Major hurricanes directly hit the New York City/Hoboken area approximately every 90 years, according to the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Studies have shown that Hoboken could find itself under two stories of water in some areas, with the entire city submerged except for Castle Point.
After promising to prepare two years ago after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the city says it is now creating a comprehensive communications system to alert residents in emergencies.
Officials said that a proposed citywide public address system will likely be on the agenda of the next City Council meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 8. It would cost the city $210,000 to $240,000.
Mayor David Roberts also said last week that the city's proposed reverse-911 system, in which people can be phoned with emergency information, will be tested in August. Roberts said that within the next 10 business days, the city will release its long-awaited emergency preparedness packet, which in addition to providing phone numbers and tips on how to prepare, will show residents the evacuation routes for Hoboken and Hudson County.
The printing of the packet will cost the city approximately $21,000, according to the mayor.
Currently, the city's website provides general information on how to react to a disaster through a link to its Office of Emergency Management website at http://www.hobokennj.org/oemsite. The information comes from a FEMA website.
Hoboken's preparedness and what you can do
According to Hoboken's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Deputy Coordinator Joel Mestre, if a disaster were to strike the city, residents would be evacuated toward the New Jersey Turnpike, where they would be moved further westward by state authorities. Mestre suggested that before an emergency occurs, Hoboken residents prepare a plan with relations or friends who live further inland so that they can relocate temporarily until they are able to return to their homes.
Mestre said he could not provide the exact route to take, because it depends on the type of emergency, whether it was a natural disaster, a chemical spill, or a terrorist attack.
Three million New Yorkers might come here
Complicating the evacuation of Hoboken residents would be the influx of people from Manhattan, which the New York City OEM estimates at three million coming into New Jersey.
A percentage would arrive in Hoboken due to its proximity to the city, as well as having a major train hub and being located between two tunnels.
In case of a hurricane watch or an emergency, authorities advise that residents should stay tuned to local media, which may engage in the Emergency Alert System to give residents instructions on what to do.
Hoboken's reverse 9-11 system will also inform residents about the situation through a prerecorded phone message released by the State Police.
Hoboken Police Captain James Fitzsimmons, who heads up the city's OEM, added that the city will, in the future, have the capability to reach residents via the internet or through text messages on their cell phone if they are not home at the time the reverse 911 call goes out.
Other things the system will do
According to Fitzsimmons, the database system will also be used by officials to alert the public to other emergencies, such as street closings, approaching snowstorms, and for AMBER alert purposes if a child is abducted in Hoboken.
The system will require the creation of a database of contact information for residents, according to Hoboken's Information Technology Officer Patrick Riccardi, who added that a timeline for the project's completion has not yet been set by the city. According to Mestre, the administration plans to put forth the PA System at the next City Council meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 8, where it is expected to be proposed by 2nd Ward Councilwoman Elizabeth Mason and 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo. It will cost approximately $210,000 to $240,000.
In addition to the municipality's response to an emergency, the city is also in the process of training residents in basic response skills through the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program, which will be activated by the city if it needs extra support. CERT volunteers can be used to search for lost children, monitor events, and assist the Red Cross and other relief organizations on mass care.
The first class will begin in the coming weeks, according to Mestre, who, along with Fitzsimmons and Riccardi, will be instructing approximately 20 students, faculty members of Stevens Institute of Technology, and several Hoboken parking enforcement officers.
The next class, which is open to the general public, will last 20 hours and begin in September, according to Mestre. To find out more, email the OEM at email@example.com.
Less time to prepare for hurricanes in north
Although hurricanes in the Northeast are not as prevalent as in southern coastal areas, North Atlantic hurricanes generally move at a speed of 34 miles per hour, triple the time of their southern counterparts. So while Florida residents usually have several days to evacuate, the warning period for Hoboken would be much shorter, possibly as little as 24 hours.
In 1821, a hurricane lifted the tide by 13 feet in one hour, resulting in both the Hudson and East rivers converging in lower Manhattan as far north as Canal Street. Much of New Jersey was also flooded by the storm.
The 2007 Atlantic Hurricane season began June 1 and will end Nov. 30, according to Dennis Feltgen of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Feltgen, who is based out of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, added that this season has a 75 percent chance above normal activity with 13 to 17 named storms, seven to 10 of which becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could be considered "major," or of category three strength.
Hoboken geography is also a problem, with weather experts saying that because northern Hudson County and New York City are tucked between the New Jersey and Long Island coastlines, they are at a right angle to storms. That could make the storm surge substantially worse. A category two hurricane could inflict as much damage as a stronger hurricane, say experts.
The last major area hurricane was the Long Island Express, which occurred in 1938 and killed hundreds, leaving 63,000 individuals homeless across Long Island and parts of New England.
Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.