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Exercise shows gaps in NYC emergency plan

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio convenes

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio convenes over an "Extreme Heat" meeting at the Office of Emergency Management in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

A drill Tuesday simulating a catastrophic heat wave and power outage exposed holes in how New York City handles such disasters, de Blasio administration officials said.

Saying "homework was immediately given" to plug "the gaps that we need to fill," Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that the city would find ways to speed the distribution of food and medicine to afflicted areas, for example.

"We don't have a strong enough system at this moment to make sure that we can get the medication to the person -- even if they live on the 12th floor of a building that doesn't have power," de Blasio told reporters after the exercise, held in Brooklyn at the city's Office of Emergency Management.

Among his ideas, people in attendance said after: tapping pharmacies outside a disaster zone to fill prescriptions and asking stores within the affected area to supply food and other commodities, and not rely solely on citywide distribution networks.

The mayor, together with about 75 people representing about 35 agencies, were doing role-playing game: The city is experiencing a heat wave lasting 10 days -- on top of a Consolidated Edison substation fire that knocks out power to as many as 400,000 people in the southeast Bronx. Now what?

Only the exercise planner, OEM deputy Commissioner Jacob Cooper, and his team -- not the mayor, not most of the people in the room -- knew how precisely the scenario would unfold.

The city frequently holds such drills, called tabletop exercises, on potential calamities -- coastal storms, blizzards, dirty-bomb detonations, bus explosions, aviation crashes, Cooper said.

Said OEM Commissioner Joseph Esposito: "You're on the edge of your chair."

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