The Innovative Hurricane-Proofing Measures Hurricane Sandy Inspired In NYC
Hurricane Sandy caused more than $32B in damages to New York, and scientific experts believe it was the first of many superstorms that could be in our future. Studies have claimed that rising ocean levels could expose $2.1 trillion in assets to storm surges by 2070, and leave many East Coast cities submerged.
With such ominous predictions, it was surprising to hear Bohler Engineering principal Joseph Deal call hurricane safety an “out of sight, out of mind” issue at a recent Bisnow event.
After such devastation and with much more expected to come, are building owners really running on hubris and hope that the city’s $129B in coastal properties can take another hit?
Silverstein Properties head of operations Bill Dacunto (pictured) says Joseph is half-correct. Wind damage is often overlooked despite it being a bigger factor during a storm than rain. This is mostly because buildings in NYC (including Silverstein’s WTC complex) are designed for sway.
But the wind isn’t something you can ignore, Bill and New York Historical Tours historian Kevin Draper say. NYC has been tracking and dealing with storms ever since the Dutch founded it, and hurricane winds in the Big Apple have hit as high as 113 mph.
In the '70s, Kevin says, computer models showed that strong enough winds could have knocked down the Citigroup Center (pictured) and caused billions in damages. The tower was secretly fortified by the city, Kevin says, but he advises developers to learn from history.
Bill says Silverstein certainly did. In the months after Sandy, the company spent more than $10M on capital improvements like barrier systems, emergency generator pumps, and even cots and living facilities for emergency workers.
“It’s like taking care of an army,” Bill says.
The firm also has regular drills for setting up its storm protection systems, agreements with its partners to get food, security and sanitation services if needed and its own communication system so the firm’s portfolio can keep in contact.
“We can set up our protections to be ready for anything in about four hours,” he told Bisnow.
Marcus & Millichap broker Matthew Rosenzweig says this hints at the disparity of protection between NYC property types. While Silverstein can (and must) invest in extensive precautions, smaller owners are less motivated to do so, since the stakes are low and the prices high. This, he said, could be one of the reasons hurricane safety is perceived as ignored.
HAKS SVP Paul Hoffmann says he’s seen many organizations try and make the most of their hurricane safety measures, even finding ways to profit from it. The NYC Housing Authority, for example, had to move up its mechanical systems to higher floors in several of its properties. Rather than waste valuable square footage, the NYCHA turned the mechanical floors into community spaces.
Rudin Management COO and EVP John Gilbert says one of the reason’s Rudin and Boston Properties’ Dock 72 (pictured), which is surrounded on three sides by water, is built on stilts is to keep tenants and mechanisms safe during a storm. WeWork will be the anchor tenant for the $380M building, taking about a third of the dock's 675k SF.
55 Water St, New Water Street Corp deputy COO Bruce Hodges Jr. (pictured) says, has built an encasement with two-foot-thick concrete and a submarine door for its generator fuel oil controls, which remain in the basement for fire code reasons. The building also has all of its lobby controls (fire command, elevators, security) available on the third floor, should the first floor flood.
RXR Realty has taken similar precautions at 32 Old Slip, Operations EVP Frank Pusinelli says, and has adopted a flood plank system that can be deployed within six hours.
Rather than an unsightly concrete sea wall, the proposal calls for a hybrid system of berms and gates along Red Hook’s edge and a secondary system of breakwaters, dikes and ponds to filter and absorb runoff water.
The structure could also integrate bikeways and present a valuable public space, which Stevens Institute of Technology professor Alexandros Washburn described as “improving quality of life while solving a technical problem.”
Even in the short term, Alex recommends a system of temporary, deployable fabric structures that could help protect Red Hook for a few valuable hours and help collect data on flooding patterns.
Although this plan seems extensive, Alex’s calculations say it would cost $50M across 10 years. Insurance companies had to pay the same amount to help Red Hook recover from Sandy, and it would cost even more to redevelop the area again.
Even starchitect Bjarke Ingels has put forth a radical design called “The Big U,” which would surround all of lower Manhattan with embankments, gardens and sloping green hills and create an artificial buffer zone from storm surge. The project received $350M in federal funds and could break ground in the next few years.
Regardless of which tactic is taken, it’s clear that the memories of Sandy are still fresh, and the industry’s preparing for the worst, whenever it comes.