New York’s Plan for Storm Protection

Jared Wade


August 1, 2013


Following the wreckage caused by Superstorm Sandy throughout New York, many have speculated that, due to shifting climate patterns and rising sea levels, this type of severe weather and flooding could become more frequent. As a result, the city has been working on ways to protect vulnerable areas and ensure that devastation on this scale becomes less likely. In June, it released an in-depth report on how to build “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.”

The first phase of the city’s plan includes 37 specific initiatives that will increase resiliency in various ways. Many include common recommendations such as levees, seawalls and storm-surge barriers. But given the nature of the risk, the report also suggests some more temporary defenses.

“In the case of areas that are subject to the risks posed by infrequent, but damaging, extreme weather events—but where permanent features are undesirable or infeasible—one solution is to rely more heavily on deployable floodwalls. These systems, which consist of moveable posts and panels [that] are, at times of vulnerability, affixed to permanent, in-ground foundations, can be removed immediately after a threat recedes.”

The report also notes, however, that challenges include maintenance, operating costs, the need for advanced worker training and storing the equipment when it is not in use.
One innovative solution that may be more feasible (pending more study by the city of its science and financing) is the use of “sand engines” to help build protective dunes by altering the water’s natural current.

“A regular program of beach nourishment—that is, adding large quantities of sand to widen and elevate beaches on a regular cycle, as well as after significant storm events—is critical to ensuring that city beaches continue to serve their vital coastal protection role.” The report suggests that such techniques could help in Coney Island, Staten Island, Orchard Beach in the Bronx and the Rockaway Peninsula.

Other protective strategies include raising the concrete bulkheads that already protect areas of the city, stacking large stones on certain areas of shoreline, constructing tidal gates to improve citywide drainage systems, and encouraging “living shorelines” with wetlands and reefs that could help absorb storm surge energy.

Jared Wade is a freelance writer and a former editor of Risk Management.