Assemblymember Cahill Introduces Emergency Preparedness Legislation

Bill would require State Disaster Preparedness Commission to work with local communities on reservoir, dam and waterway disaster prevention, response and recovery plans.
January 19, 2006

Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D – Ulster and Dutchess Counties) introduced legislation today that would not only stress the importance of the maintenance and continued assessment of the dams and reservoirs located within the New York City watershed, but would also make sure that the surrounding communities are properly prepared to deal with a crisis situation should an emergency arise.

“Given the horrendous flooding that occurred this past April and the more recent revelations about the structural integrity of the Gilboa Dam I think there is now a heightened awareness over the necessity of having a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan in place,” said Mr. Cahill. “We are not going to let the DEP off the hook in terms of taking care of the watershed and the surrounding regions, but it is imperative that we have a safety net in place.”

The bill would direct the New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission to focus on the state and local prevention, response and recovery plans in the event of the occurrence of a natural or man-made disaster involving existing reservoirs, dams and associated waterways. Assemblymember Cahill, referring to legislation introduced by Senator Bonacic to alter the reporting requirements for the inspection of New York City's water supply dams, said, “I believe it is important to make sure there is a sound system in place to identify potential problems, but we shouldn’t stop there. We absolutely have to take that next step to ensure there will be a plan in place that leaves us prepared to take the most appropriate actions to protect the surrounding communities while addressing the issue in the safest and most timely manner possible.”

“This legislation would make sure that every community that could possibly be affected by future flooding will have a well thought out plan in effect that is tailored to the needs of their residents,” said Mr. Cahill. “We need to make sure that we address every situation and explore every viable solution so that we do not again experience the piecemeal reaction we are currently seeing with the DEP’s response to the Gilboa Dam situation.” Assemblymember Cahill went on to remark, “I am seeing the results of the DEP’s scattered approach today. Yesterday’s storm has brought about high water levels and flooding in some areas and a lot people are confused and struggling to react. Those that need help are getting it but it is probably not as coordinated as it should be.”

The proposal would first expand the state’s definition of a disaster to include the instance of a dam failure or dam collapse. The bill would then require the New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission to examine and report on existing state and local disaster preparedness plans pertaining to reservoirs and dams in existing flood zones. The Commission’s report would include a detailed summary of all actions taken by the Commission, the localities, the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) and the State Office of Homeland Security (OHS) with regard to emergency prevention, response and recovery within the last five years.

The report would also include recommendations on ways to act immediately to improve state and local preparedness and coordination between multiple local jurisdictions and the state in the event of a disaster. Finally, the Commission would be asked to identify any locality or agency responsible for a particular water system, reservoir or dam that has been unable, refused or neglected to implement disaster prevention plans and develop or maintain disaster preparedness plans. Upon completion of the examination, the Commission would report to the governor, the Legislature and all affected municipalities and update that report every five years thereafter.

The New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission is comprised of the commissioners, directors or chairpersons of 23 State agencies or offices and one volunteer organization, the American Red Cross. Among its responsibilities are the preparation of State disaster plans; directing State disaster operations and coordinating those with local government operations; and coordinating Federal, State and private recovery efforts. Directly underneath the Commission are two agencies, the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) and the recently created New York State Office of Homeland Security (OHS).

“This past year has especially highlighted the impact natural and man-made disasters can have on our communities,” observed Mr. Cahill. “I believe that government has both a moral and legal obligation to keep our citizenry safe to the utmost extent possible,” he concluded.