SUPER STORM SANDY- FIVE YEARS AFTER   Lessons learned….. or not.

October 25, 2017

By Laurence E. Parisi, AIA

New Jersey has approximately 141 miles of shore coastline, a substantial amount of land along the Hudson River, and many inland marshy estuaries; a significant amount of these lands in our state are still unsettled and in disrepair from Superstorm Sandy. In retrospect, what have we learned?   On my trips down to the Jersey Shore, I see that many owners of homes, with the financial means, have rebuilt pursuant to FEMA regulations.  Other homes, whose owners may be without the abilities to repair, remain in uncertain condition. Notably, the more affluent communities appear the same as they did pre-Superstorm; as if they were not pressured to raise their homes during reconstruction. It appears as though most of the home raising occurred in moderate-to-middle income areas.  In the more densely populated coastline towns like Atlantic Highlands, the home raising is not a pretty sight.  It has been a slow process as more homeowners have to reconcile with their own circumstances.   For these owners, dealing with governmental restrictions related to home insurance and FEMA regulations has proven to be an arduous task.

 

My office is on the westerly bank of the Hudson River; around here, it appears that that post-Superstorm coastline construction advisories and warnings are not well heeded.  Shortly after Sandy tore apart the coast along the Hudson River, even up North into New York State, new buildings are being constructed on the river banks. One of these buildings is directly in front of my office on the Hudson.  

 

On October 29, 2012, when Sandy was approaching New Jersey, I went to my office early in the morning to tape windows and cover all the drawing boards and computer stations.  This was done in an effort to protect these items from water damage, should the roof have been torn off my building (my office is on the top floor).  The water of the Hudson had already risen over the banks and was 400 feet inland (pictured).  We got the full blast of Sandy when the storm made landfall at around 8:00 PM that evening. when she landed.   At my office building, there was over 3 feet of flood water, from the tidal surge, in the ground floor lobby. The 200 bed hospital and nursing home adjacent to my office had to be evacuated and shut down. A major PSE&G electrical sub-station just north of my office was flooded and damaged.

 

Two years after Superstorm Sandy, an outpatient medical facility, ancillary to the hospital, was constructed about 171 feet from the Hudson River coastline; this new building is closer to the Hudson than my office building.  The construction costs had to be a minimum of 15 to 20 million dollars. The soil required a lot of piling. Now, why would anyone build such a critical facility in a location that was inaccessible during, and for days after, Superstorm Sandy? Although the photograph shows a limited amount of raised parking, this building will be largely inaccessible in a similar flood disaster.  

 

In a similar situation, a nearby electrical substation was raised approximately sixty feet above the grade, in order to keep the station at its present location despite the potential for flooding (pictured). Notwithstanding the new raising of the facility, it is still a location vulnerable to flooding and becoming inaccessible.  It seems as though these risks are not adequately being considered.  Additionally, please note the appearance of these buildings that were likely designed by engineers.

 

The lesson to be learned from Superstorm Sandy is to carefully design and plan for disaster.  There is a practical common sense approach to these situations.  We must be cognizant of the fact that certain critical need facilities like hospitals, power stations, and the like should not be constructed in areas vulnerable to flooding. Good planning and good design is a must in order to make our communities safe and viable.

 

Author Bio:

Laurence Parisi, AIA is a past president of AIA NJ, past president of the Architects League of Northern New Jersey and current and founding Chairman of the AIA NJ Homeland Security Committee.

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