January 28, 2014

Bronx should not be an afterthought when it comes to preparing for the next disaster

During Hurricane Sandy that occurred in late October 2012, many thought that the Bronx was fortunate that it was not as devastated as the other four boroughs were, particularly those communities along the Atlantic Ocean. Likewise, when we see the devastation that occurred in Nassau and Suffolk counties, many Bronxites counted their blessings that they escaped the worst of the disaster.

However, the Bronx was affected in many ways. Residents in the southern and eastern Bronx faced their own issues with flooding, power loss, and significant damage to their homes. Many Bronxites also faced the aftermath of gasoline and food shortages, limited access to public transportation, localized delays in restoring electricity, and damage to public infrastructure. Yet the Bronx is the only county south of Westchester to not be included in funding by New York State for recovery from Hurricanes Sandy and Irene and Tropical Storm Lee as per the NYS Rising Communities website

Consider this, the Bronx houses one of the largest food distribution networks in the world, but there is no plan to protect it (there is one in progress, but has no funding attached to it, see this link for more details). The Bronx has a vast public transportation structure that also serves upstate and Connecticut  commuters, but there is no plan to protect those assets in the county. Every neighborhood east of the Bronx River, which is mostly flat and lower in elevation, dealt with significant damage and flooding which overtaxed sewer lines, devastated parkland, and damaged other public utilities, but there is not a peep about how to make any of those systems more resilient. The Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory was transformed into one of the borough’s largest donation and distribution centers, serving the entire city and beyond, but what happens when the next storm cripples that asset and basic necessities cannot reach the most vulnerable? Likewise, Lehman College is the designated evacuation center for coastal flooding in the borough, but what happens if it or the roads are inaccessible?

And while the other four boroughs and counties throughout New York State are slated to receive millions of dollars in public funding to improve their infrastructure, the Bronx is left to watch its own assets crumble and fall apart. If our roads fail, that impact will be felt far and wide, especially on major corridors such as I-95, which cuts across the entire borough. If public transportation fails, that means the millions of commuters that pass by every day will be affected, and so will the Manhattan core. If the food, water, and fuel supply lines fail in the Bronx, that not only affects Bronxites, but millions of other in the region.

For far too long, elected leaders have neglected to realize that the Bronx is also vulnerable to large-scale disasters, yet our needs and concerns are barely an afterthought in the city’s and state’s leadership.  Hoping that nothing happens and ignoring the lack of resiliency in the Bronx is not a strategy we should continue to rely on. We were lucky in 2013, but how much are we willing to push our luck in the face of climate change? A more resilient Bronx is need now, before the next disaster, not after.

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