One in 10 New Yorkers who live in the city's most vulnerable flood zone do not know they are in a hurricane evacuation area, according to a report released by City Hall on the Bloomberg administration's response to Sandy last fall.
The city released a self-analysis Friday on its response to the deadly storm, which identifies some of the key stumbling blocks it encountered.
Many residents, the report found, did not have the information they needed to respond to evacuation warnings, while others simply disregarded the calls to move to higher ground.
A survey of residents who live in Zone A, the sections of the city at highest risk for flooding, found that more than 10 percent of those polled were not aware that they lived in a hurricane evacuation zone prior to the storm. More than 20 percent were not aware that they lived in Zone A, which Mayor Bloomberg ordered to evacuate before the storm made landfall.
Despite his order, some of the city's 375,000 Zone A residents chose to remain in their homes. In the poll, the most common reason residents gave for staying behind was that they believed the storm wasn't going to be strong enough to put them in danger, while others thought their homes were sufficiently elevated or strong enough to withstand the effects of the storm.
To remedy the problem, the city is looking into improving its education and communication efforts by using billboards to display evacuation information and better publicize the urgency of following official orders.
"This survey will become an important tool for refining how the city communicates with residents in evacuation zones not only prior to coastal storms, but year round," the report said.
The poll questioned 509 people in January and has a plus or minus 4 percentage point margin of error.
The city is also planning to roll out a new hurricane evacuation system that will replace the current letter zones (A, B and C) with six numbered zones (1 through 6). The new system, which will be detailed in June 2013, will add 640,000 more New Yorkers to current flood zones, giving the city more flexibility in targeting which residents should leave their homes during a storm. The numbered system is based on an updated model that takes into account the size and speed of different storms and was in the works when Sandy hit.
Some glitches with the city's emergency shelter system were also highlighted in the report, which made 59 recommendations to city, state and federal agencies aimed at improving disaster response. The report found that shelters were not prepared to accommodate the influx of evacuees that filed in before, during and after the Oct. 29 storm. The communal shelters, the report points out, were designed for temporary stays and were not equipped with showers, laundry facilities or enough fresh food for longterm Sandy evacuees.
As the shelters filled up and it became clear that many people would need to stay for more than three days, the city opened recreation facilities so evacuees could shower, but never developed anything beyond short-term solutions. As a permanent fix, the city is recommending that relevant agencies look into new spaces that could handle evacuees for longer periods of time.
To prevent future fuel shortages, which plagued the city for more than two weeks after Sandy, the city suggests forming an inter-agency Fuel Task Force and a fuels desk at the Office of Emergency Management's Emergency Operations Center. It's also suggesting that the NYPD and other agencies partner with retail gas stations and look into the creation of local, emergency fuel reserves.
The 67-page report also found "substantial room for improvement" in the evacuation protocol for local hospitals, nursing homes and adult residential facilities, which were forced to relocate some 6,300 patients due to power outages and flooding.
There was no universal database available to track patients or their medical records, nor were there any rules in place to determine when it was safe for patients and health care staff to return to evacuated buildings, the report found.
Some of the other 59 recommendations the city made after interviewing dozens of employees, non-profits and community groups, include working with FEMA to allow undocumented immigrants access to disaster benefits, purchasing more emergency equipment like light towers and inflatable boats and considering new power options for traffic lights to keep roadways safe in the event of widespread outages.