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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

How New Yorkers Can Stay Safe During a Heat Wave – Important Directives from NYC Emergency Management 

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By:  Fern Sidman

On a recent visit to the downtown Brooklyn headquarters of the New York City Emergency Management agency, The Jewish Voice had the unique opportunity to tour its expansive operations division and to meet with their highly experienced staff.  To say that the Big Apple is prepared for any kind of emergency, whether it be climactic, political or internationally oriented would be a gross understatement. When one enters the cavernous facility and witnesses the very place where on-the-spot decisions are made to safeguard all New Yorkers, one is left beyond awestruck.

Command center at New York City Emergency Management.

Assisting us throughout the tour were Aries Dela Cruz, the Executive Director of Public Information and Ira Tannenbaum, the Assistant Commissioner for Public/Private Initiatives. The seemingly infinite amount of knowledge that they imparted was exceptionally invaluable and their warm reception was very much appreciated.

The Jewish Voice also had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Zachary Iscol, the Commissioner of NYC Emergency Management.

A crisis tested leader, Zachary Iscol has led in settings ranging from combat operations in Iraq to the frontlines of COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Sandy here in New York. His experience includes building a pioneering nonprofit mental healthcare provider, leading one of the premiere military journalism outlets, and serving as a strong advocate for immigrants and underserved communities. Two of his former commanding officers cited him as the officer they would personally select to lead their sons into combat.

As a Marine, he served two tours in Iraq and on other assignments throughout Africa and the Middle East. During his second tour of duty, he led a combined unit of US Marines and Iraq soldiers in some of the heaviest fighting of the Iraq War during the Second Battle of Fallujah, where he was awarded a Bronze Star for valor. He later helped build many of the components of the Marine Corps’ first special operations command and deployed on one of the first MARSOC teams to deploy overseas.

The New York City Office of Emergency Management replaced the former OEM headquarters destroyed on September 11, 2001. The 65,000 square foot building includes a new 100 person Emergency Operations Center, Watch Command, Situation Room, General Office space and a Press and Conference Center. Credit: smwllc.com

Over the past decade, Iscol has built and led businesses and a nonprofit mental healthcare provider, the Headstrong Project. The Headstrong Project now cares for over 1,000 veterans a week in 30+ cities and counting to provide world-class, cost, and bureaucracy free mental healthcare veterans and service members need to recover from hidden wounds and get back to the best versions of themselves.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, Iscol led over 40 federal, state, and city agencies as the deputy director of Joint New York Medical Station, one of the largest and only successful COVID field hospitals in the country.

A 2001 graduate of Cornell University, he was the youngest recipient of Phillips Exeter Academy’s John Phillips Award, a member of the 2013 Team USA for USA Triathlon, and a grand marshal of the 2019 New York City Veterans Day Parade. In 2007, while still on active duty, he testified before the United States Senate about the need to protect Iraqi refugees, especially translators and others who put their lives in danger to help US forces.

Iscol told The Jewish Voice, “The role of ethnic and community media in covering the activities and initiatives of the New York City Emergency Management (NYCEM) is so important because your position in the media landscape enables you to reach diverse audiences that mainstream outlets may not always connect with effectively. This ability to communicate crucial information to a wide range of communities is vital, especially in a city as diverse as New York.”

NYC Emergency Management in downtown Brooklyn is the agency that is responsible for coordinating citywide emergency planning and response for all types and scales of emergencies. It is staffed by more than 200 dedicated professionals with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise, including individuals assigned from other City agencies. Credit: nyc.gov

He added that, “Many community members turn to their local ethnic media for information because they trust these sources to understand their specific needs and concerns, and so you are helping to build community trust and awareness about emergency preparedness and response.

Your coverage is essential for disseminating important emergency information in a culturally sensitive and linguistically accessible manner. This ensures that all New Yorkers, regardless of their language or cultural background, receive the information they need to stay safe during emergencies.

Moreover, your insights and feedback are invaluable to us at NYCEM. They help us understand the unique challenges faced by different communities and enable us to tailor our strategies to be more effective and inclusive.”

As summer has arrived and the mercury rises, New Yorkers are naturally concerned about heat related matters and personal health issues.

Commissioner Iscol told the Jewish Voice that, “It is important for New Yorkers to plan ahead to stay safe during extreme heat in the upcoming summer months. High temperatures can be dangerous, especially for vulnerable populations including older adults and individuals with chronic medical conditions.”

