Risk Assessment and Implementation of Measures to Address Extreme Weather Conditions

Issued Date
September 29, 2023
Metropolitan Transportation Authority - New York City Transit


To determine whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) – New York City Transit (Transit) identified potential damage to its system and developed plans to mitigate the effect of extreme weather conditions and flooding. We also determined whether the MTA tested/updated the plans and inspected and maintained the equipment to ensure they can be deployed when needed. Our audit covered the period from April 2009 to August 2022.


In the decade since Superstorm Sandy, weather predicting models have indicated that, with rising sea levels, the range and depth of storm surge will increase across New York City. With the sea level rise, future storms will flood more property. Transit has experienced flash flooding due to heavy rain, which is harder to predict in terms of timing and location of impact. Therefore, protective measures need to be designed to function while still allowing services to continue running. Coastal flooding caused by storm surge can cause severe corrosion of Transit’s infrastructure and equipment.

In September 2007, the Chair of the MTA appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainability and the MTA (Blue Ribbon Commission) charged with making sustainability-related recommendations to the MTA and its agencies. In April 2009, the MTA issued the Blue Ribbon Commission’s Report on Sustainability and the MTA (Report) making 93 recommendations, including the development of a climate change adaptation master plan and 11 recommendations specifically related to climate adaptation to prepare for rising sea levels, storms, and severe weather events.

According to the MTA’s website, the facilities of Transit’s system are an irreplaceable public asset. To restore, improve, and expand this asset, the MTA committed $33.1 billion in capital program funding between 2010 and 2019 and another $34.2 billion in capital projects programmed for 2020 through 2024. This includes the major restoration-resiliency projects stemming from Superstorm Sandy, which hit the New York City area in October 2012 causing significant coastal flooding and approximately $5 billion in damage to MTA assets. Additionally, following Superstorm Sandy and in response to the Blue Ribbon Commission’s Report, the MTA created a series of projects that were added to the 2010–14 Capital Program.

Inspection and maintenance of Transit’s on- and off-site facilities and equipment is critical to ensure the system is prepared for future extreme weather events. Consequently, Transit is required to conduct inspections of its storm surge mitigation equipment prior to hurricane season and in advance of an expected severe weather event. In addition, Transit developed several weather plans that can be activated for extreme weather-related conditions and detailed procedures to be followed in the lead-up to a storm event and following its impact.

Key Findings

To date, the MTA has not implemented one of the most important recommendations of the 2009 Report – the development of the climate change adaptation master plan. Since Superstorm Sandy, Transit has assessed and identified areas of its system that are at risk of flooding from extreme weather events and developed and carried out capital projects to both correct damage caused by Superstorm Sandy and mitigate potential flooding conditions in the Transit system. Further:

  • Our review of a sample of 23 of 221 capital projects intended to correct or prevent damage found that projects were often incomplete in scope of work, not finished on time or within budget, or insufficiently documented. Just two of six critical stations that Transit indicated should have been made more watertight and resistant to potential flooding were completed in one project we reviewed. Another project was initiated to prevent flood water from entering 14 fan plants; however, only 11 fan plants were mitigated. Transit officials stated the three remaining fan plants were completed but did not provide documentation to support their statements. (Fan plants are facilities with large vent gratings and fans located atop shafts connected to the Transit tunnels.)
  • Transit did not sufficiently document inspections of individual pieces of equipment. Instead, it reported more broadly by subway stations or by rooms in off-site facilities that were inspected. In one instance, because not all rooms were inspected at a facility, we were able to determine that 51 of 72 pieces of equipment in our sample were not inspected between January 2021 and August 2022.
  • While Transit has developed winter, hurricane, rain, and extreme heat plans, we found that these plans were inconsistently activated, with no documentation explaining the rationale for decision making. In our sample of 18 weather events, plans were not activated for six events that included tropical storms, hurricanes, or coastal flooding.

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure mitigation-related capital projects, including scope of work, are completed on time and within budget to prevent further damage to Transit facilities.
  • When conducting inspections, include enough information to identify the equipment inspected, such as serial number, equipment tag number, and model number.
  • Establish and document a process to ensure weather information and instructions from Transit officials are communicated to all responsible personnel and units.

Carmen Maldonado

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Carmen Maldonado
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236