protocol and the HMP, including gathering supporting documentation from city agencies to ensure mitigation action data is accurate, complete, and up to date.
  • Establish time frames and implement formal written policies and procedures for updating citywide evacuation plans and conducting plan assessments;
  • Create formal policies and procedures for following up with city agencies that are delinquent in attesting to/submitting COOP plans and completing COOP plan exercises;
  • Review COOP plans submitted by city agencies to ensure the plans are accurate, up to date, and complete.

NYCEM generally disagreed with the report’s findings. Its response is included in the audit.

New York City Emergency Management: Hazard Mitigation and Coordination

Track state and local government spending at Open Book New York. Under State Comptroller DiNapoli’s open data initiative, search millions of state and local government financial records, track state contracts, and find commonly requested data.