October 30th, 2013

How New York City Can Use Lessons from Sandy to Build The City of The Future



Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the day Superstorm Sandy hit the Eastern Seaboard, pummeling cities from North Carolina to Massachusetts. Damage from the storm totaled more than $65 billion, and has prompted a reexamination of how cities can prepare for future disasters and rising sea levels.

One of the hardest hit areas was New York City. Streets, buildings, subways and tunnels flooded in the storm surge. Water in the power stations cut off electricity for most of Lower Manhattan and public transportation was unavailable for days.

“The impact of Hurricane Sandy to Verizon was the largest impact to our line the our wire line infrastructure in our 100-year history,” said Christopher Levendos of Verizon.

The storm has prompted city officials and researchers to invent new ways to stop the next flood. Ideas include an inflatable plug from West Virginia University and plywood barriers at vulnerable low points in New York where water can gush in. However, these solutions are only temporary.

“If I made this airtight and we didn’t allow the 66 million gallons of water that we pumped out to come into our system, where would that water be?” asked Joe Leader, who is in charge of New York’s subways. “It would be in the streets and it would be in the basements and on the first floors of all the buildings surrounding. It’s got to be a really regional issue to decide how do you deal with something like that.”

In June, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg released a $20 billion plan to make the city more resilient against storms. It calls for several small barriers at strategic locations and plenty of new seawalls, but doesn’t support construction of massive storm surge barriers like they have built in places like the Netherlands.


Who:  This story focuses on city officials and companies involved in the repair of power, communications and transportation systems. Superstorm Sandy terrorized the Eastern Seaboard, leaving 70 dead and millions without power or shelter.

What: While the residents of New York and New Jersey continue to rebuild their lives a year after Superstorm Sandy caused $65 billion worth of destruction – city officials work to create new energy and communication systems.

Where: New York City, particularly lower Manhattan and Long Island. New York and coastal towns of New Jersey were the worst hit.

When: Superstorm Sandy landed this week one year ago.

Why: Click here (or download video) to watch a clip from PBS Learning Media that explains why Superstorm Sandy was so powerful.

How: Sandy was so damaging because the usual precautions put into place to protect energy, communication and transit systems were overrun due to the unprecedented sea levels.

Is your town ready for rising sea levels? Use #DrownYourTown to model climate change


Andrew David Thaler of Southern Fried Science started the popular Twitter hashtag #DrownYourTown to show how rising sea levels would change the landscapes of major American cities. Volunteers tweeted in suggestions of towns to drown, and Thaler modeled them using Google Earth.

As an activity in your classroom, use Thaler’s easy 10-step process using only free tools to model rising sea levels in your town.

How Superstorm Sandy Changed the Park Family

Watch this video from the American Red Cross for a moving personal account of how the storm affected the lives of one New Jersey family, and how they are putting their lives back together. For more downloadable video resources from Sandy and other natural disasters, visit the Red Cross website.

Classroom questions

Warm up questions
  1. Why is this storm referred to as Super Storm Sandy and not Hurricane Sandy?
  2. What are some reasons that Sandy had such a powerful effect on New York and New Jersey?
  3. What systems and services are most necessary during a natural disaster?
Discussion questions
  1. Do you think that climate change played any role in this Super Storm? Why or why not? How can you tell?
  2. How could citizens better prepare for future super storms?
  3. How could companies that deal in energy, transportation and communication systems better prepare for the next super storm?
  4. Do you think that there has been success in the recovery process of Sandy one year later?
— Compiled by Allison McCartney and Katie Gould for NewsHour Extra

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