In what city Comptroller Scott Stringer called a failure to learn lessons from Superstorm Sandy, an audit by his office found that the NYC Housing Authority’s current emergency preparedness and disaster recovery plans would leave more than 400,000 public housing tenants at “extreme risk” in the event of a crisis.
Among the audit’s findings is that the housing agency keeps faulty emergency contact information for tenants with disabilities, that there is no systematic plan for preparedness drills and training in place, and NYCHA currently has only ad hoc emergency staffing plans.
Perhaps the most damning failure is that three years after Sandy, NYCHA says fixes are on the way over the next five years, meaning it will take the agency a full eight years after Superstorm Sandy to implement adequate emergency measures.
“More than three years after Superstorm Sandy struck New York City – damaging 402 NYCHA buildings and shutting off essential services including heat, hot water, electricity, and elevators for tens of thousands of residents – we found that NYCHA is still woefully unprepared to face another emergency,” said Stringer.
In response to Stringer’s audit, NYCHA released a statement that said it overlooked several components of NYCHA’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, which is currently in progress, and said Stinger narrowed the scope of the audit which resulted in the loss of four months of “important information on NYCHA emergency preparedness improvements.”
“This audit, in a series of NYCHA audits, is yet another example of the Comptroller cherry picking data and shifting timelines to paint an outdated picture of NYCHA,” said NYCHA Chief Communications Officer Jean Weinberg.
Stringer called on NYCHA to accelerate its emergency preparedness plans.
“People’s lives, safety, and homes depend on NYCHA taking the simplest, most basic steps to prepare for disaster. The Housing Authority must – must – accelerate its disaster preparations now,” said Stringer.
The audit also found NYCHA failed to provide any information about the existence of generators at 55 percent of its developments, reducing the Authority’s ability to respond to power outages. NYCHA said the agency is working on installing GPS tags on each generator.
Auditors made 19 recommendations, including that NYCHA ensure that information on all disabled tenants is current, accurate, and sufficiently comprehensive, so that those residents can be easily identified and assisted during an emergency. In their response, NYCHA said information on disabled tenants is self-reported and the agency is working to improve their data.
Stringer’s overall assessment was that the agency should shorten its timeline for having a comprehensive plan in place.
“NYCHA has employed the ostrich method of emergency planning – sticking its head in the sand and hoping that we never have another major disaster,” Stringer said. ”When it comes to ensuring the safety of NYCHA tenants, five years is an absurdly long time to wait.”