Health studies have shown that at these extreme temperatures people will chronic illnesses, older New Yorkers, and those without access to air conditioners suffer the greatest impacts, sometimes deadly.

Iscol added that NYC follows the guidelines set by the NYC DOHMH from findings of their Heat Vulnerability Index study. Studies have showed that at a heat index of 95 or higher is when NYC sees more health impacts from heat.

As was explained to The Jewish Voice, the Heat Vulnerability Index (HVI) shows neighborhoods whose residents are more at risk for dying during and immediately following extreme heat. It uses a statistical model to summarize the most important social and environmental factors that contribute to neighborhood heat risk.

The first heat plan was implemented in 2000 under the leadership of Mayor Rudy Giuliani while NYCEM was part of the Mayor’s office.

The City has various resources and programs available to help New Yorkers beat the heat during the summer months. New Yorkers can visit www.nyc.gov/beattheheat for more information or call 311 to find the nearest center.

NYCEM and its partners have over 500 cooling centers, 464 are accessible, and 16 are pet friendly for New Yorkers to find relief from the heat.

Iscol added that, “Our partners are libraries, senior centers and any community space that is free for anyone to enter. We rely on our public officials and partners to respond to our survey on Share Your Space.”

In terms of other climate related emergencies, Commissioner Iscol spoke at great length about the devastating impact of hurricane season. Most New Yorkers still have vivid but horrifying memories of Superstorm Sandy that hit the area on October 22, 2012.

Commissioner Iscol told The Jewish Voice that, “the Atlantic Hurricane Season starts June 1st and we strongly encourage New Yorkers to take steps for this hurricane season.

While New York is most at risk for tropical storms and hurricanes from August to October, the City plans and prepares year-round for coastal storms.

NYC Emergency Management’s Watch Command. Credit: YouTube.com

NYC Emergency Management encourages residents to take three key steps to prepare for hurricane season:

KNOW YOUR ZONE – The City is divided into six hurricane evacuation zones (1 through 6) and about 3 million New Yorkers live in these zones. New Yorkers can find out what zone they’re in by calling 311 or visiting nyc.gov/knowyourzone.

The City will issue evacuation orders when/if necessary starting with the most vulnerable locations (Zone 1).

Commissioner Iscol added that NYC Emergency Management also expanded its outreach efforts on residents in hurricane evacuation zones, providing hundreds of presentations in hurricane evacuation zones and mailing hurricane guides to New York City residents and businesses in all the city’s hurricane evacuation zones.

Knowing your hurricane evacuation zone in advance can prevent stress and evacuation delays in the event that you are asked to evacuate due to an incoming hurricane or coastal storm.

If you must evacuate ask friends or relatives outside your evacuation zone boundaries if you can stay with them. Make sure that your friends and family are not located in an evacuation zone.

 STAY INFORMED – New Yorkers can sign up for Notify NYC to receive free emergency alerts and updates in their preferred language by visiting NYC.gov/notifynyc, calling 311, following @NotifyNYC on Twitter, or getting the free Notify NYC mobile application for their Apple or Android device. Notify NYC messages are available in 14 languages, including English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, Yiddish, and American Sign Language (ASL) video format.

The City has various resources and programs available to help New Yorkers beat the heat during the summer months. New Yorkers can visit www.nyc.gov/beattheheat for more information or call 311 to find the nearest center. Credit: NYCEM – X.com


Starting last year, the city provided life-safety messaging specifically to Notify NYC subscribers who registered for the new group for those living in basement and/or cellar apartments. (More than 800 New Yorkers have registered for the basement group).

Alerting them to potential flooding and providing actionable items they can do to remain safe.

Since its inception, Notify NYC has sent out over 24,306 messages and has grown to over 1.2 million subscribers.

The Notify NYC team operates inside NYCEM’s Watch Command which is open 24/7 days a week. Watch Command monitors agency communications systems citywide and is designed to keep track of multiple sources of information pertaining to emergency situations in the 5 boroughs of the City of New York.

The service started as a pilot program in December 2007 in four neighborhoods. It went citywide in May 2009 to communicate localized emergency information quickly to city residents.

