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Timing: How NYC emergency HQ once fled the flood zone

Waters have receded by Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012,

Waters have receded by Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, from Water Street in DUMBO where city officials once saw fit to place their emergency center. (Credit: Dan Janison)

Nearly a decade ago Newsday covered the story of how New York City’s Office of Emergency Management was relegated from a major department to a relatively minor role under the Bloomberg administration.

At one point, post-9/11, administration officials even saw fit to place the OEM headquarters in a coastal flood zone under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Good thing it didn’t stay there -- and that a new facility was built on higher ground nearby by City Hall’s choosing. The building has since been razed. Otherwise you would have had been 0 for 2 -- one administration putting its emergency center in a building destroyed as a result of terrorism, followed by a headquarters overwhelmed by flooding.

Above is a photo taken Sunday, Nov. 4, 20123, of the site where the OEM had been -- and which essentially became part of the East River when superstorm Sandy surged last week.

This was the story back in September 2003:

HQ Sits in Harm's Way;
If a hurricane hits city, emergency centers at risk


By Dan Janison. STAFF WRITER

The two emergency management centers that replaced the one destroyed in the World Trade Center attack would be in harm's way if a major hurricane strikes the city, Newsday has learned.

The potential danger had staffers bracing for flooding this week at the main Brooklyn offices of the Department of Emergency Management as Hurricane Isabel threatened, municipal sources said yesterday.

"Right now, it doesn't look like it's going to impact us that way," department spokesman Jarrod Bernstein said. "Should it be necessary, we can move to one of our alternate locations that are out of the flood area."

He declined to name the locations, but he added, "There are multiple different sites we can move to."

Bernstein said the current Water Street command center in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge is considered temporary.

Under the City Charter, the department plans and coordinates responses and advises the public on major storms, blackouts and other emergencies. A previous command center at 7 World Trade Center was destroyed in the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

Citing the remote prospect of evacuations, Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday urged city residents to check the department's website  --  www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/oem  --  or call 311 to see whether they live in a flood zone, and to make plans accordingly.

What city officials didn't say was that if you type in the address of the department's command center on Water Street, it comes up in just such a flood zone.

Described as a Zone C, the area is vulnerable to "a potential storm surge from a category 3-4 hurricane," according to the website. While "removed from any pounding surf," this zone "could still see tidal flooding in a very powerful hurricane."

Across the borough, the department has a lesser-known base, in Gravesend, in what its website deems a more serious Zone B. It is a few blocks from the Coney Island beach. That zone is considered subject to storm surges from a lesser Category 2 hurricane and could be "inundated" if a Category 3 storm hits, according to the department.

The emergency management agency first used the Water Street center two years ago to screen mail amid the anthrax attacks that followed the World Trade Center disaster. It is considered a temporary site while the department seeks to pin down funding and a design for a future high-tech center off Cadman Plaza East, which is expected to cost as much as $100 million. That site, up a steep incline from Water Street, is outside the flood zone.

City Council staffers recalled that when they held land-use hearings on the future center earlier this year, an alternative site was suggested at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Bloomberg administration officials cited its flood-prone location  --  the same Zone C area as the Water Street site  --  as a strike against it.

As for the Water Street center, Council Public Safety Committee chairman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said, "There are many reasons to move it. Its proximity to other command centers, such as One Police Plaza, and the fact that it is in a flood zone, are two of these."

Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn), who represents the district where the Water Street center is located, said, "I'm confident that OEM [the department's former acronym] is going to do a terrific job for New Yorkers  --  even if the storm hits its headquarters foursquare."

Bernstein said, "We look forward to the new [Cadman Plaza] location. This was never meant be a permanent home, and it's not going to be."

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