Exclusive: City Plans To Build OEM Center In Evacuation Zone
The city's moving forward with plans to upgrade the 911 call system by building two new centers. The idea is that if one goes down, the other can pick up the slack. But some say the location of the backup site may make it likely to fail just when New Yorkers need it most. Criminal Justice Reporter Solana Pyne filed the following exclusive report.
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The city is planning to build a 911 call center at a new Bronx location — one of two complexes in a program to modernize an outdated emergency call system. But the area has been slated for evacuation by the Office of Emergency Management during hurricanes in category three or stronger because it's likely to flood. In other words, water could surround the call center when people are calling it most.
"It clearly raises your eyebrows from a hazards point of view,” said Columbia University scientist Klaus Jacob. "Unless there are entirely other over-riding considerations as to why this is the best possible site except for flooding, I would say it needs a very close look."
The city says it's well aware of the vulnerabilities of the site and that they've designed the building to mitigate them.
The mayor's officer says the Bronx Public Service Answering Center or PSAC 2 will be designed to withstand the effects of a direct strike by a Category Four hurricane as well as earthquakes and a major bomb blast.
In the unlikely event that the Bronx facility ever became inaccessible, the redundant design of the city's communications plan would route calls to the PSAC 1 facility in Brooklyn, which is not in any flood zone.
But that doesn't persuade former OEM Commissioner Jerry Hauer, whom the mayor's office criticized for building an OEM command center in 7 World Trade, one of the buildings that fell on September 11th.
Hauer says putting a 911 call center in a flood zone seems unwise.
"When you have that kind of information, one would think that you would put it in an area that has no vulnerabilities whatsoever,” said Hauer.
The city emphasizes that such storms are very rare. A category four hurricane has never struck the city. And the last category three storm hit the area in 1938. But scientists predict that climate change will cause sea levels to rise and that will mean more damage from even smaller storms.
“What is now a hundred-year storm will need only a thirty-year storm to reach the same flood elevation by the end of the century,” said Jacob.
The city says, however, that it looked at 12 potential sites and that they’re moving forward with this one.
— Solana Pyne