Normally, you can begin subscribing to Notify NYC by going to nyc.gov/notify. New Yorkers are now able to sign up for the highest-priority, verified alerts across all five boroughs with a brand-new SMS opt-in feature — allowing people to sign up for Notify NYC alerts in their preferred language by texting “NOTIFYNYC,” “NOTIFYNYCESP” (Spanish), or “NOTIFYNYCFRE” (French) to 692-692. With no mobile application download or email setup, this new capability makes it easier than ever for residents to stay informed and safe.

Commissioner Iscol added that, “We are continuously learning, adapting, and empowering our residents to take control of their safety. We are evolving as a city that stays informed, stays prepared, and above all, stays resilient — one alert at a time.”

 MAKE A PLAN – Have a plan before the storm arrives to help keep you and your family safe. Know what to do, where to go, how to find each other, and how to communicate if a hurricane strikes. Everyone should have a plan that best suits their needs. If you live in an evacuation zone, have a plan for where you will go if an evacuation order is issued for your area. New Yorkers can find resources to help them develop an emergency plan by visiting NYC.gov/ReadyNY

Develop and practice a disaster plan with your household members to prepare for what to do, how to find each other, and how to communicate in an emergency. Decide where your household members will reunite after a disaster.

Designate an out-of-area friend or relative who household members can call if separated during a disaster. If New York City phone lines are busy, long-distance calls may be easier to make. This out-of-area contact can help you communicate with others.

Have a Go Bag packed with essentials and copies of documents in case you have to leave your home or apartment. Keep enough supplies at home for at least three days in case you need to shelter in place. If you have to evacuate, make a plan to stay with friends and/or family outside of a hurricane evacuation zone.

“The City understands how vulnerable the city can be are to the effects of climate change. In response to these risks, we are implementing bold, comprehensive strategies to advance interim and long-term measures that will protect and reinforce the city’s coastal areas. These robust plans safeguard our communities against the growing threat of our changing environment, “ Commissioner Iscol added.

The IFPM program was established in 2016 to protect critical facilities, infrastructure, and low-lying areas in New York City from flooding caused by a hurricane.

IFPM was designed with the goal of protecting the area from the impacts of storm surge. NYC Emergency Management led the project, with support from the New York City Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency and the Department of Design and Construction. The project team also includes the NYC Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Protection, New York City Economic Development Corporation, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

IFPM design includes a combination of semi-permanent barriers with various openings that allow for normal site operations. These storm openings are then closed when storm surge from a coastal storm is forecast using just-in-time, deployable protection measures. Interim flood protection measures provide a short-term level of protection while permanent mitigation is constructed at the site.

City agencies worked with engineering consultants and agencies to evaluate flood risks, perform site visits and feasibility assessments, and determined what measures to install to reduce flood risk at each IFPM location.

The city uses HESCO barriers, Tiger Dams, and Flood Panels. HESCO barriers are fabric-lined wire-meshed cubes filled with compacted sand. These barriers are four feet tall, three by three feet wide.

 Tiger Dams: giant water-filled tubes designed to withstand floodwaters. They are deployed “just in time”.

Flood Panels: aluminum-based walls that can be placed in doorways, garages, and other open area into a building that are deployed “just in time”.

Prior to an impending storm, the City will close the gapDonatebalance of natures in the alignment by deploying Tiger Dams, giant water-filled flexible fabric tubes.

This design is a comprehensive measure that offers durability and flexibility to support various site conditions, and are easily deployable ahead of the storm.

“The City continues to explore additional critical temporary resiliency projects as we move ahead with permanent solutions, “ said Commissioner Iscol.

He added that, “The terrible flooding and loss of life we experienced with Ida was unprecedented. As a rain event, it brought 5-10 inches of rain over three hours and overwhelmed the city’s infrastructure. We are increasing messaging in the areas of mandatory evacuations, travel bans, and update early warning systems.

“We have already created basement specific messaging and alerts for residents. Our agency does extensive outreach to communities through various programs and initiatives that outline steps on how to be prepared.

We hired a third-party forecasting service to provide additional weather forecast information as a result of the recommendations outlined in the Extreme Weather Task Force report created under the previous administration. We are also in constant communication with the National Weather Service and our in-house meteorologist to keep an eye on the weather.

 Our messaging includes having a plan, staying informed, family and home preparedness educational campaigns, as well as in-person and virtual events.”


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