NYC agencies, utilities have strengthened systems post-Sandy, say officials

A new wall, that raises the water protection A new wall, that raises the water protection level to 18 feet if water surges from the East River, has a fence added to the top as completion nears at the East Side Con Edison substation that went off line due to the storm surge of Superstorm Sandy. (Oct. 21, 2013) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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New York City agencies and utility companies have made progress in strengthening their systems in the year since superstorm Sandy struck, officials said, even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg's costly plan to fortify the city from future storms is years away from completion.

"Is the city prepared for another storm? The short answer is yes," Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said at a news conference last week. "In fact, we are better prepared than before Sandy."

From stronger flood protections at Con Edison facilities to new building regulations that entice coastal homeowners to elevate their houses, several infrastructure holes were filled over the last year and more plans are in place to defend the city from lethal weather, officials said.

Holloway, who oversees several city agencies including the Office of Emergency Management, said he was confident that the measures would protect New York in the near future.

Electricity was a high priority following the storm, after 2 million New Yorkers were left in the dark. Con Edison said it will invest $1 billion over the next few years to stormproof its systems.

So far, the company has built more than a mile of concrete walls around the perimeter of its facilities, including the 13th Street substation, where a relay was destroyed during the storm. It also has installed 38 "smart" switches that isolate damaged equipment, and hundreds of new transformers.

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The utility said its performance during the summer, during which it reached record levels of usage without any major power outages, is a testament to its post-Sandy investment.

The city's plans when it comes to roads, coasts and buildings are slowly churning along as it waits for more money from the federal government. New York has received $1.77 billion of the $60.2 billion federal superstorm Sandy aid that was approved in January. More than $6 billion will come next year, according to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Most of the money has been used for rebuilding, and in neighborhoods such as Breezy Point and Coney Island, homes are well on their way to completion.

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In terms of infrastructure, the city has made some initial steps to repair and mitigate the damage done to coastal communities, including sand restoration in the Rockaways, setting up Baffle Walls and berms in Staten Island to protect from flooding, and a stronger pier in Coney Island.

Despite the financial barriers, Holloway stressed that policy changes implemented over the last year fortified thousands of buildings throughout the five boroughs.

In addition to updating the city's flood maps, which will help homeowners with insurance policies in future storms and improve evacuations, new building codes also were put in place.

"Legislation was passed with the idea to identify ways to create more resiliency," Holloway said.

New properties in flood zone A must have a higher ground level, and older properties must have their heating systems elevated. Other building code updates include flood vents in basements.

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