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New Yorkers need to be ready to evacuate: experts

Michelle Nichols / Reuters | September 7 2006

New Yorkers are growing complacent about safety and evacuation planning and training is the key to the city combating another September 11-style attack or natural disaster, experts said on Wednesday.

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Edward Galea, fire safety engineering director at Britain's University of Greenwich, said drills were needed to ensure people acted quickly in a real emergency.

"You need to rehearse, you need to rehearse and you need to rehearse," Galea told Pace University's "Aftershock: Rethinking the Future since September 11, 2001" conference.

"You don't want people in an emergency situation, a life or death situation, to do something for the first time -- that's a recipe for disaster," said Galea, who is heading a study of the World Trade Center evacuation after the September 11 attacks.

A separate study released on Wednesday of the Twin Towers evacuation by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that more than 80 percent of evacuees said they had never received evacuation plans.

The study surveyed 1,444 people who evacuated from the World Trade Center buildings on September 11 and found that 94 percent had never exited the building as part of a drill and 70 percent did not know where the emergency exits were.

Galea said New Yorkers were again becoming more complacent about safety, citing discussions he had with financial traders who had survived September 11 but did not know where the emergency exits were in their new building.

He also expressed fears about the ability to evacuate New York's subway system if the city experienced an attack similar to the July 7, 2005, bombings of the London transport system, which killed 52 people and injured 700.

"I traveled a lot in New York on your underground, your subway system, and it scares the living daylights out of me," Galea said.

Michael Emmerman, director of the U.S.-based, non-profit disaster preparedness Special Operations Support Group, told the Pace University conference that New York also needed to be ready for natural disasters.

He said authorities have spent the past two years preparing a plan that would allow hundreds of thousands of people to be evacuated if the city was hit by a hurricane.

He said if deadly Hurricane Isabel, which caused billions of dollars worth of damage when it hit the eastern seaboard in 2003, had turned one degree north then a storm surge would have flooded lower Manhattan, Long Island, Staten Island and Brooklyn.

"And we didn't have an evacuation plan," Emmerman said.


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