STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — When disaster strikes, the varying levels of government need a centralized location to address the needs of Staten Island.
On Wednesday, the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Rep. Max Rose (D-Staten Island/South Brooklyn), Borough President James Oddo, and the National Parks Service announced plans for Fort Wadsworth to have the city’s first borough coordination center (BCC) for emergencies.
The BCC will provide a centralized location for government agencies and elected officials to meet, similar to the set up in the Staten Island Mall parking lot following Hurricane Isaias in August, OEM Commissioner Deanne Criswell said.
“This strategy allowed us to quickly and effectively mobilize and deploy resources to the areas that needed help the most,” she said. “We intend to use this model for future emergencies.”
Public and private entities’ responses after Isaias, particularly on the issue of power outages, became a subject of criticism following the storm.
More than 40,000 customers on Staten Island, and 180,000 citywide, were at one point in the dark after Tropical Storm Isaias toppled more than 1,000 trees and tore through power lines. Some Staten Islanders didn’t have power up to a week after the storm.
Rose described Criswell’s team at OEM as “beyond excellent” following the storm, but said the problem was a lack of coordination.
“In my district, every single agency and, let’s be honest, every single elected official were all freelancing — operating as if no one else was doing anything at all,” he said pointing out the benefits of a centralized location before, during and after a disaster.
“All levels of government will know where to show up when there’s a crisis,” he continued. “Things will be worked out before the crisis, not during the crisis.”
Oddo credited the outgoing congressman for initially raising the possibility of a central command center meant to address emergencies. He said that during previous disasters, specifically Superstorm Sandy, the lack of a defined coordination center led to disagreements among politicians and posturing.
The centralized location will help take away some of the “territoriality,” Oddo said, and ensure that everyone has access to the same information.
Oddo, a Republican, and Rose, a Democrat, built a strong bipartisan relationship during the latter’s time in office. The borough president noted that neither he nor Rose would likely be in office to see the fruition of the BCC announced Wednesday.
Rose will leave office in January after losing his reelection bid to Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/South Brooklyn), and Oddo will be term limited at the end of 2021.
“Like others before us, Max and I realize that we will have to pass this baton to our successors,” he said. “Max and I won’t be in the office we hold now when this facility — short-term and long-term — is up and running, but we know Staten Island will benefit from it.”
A long-term site is planned at Fort Wadsworth’s former officer’s club, which overlooks the New York Harbor, but in the interim a short-term site that has yet to be identified will be provided by the U.S. Coast Guard at one of its Forth Wadsworth buildings.
The proposed long-term location will need serious repairs. Multiple windows at the officer’s club are boarded up and others are noticeably shattered. To that end, Oddo said his office is prepared to allocate up to $1 million in their capital budget.
“It’s this jewel waiting to be used to benefit Staten Island,” Oddo said. “Bringing that building online is something that will benefit Staten Island.”
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