ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A panel commissioned by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to bolster disaster preparations recommends creating a gasoline reserve, stockpiling a depot of emergency provisions, and setting up an emergency text message alert system in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
The panel also recommends training citizens as responders, tougher building codes and setting up generators at gas stations — ideas Cuomo warned Thursday would have very high costs but could be among the ideas he'll endorse in his State of the State address next week.
Cuomo's panel took less than two months to propose recommendations that were supposed to be explored by the state at least twice a year under a 1978 law. A bipartisan Senate task force touring damage on Long Island Thursday pledged to pass measures to improve preparedness.
Nearly a month ago, The Associated Press reported that the state law and a series of legislative reports dating back more than three decades warned New York politicians to prepare for a storm of historic proportions with eerie similarities to Superstorm Sandy that hit Oct. 29.
Yet most of the warnings and the 1978 law went unheeded during several administrations into Cuomo's first two years and through numerous legislative sessions because of tight budgets, a lack of political will and the belief that no such storm would actually hit New York.
The state for decades failed to abide by provisions of the law that requires "recommended disaster prevention and mitigation projects, policies, priorities and programs," said Richard Brodsky of the Wagner School at New York University and former Democratic assemblyman; and former Republican Sen. Michael Balboni, who headed the state's homeland security efforts.
"This isn't a technical or academic failure," said Brodsky, a former Democratic assemblyman from Westchester on Thursday. "It resulted in the unnecessary flooding of the Battery and other tunnels and hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to transportation systems alone.
"If Goldman Sachs could figure out that sandbagging would save them from the surge, why didn't the city, state and MTA do likewise, especially since the law required them to do so?" Brodsky said.
Cuomo said past administrations were hamstrung by cost and their own disbelief about such severe storms. But he says he's made strides in his two years, which included the experience of two previous major storms upstate from which some communities are still trying to recover.
"This has been an evolutionary process and there has been more readiness and preparedness," Cuomo said. "You look where this was 10 years ago it was a much less sophisticated operation at both the state level and the local level."
State reports in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010, however, screamed urgency. "It's not a question of whether a strong hurricane will hit New York City," the 2006 Assembly report warned. "It's just a question of when." A 2007 report by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority warned of flooding of the system after the third major storm of that year.
"People predict a lot of things," Cuomo said Thursday. "You have predictions then you have probability. And many of these types of initiatives are very, very expensive ... and money is a factor in all of these things. And after Irene, for the past two years we have brought tremendous reform and sophistication to this area."
On Long Island Thursday, a Senate bipartisan task force toured the wreckage still lingering after Sandy.
"We have a mission we have an obligation we have a moral obligation, to make sure whatever we can do in Albany," said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican. "We have an obligation to make sure that people's lives are restored as quickly as possible."