By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Clinton School at 10 East 15th Street has replaced the Baruch building on East 24th Street as the closest evacuation center for Gramercy residents for the 2017 coastal storm season, altering the location that has been in place for the neighborhood at least since Hurricane Irene in 2011.
Office of Emergency Management (OEM) press secretary Nancy Silvestri said that the evacuation centers are reevaluated every year to make sure the facilities are prepared to operate in the event of a disaster, and the previous site was swapped out for the Clinton School after discussions with Baruch and the City University of New York (CUNY).
Silvestri noted that the OEM has partnered with CUNY in the past to designate university buildings as evacuation centers but some of those sites were swapped out this year for various reasons.
“We did partner with CUNY as well as the Department of Education (DOE) but we are moving away from using CUNY sites this year and are replacing them with DOE sites,” she added. “Every year, (OEM) assesses the site, looks at accessibility, talks about construction work going on and we make a decision about keeping it available as an evacuation center.”
The change this year also means that the closest handicapped accessible site to the Gramercy neighborhood is PS 59 on East 56th Street, but Silvestri said that OEM is working with DOE to make the Clinton School handicapped accessible as well.
“We’re working with the Department of Education to do repair work and make changes to the facilities to make them compliant and fully accessible,” she said. “We’ve been prioritizing that work so accessible facilities are available.”
Silvestri noted that in previous versions of the map, facilities that were listed as handicapped accessible, as the Baruch site was, were “self-certified,” meaning that the designation was not confirmed by OEM.
The agency is currently working on making the building fully ADA compliant to meet OEM’s standards, although Silvestri did not have information on what kind of improvements were necessary.
“We’re going through a mediation process to make sure (evacuation centers) are fully accessible,” she said. “(The Clinton School) will be fully accessible by the next coastal storm season when all the retrofits are complete.”
Stuyvesant Town resident and Community Emergency Response Team member Pat Sallin handed out evacuation zone maps at the 13th Precinct Community Council’s most recent meeting last month and mentioned the change for the neighborhood.
Evacuation zones are ranked by the risk of storm surge impact, with Zone 1 being the most likely to flood, and residents may be ordered to evacuate in the event of a significant storm. Parts of Stuyvesant Town and more than half of the buildings in Peter Cooper Village are in Zone 1. The rest of Peter Cooper Village and additional buildings in Stuyvesant Town are in Zone 3 and some Stuyvesant Town buildings are in Zone 4. Evacuation zones have not changed since the OEM adjusted the zones due to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but residents can confirm their zones with the OEM’s online map tool.
The coastal storm season lasts from June 1 to November 30, but the greatest potential for hurricanes in New York is from August through October.