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Cuomo will include disaster preparedness plans in State of the State

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he intends to propose in his State of the State message several recommendations from a disaster preparedness commission, to help the state better cope with major storms in the future.

Cuomo, who has had to cope with the aftermath of two major storms in his two years in office -- Irene in 2011, and now Sandy -- says the state could be better prepared for climate change that the governor believes could be the new normal.

Cuomo says up until now, the state’s disaster training and preparation was for smaller, more localized events -- not the major events like Superstorm Sandy that left more than two million people without power, 400,000 evacuees and thousands of homes damaged or destroyed.

The governor says just trying to coordinate emergency supplies, like ordering tens of thousands of generators, devolved into chaos.

“You’ll deliver something, except the roads are flooded and the roads blocked,” said Cuomo. “We’ll call them on the telephone, except the power is down so the telephone’s not working.”

Cuomo says the major communication and delivery routes systems collapse in these situations. “It all deconstructs very quickly,” he said.

Two commissions appointed by Cuomo on disaster preparedness and response say emergency teams need more sophisticated training, and they suggest public universities set up standardized programs.

The building codes need to be upgraded, the commissions say, and perhaps governments should rethink placing hospitals and nursing homes on storm vulnerable sites.

The commissions also recommend that New York stockpile some supplies and create an emergency fuel supply, to avert the hardships caused when key harbors and delivery systems were blocked after Sandy. They say gas stations need to be better prepared to be open during prolonged power outages. The commissions stopped short, though, of recommending that gas stations be required to buy back up generators.

Cuomo says he’s considering the matter, and he says other states mandate that gas stations purchase the  generators. He says he understands the financial concerns, but says capacity is needed in “vital areas, evacuation routes.”
The governor says money is tight, but he does plan to invest in more training for emergency workers and will offer a more comprehensive plan in his upcoming State of the State message on January 9.

Two more commissions related to Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath are yet to report.  One concerns long-term planning for coping with climate change. The other, a special prosecutorial commission investigating the state’s utilities and their performance after Sandy, will report its findings before the State of the State Wednesday.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.