NYPD had to defend itself in a lengthy statement issued on Sunday, November 10. At issue was the death toll from Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island, NY and New York Times’ allegations of an inadequate police response.
In years past, weather emergencies and natural disasters caught citizens uninformed and poorly prepared. Such major disasters as the Galveston Hurricane, the 1937 East Cost Hurricane, and the 1899 Johnstown Pennsylvania Flood affected residents who did not have the advantage of today’s mass communications. The Johnstown Flood claimed 2,200 victims. Nearly 300 died in the East Coast hurricane. The death toll in the 1900 Galveston Hurricane was estimated at over 6,000 people.
Residents in these areas were not aware of the severity of the disasters until they were directly in the path of nature’s fury. The death toll is understandable because people had no idea what they were faced with from Mother Nature.
Flash forward to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, 113 years after the Johnston Flood. The National Weather Service began providing warnings of a dire case scenario over six days ahead of time. Terms such as a “monster storm,” “Frankenstorm,” or “a storm of epic proportions” were used by weather forecasters from every network, the National Weather Service, and the Hurricane Center. With the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Katrina not so far behind us, it is difficult for me to comprehend how anyone would not have taken this storm seriously.
Focusing specifically on New York City, warnings were issued in English and Spanish by the Mayor, with simultaneous translation provided in American Sign Language. New York City is an international media center with hundreds of radio stations broadcasting in many languages. The City has three AM all news radio stations and one FM news radio station. The City is the world headquarters for ABC, CBS, and NBC. Fox News is based in New York City. Further, New York City boasts numerous independent television stations.
Civil authorities provided detailed and specific information regarding evacuation procedures and which areas were zoned A, with the highest probability of flooding. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued early and publicized by local police and media.
Public housing authorities provided mandatory evacuation information and transportation for residents. They took the additional step of notifying residents of the time that elevator service would end. Authorities turned off elevator power early to avoid having residents trapped in them when area electricity went off. Most residents refused to leave their apartments.
The day before Sandy hit, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a mandatory evacuation order for Zone A on Staten Island. Zone A included all the hard-hit areas, including the Midland Beach neighborhood where 8 individuals perished. A total of 43 New York City residents have died, with 23 of them from Staten Island.
All of this storm preparation and the publicized warnings, makes it so difficult for me to understand a recent New York Times article which questions police response to Midland Beach, Staten Island. Times’ writers Kirk Semple and Joseph Goldstein stated, “The deaths have raised unsettling questions about why the victims were in their homes when the storm hit and whether the city bore some responsibility for their failure to evacuate.”
I don’t agree that they do. The children who died perished because of decisions made by adult caretakers. Adults died because they made a decision to ignore evacuation orders and repeated updates from authorities. Their deaths are no less tragic because of their personal choices, the pain their loved ones endure from their loss no less sharp…but the choice was their own.
New York City’s first responders have served with valor and compassion. NYPD has done an outstanding job in responding to the emergency; before, during, and afterwards. Police notified residents of the evacuation order and the storm’s danger prior to Sandy’s arrival; residents refused to leave.
On Staten Island, in the midst of the storm’s fury, NYPD officers rescued over 1,100 residents. NYPD Spokesman Paul D. Brown reported that responding officers risked live wires in the rising water to effect many of these rescues. One officer died from electrocution after he led 7 people to safety in the attic of his home.
Is criticism warranted in the aftermath of the storm? Absolutely. Sixty five thousand beleaguered residents of Long Island, New York, where I grew up, are still without power two weeks after Hurricane Sandy. Many of them are not expected to get electricity back until after Thanksgiving.
Rocket scientists at the local power authority didn’t have enough utility poles on hand prior to the emergency. Union electric company companies turned away their non-union counterparts from southern states arriving to respond to help. One power official advised residents clamoring for information to, “Check the Internet for forms and updated information.” Residents who have no power are directed to check the Internet for help. FEMA has reportedly not done a stellar job in helping victims. Overall response to the aftermath of the storm seems slow
When bad things happen, many of us find comfort in assigning blame to someone. If we make an organization or individual the bad guy, we may feel better than if we look within to determine our own responsibility. Forty-three New Yorkers lost their lives during Hurricane Sandy, including a number of children who had no choice about evacuation. Those deaths are an obscene waste, tragic, and a terrible loss to their families and their city. However, let’s not blame the hardworking officers of NYPD. Let us instead celebrate their heroism in rescuing 1,100 Staten Island residents while in extreme danger themselves and thank them for the job they do in a very tough city.
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