New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea attended his first City Council committee hearing on his agency's emergency response to Hurricane Sandy and its shortcomings Wednesday, but he first had to tell lawmakers why he did not attend the previous hearing.
When the committee last met on January 17, NYCHA officials were criticized for not bringing their hurricane evacuation plan and for not being joined by Rhea.
Testifying Wednesday in Lower Manhattan, Rhea said that committee members already knew that he would not be able to appear at last month's hearing.
"Let me state with clarity, for the record, that I was not scheduled to testify nor be present at the committee's January 17 hearing on Hurricane Sandy. The committee's chair and staff were aware well in advance who from NYCHA would be testifying, and that the team did not include me," Rhea said.
After some heated exchanges during the first hearing, things were much tamer this time around. But authority officials did admit that they veered off from their emergency plan.
"This is one of those areas where our procedures didn't operate exactly as we had anticipated, and there are lessons learned from the consequences on the ground of the storm," said Cecil House, general manager of NYCHA.
They were supposed to electronically track residents who evacuated. And it took much longer to reach some residents than others.
"Some residents, we got to the day after," Rhea said. "Some buildings, we got to five days after. Some buildings, we got to into the second week in terms of every single door."
Rhea said that the housing authority is now moving past the initial response and looking towards future emergencies. As part of that, equipment, like boilers, will be moved to higher floors.
The authority is also exploring whether in some vulnerable areas, residents should not live on the first floor.
"I think we are looking at all of our options, but with a clarity around maintaining people's residences as a priority," Rhea said.
The authority will release an action plan in response to Hurricane Sandy sometime in the next month, according to authority officials. They will then will implement those recommendations sometime this summer.