Judge: "City Does Not Have an Adequate Plan" for Evacuating Vulnerable During Disasters

Thursday, November 07, 2013

A man is helped up the stairs at Seward Park High School, which is doubling as an evacuation center for Hurricane Sandy. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

A federal judge has ruled that New York City is not adequately prepared to evacuate disabled residents during emergencies, a problem that came to the forefront during Sandy and Irene.

Judge Jesse Furman, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said the Bloomberg administration in many respects had done an “outstanding” job preparing for emergencies, but said there was a mixed record when it came to accommodating handicapped residents.

“Most significantly,” Furman wrote, “the city’s plans are inadequate to ensure that people with disabilities are able to evacuate before or during an emergency; they fail to provide sufficiently accessible shelters; and they do not sufficiently inform people with disabilities of the availability and location of accessible emergency services.”

The plaintiffs, which included the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled and the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, had said the city violated the Americans with Disability Act for a number of reasons:

  • many of the evacuation shelters were inaccessible to people in wheelchairs;
  • there was inadequate transportation to help disabled people evacuate, especially from high-rises;
  • emergency officials had no plan to find and rescue those trapped after an emergency.

After the ruling, the city's law department released a prepared statement:

"While we are disappointed with the Court's conclusions, we are gratified it recognized that the City's extensive planning is impressive, and the efforts and valor of those responding to emergencies have been 'extraordinary.' Planning for the needs of people with disabilities has always been and remains a priority for the City. We are continuing to review this decision and assess our next steps."



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Comments [5]

G Anniston from Manhattan

City: Evacuation Rate During Sandy Dangerously Low
Friday, May 03, 2013
By Matthew Schuerman : Editor, WNYC
Only a third of New York City residents in the most vulnerable coastal areas of the city evacuated before Sandy, according to a survey released Friday.

The survey also showed that a sizeable majority — 71 percent — of people in Evacuation Zone A knew about a mandatory order to move to higher ground, but stayed nonetheless. The survey of 509 people has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.

Nov. 09 2013 03:41 PM
C Floros

Text from the ruling with judge Furman's opening
JESSE M. FURMAN, United States District Judge:

The task of planning for, and responding to, emergencies and disasters is one of the most important, and challenging, tasks any government faces. Emergencies can take many forms — from power outages, to hurricanes, to terrorist attacks — and a government, particularly a local
Case 1:11-cv-06690-JMF Document 159 Filed 11/07/13 Page 2 of 1193
government, must be prepared for them to strike at almost any moment. Such preparedness requires considerable planning, resources to execute those plans, and a willingness to learn from experience and revise plans that do not sufficiently accomplish their goals. Even then, each
emergency is different and, to some extent, unpredictable, and no amount of planning or resources can fully prepare a local government to respond to what may come. Moreover, ultimately, there are limits to what the government can do on its own: Not only must a local
government be prepared, but its residents must also prepare themselves.
In recent years, New York City (the “City”) has faced more than its fair share of emergencies and disasters, from the September
11th terrorist attacks in 2001; to Hurricane Irene
in August 2011; to Hurricane Sandy, just over one year ago. Separate and apart from that tragic record, the task of planning for, and responding to, emergencies and disasters is especially challenging in New York City, given, among other things, the size and density of the City’s
population, its island geography, and its large daily commuter and tourist populations. Given
those challenges, and what New York City has had to face in recent years, the City’s planning and response have been remarkable in many ways. In particular, the array and detail of its plans
for every imaginable kind of emergency is impressive; and the valor and sacrifice of those who have come to the aid of New Yorkers in times of emergency, from first responders to volunteers, have been nothing short of extraordinary. This lawsuit does not challenge those facts. Far from
it: In many respects, this lawsuit has confirmed them

Nov. 09 2013 01:03 PM
Dave K from Manhattan

If the immediate future does not offer an elevator that can be operated without electricity It would seem a first step is relocating the appropriate disabled to the first few floors of a building. How terrifying it must be to be isolated and unable to descend. Certainly only the first step.

Nov. 08 2013 08:05 AM
TOM from Brooklyn

"There was inadequate transportation to help disabled people evacuate, especially from high-rises."

Not quite, there was plenty of privately-owned-cars/-buses but no one called on the owners/drivers to assist. That's the tragedy.

Some one hundred thousand vehicles were lost to the surge in the evacuation areas in New York alone. No warning was issued for property. No one made the connection. After the storm these very valuable assets were no longer available and people were isolated in-place. Cold, hungry and in danger.

Nov. 07 2013 05:08 PM

they will be sued B I G T I M E

Nov. 07 2013 04:16 PM

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