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Sandy panel suggests floodgates, shelters for N.Y.

ALBANY, N.Y. Floodgates for tunnels, subways and airports, as well as a network of safe havens like old civil defense shelters, should be among quick, simple preventive measures that New York installs ahead of future storms, according to a report by an expert panel examining superstorm Sandy's effects.

The 205-page report obtained by The Associated Press also calls for two more tunnels out of Manhattan, a rapid bus system and another Long Island Rail Road track and details how to better pay for it all by forging new partnerships with companies and several ways to improve insurance coverage for the state and residents.

Some elements of the report were presented last week, but the full report wasn't released publicly. It was delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to include some recommendations in his State of the State speech Wednesday.

The report includes other recommendations that are already used in other states and countries, many at little or no cost. It recommends partnerships with private businesses for several projects and combining already-budgeted or planned routine maintenance or capital projects with measures to protect against disaster.

"We tried to think about what was going to be most effective for emergencies, but what do you also want to have in just a normal, high-functioning 21st-century system?" said Judith Rodin, co-chairwoman of the NYS 2100 Commission, in an interview.

Previous drafts of the report focused on barrier islands and man-made barriers as well as inflatable "plugs" to close off subways and closures for air vents. Though they are elements of the report, they are among many recommendations.

"There is no single fix," Rodin said.

Devastation and determination in Belle Harbor

Sandy is the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm damaged or destroyed 305,000 housing units in New York and more than 265,000 businesses were disrupted there, officials have said. More than 72,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed in New Jersey.

Four Hudson and East rivers tunnels in New York City were flooded for the first time in 100 years by Sandy and nearly half of subway riders — equivalent to the population of Miami, Atlanta or Pittsburgh — had no or reduced service on the nation's busiest subway system, the report notes.

"Building resilience is not a luxury," said Rodin, who is also president of the Rockfeller Foundation, an organization that has been working in New Orleans and a collection of Asian cities for over a decade to build resilience in response to super storms.

"Every state has an economic development strategy, but we can no longer think project by project," she said.

The report further identifies measures to protect against earthquakes and the danger of tsunami-like disasters that could hit New York City after an earthquake, as well as specific protections needed for upstate areas hit hard in 2011 by tropical storms Irene and Lee.

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto declined to comment.

The measures in the report include:

  • Raising some rail lines and signals above projected flood levels.
  • Waterproofing subways and electronics sensitive to salt water.
  • Greater attention to the drinking water supply. The state's 30- and 40-year-old wastewater systems statewide were overwhelmed by storms the last two years, the report stated.
  • Burying key energy lines underground to reduce damage from downed wires.
  • A rapid bus transit network in dedicated lanes to reduce dependence on subways in lower Manhattan and allow exits to outer boroughs.
  • Well-stocked and disaster-protected safe havens with generators in schools, hospitals and government buildings as well as big-box stores and shopping malls willing to be sanctuaries in exchange for incentives and support.
  • Greater coordination with New Jersey and Connecticut in girding against the next storms.
  • Adding water pumps at airports with emergency generators that with other measures would have kept airports open during Sandy. The report notes airports are a critical piece in long-term relief efforts.
  • Hiring a New York chief to analyze risk and act upon in, replacing separate efforts by agencies.
  • Allowing the growth of new grasses in wetlands such as the Fire Island Wilderness breach. This would be part of more natural and man-made barriers which could also increase public access to the shore and reduce "urban heat island effects."
  • Using porous materials for roads near the coast.
  • Pooling critical energy apparatus in regions such as extra-high voltage transformers which can take months to manufacture and transport.
  • Buying updated software to better predict flooding.
  • Installing waterproof vertical, roll-down doors at the foot of subway stair entrances, closures for underground vents, inflatable plugs and bladders for ventilation shafts, and sealing electrical equipment from water.
  • Installing barriers and gates to prevent flooding of docks and ports.
  • A state fuel depot.
  • Coordination of skilled residents such as electricians to respond to disaster and training for all citizens to respond to disaster.
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